A Reboot of Comedy Classics

Host, Dave Schwensen, and his friends Kelly, Tom, and Logan have chosen some of their favorite comedians from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. They take a look at how these comedians got started, their most successful comedy albums, and their lasting influence today!


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The Original Comedy Club, The Imrov (Part 1)

The Original Comedy Club, The Imrov (Part 1)

In this very special 2-part series, we are talking about the world-famous, original comedy club, The Improv. Not only did several famous comedians get their start here, so did our own, Dave Schwensen. Dave takes us through the history of the club from the very beginning with Budd Friendman and Silver Saunders, through to the '90s in NYC. You'll hear stories about Lily Tomlin, Rodney Dangerfield, Larry David, and many more!


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Logan Rishaw

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Kelly Thewlis

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Tom Megalis

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Dave Schwensen

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Dave Schwensen:
Hi. Welcome back to What's So Funny! I'm your host, Dave Schwensen, and today I'm joined by my cohost Tom Megalis.

Tom Megalis:
Hey Dave, what's going on, man?

Dave Schwensen:
Well, Tom. Let me tell you what's going on today is a very, very special episode on What's So Funny!

Tom Megalis:
I know.

Dave Schwensen:
I'm pretty excited about this one.

Tom Megalis:
I know. This one's near and dear to your heart.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, yes it is, and I will have to tell our listeners a little something about that when we start here. But our episode today, a very special episode of What's So Funny!, it's going to be the history of the Improv Comedy Club. Now I hate to call it a history of The Improv, because that would take episodes.

Tom Megalis:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
It would take a long time to cover the entire history of this legendary comedy club, but I do want people to know that I am very close. I consider myself to be part of The Improv family, actually. I started working at the New York City Improv in the mid eighties, and I was the manager of the club and moved on to the Hollywood Improv where I was an assistant to Budd Friedman and what they called the Talent Coordinator for the club. And even in the years since, I've been manager of the Cleveland Improv.

Tom Megalis:
Wow.

Dave Schwensen:
I like to say I'm the only person from coast to coast to coast.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah man.

Dave Schwensen:
I've managed the New York Club on the Atlantic coast, the Hollywood Club Talent Coordinator on the Pacific coast, and managed the Cleveland Improv on the North coast, which is Lake Erie.

Tom Megalis:
Wow. Yeah, man. That's great.

Dave Schwensen:
Some listeners might know I do comedy workshops, and I do those affiliated with The Improv. My main workshops are at the Cleveland Improv and the Chicago Improv, and I've done them at the Tampa Improv and different locations so-

Tom Megalis:
Wow. It's legendary. It's amazing. It is, as a lot of us know, it launched tons of great legends.

Dave Schwensen:
It was the original comedy club. Now, you know this.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
I'm going to talk about Budd Friedman, but I'm also going to talk about Silver Friedman... Silver Saunders-

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Actually, was his wife at the time.

Tom Megalis:
First wife, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Both started the New York club together, and then they went their separate ways where Silver was in New York and Budd was in Los Angeles. I worked with both of them.

Tom Megalis:
Oh, so Silver stayed with the New York club?

Dave Schwensen:
Yes, she stayed with the New York club-

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
... And then Budd was at the Hollywood club. So I'm going to talk about both of them because I worked closely with both of them, and I owe both of them a lot. I'll tell you right now.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
As a matter of fact, here's my feeling on this. I would not be the host of What's So Funny!, if it hadn't been for Silver Saunders and Budd Friedman.

Tom Megalis:
And I wouldn't be here either. So what the heck. Look, I owe them something and I don't even know them. Now, Silver and Budd are both still with us in 2020.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Tom Megalis:
That's good.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Tom Megalis:
They're living healthy long lives, which is fantastic, and The Improv continues. I guess there's 25 of them right now?

Dave Schwensen:
The improv, I've lost track of them, but yes, they are a franchise club around the country. And when I do my workshops, it is my little stage time that I get to go up and introduce the workshop comedians I work with. I always say, I make it clear right up front, The Improv is the number one club in the country. Don't argue with me about it. It's done.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And I say, if you want to see the comedians that you see on television, on Comedy Central, it used to be so much like The Tonight Show and different things, you go to The Improv. There are all these franchises around the country, you go see them. But let's go back, let's go in the way back machine to the beginning of this club.

Tom Megalis:
The sixties.

Dave Schwensen:
The Improvisation, yes. The club opened in 1963. It was a winter night. I'm pretty sure it was in February. But even before that, it started with Budd and Silver.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And Silver was a very interesting person. By the way, I got along great with Silver. She-

Tom Megalis:
Quite a talent. She's an actress, herself, very talented. Broadway.

Dave Schwensen:
She was on Broadway. She was in How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying. Some other... She was in a lot of shows.

Tom Megalis:
Fiorello, the musical. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And so very Broadway, very show business. And Budd had been an advertising executive. I know he lived up in Boston, and it was something that he really... He went to college for it and he was an advertising guy, but he didn't like it. It's not what he wanted to do. Here's the whole thing.

Tom Megalis:
It wasn't his passion.

Dave Schwensen:
He wanted to be in show business-

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, okay.

Dave Schwensen:
... And his goal was to be a producer, a Broadway producer.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. Guy in charge. The guy in charge.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Makes sense.

Dave Schwensen:
The one who raises makes sense and makes all the money and produces a Broadway show. And the funny thing is, and I've read Budd's book, by the way. Budd has a book out. I've read it about three times. It's an oral history about The Improv. It has all these famous people. It's a must read for anyone interested in the comedy industry, but he didn't know anything about producing a Broadway show.

Tom Megalis:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dave Schwensen:
You know? But you know what? A lot of people that get into this show business, or especially the comedy industry, nobody knows what they're doing.

Tom Megalis:
Stumble into it, man. Yeah. Yeah, right.

Dave Schwensen:
Everybody's a little bit crazy. I'll put it that way.

Tom Megalis:
I would say that.

Dave Schwensen:
But he quit his job as an advertising executive in Boston, came down to New York City to be a Broadway producer. But he met Silver who was on Broadway already as a chorus girl, and they hit it off. And they were dating, and when he would go out with the cast of her show afterwards they'd all go out, say for drinks or dinner because it's show business, Broadway, comedy, everything. It's a whole different lifestyle. People have to understand that. You live at night. For many, many years, I've described my schedule as being a vampire because I go to work at The Improv club at seven o'clock at night. I wouldn't get home until four in the morning.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And sometimes you go out afterwards for something to eat, so it'd be six o'clock you're rolling in. It's a whole different lifestyle.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. Plus you're on a big high after you've performed. All the adrenaline, and it's one in the morning. You can't go to sleep, so you want to go hang out, do something.

Dave Schwensen:
But that's what they were doing. They were going out after the Broadway shows closed, they were going out for dinner, drinks, that sort of thing. And Budd overheard the other actors in the show saying, "Wow, you know, in Chicago, we go to this place and we get to go up and sing, or if we're in Philadelphia, maybe we get up and there's a club we go to. We can have coffee or whatever, something to eat. We can get up and perform if we want to," and Bud realized there wasn't anything like that in New York City, especially-

Tom Megalis:
Isn't that strange? Isn't that strange there'd be nothing like that in New York City at the time?

Dave Schwensen:
The Broadway district where all the Broadway theaters are, there was no place there.

Tom Megalis:
Just to hang out.

Dave Schwensen:
They could go to parties and restaurants and hang out, but also get up and perform and do stuff. These are all performers. These are actors. They are singers. They want to get up. So that that's what gave Budd the idea.

Tom Megalis:
That's what planted the seed.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes. He said, "You know what? They're talking about doing this and other towns. I can't believe they're not doing this in New York City," so he mapped out an area of New York. And you got to think at the time, too, he quit his job, so I don't think he had much money.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
I don't think anyone did.

Tom Megalis:
No.

Dave Schwensen:
And so they were kind of looking. New York at that time was pretty seedy around that area. It was getting kind of... They call it Hell's Kitchen for a reason. And he was just about ready to give up. I think he was going to open something way downtown by the Village and just happened to see a sign for a Vietnamese restaurant at the corner of 44th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenue, closer to Ninth Avenue that had closed out and it was for rent. And he said, "This is it. This is it. It's walking distance to all the theaters." And so he got the lease.

Tom Megalis:
Seemed perfect. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
He rented it and really had to work. There's funny stories I've often heard. I mean, he was flooded out of there. There are all kinds of stuff going on at this old place, but they pulled it together within a few months and opened up as The Improvisation. And the reason it got the name Improvisation, and Budd has this in his book, that it's where the singers could come in, again, 1963, 1964, and improvise. And he improvised putting it together.

Tom Megalis:
And isn't that where the legendary, the iconic brick wall started because they didn't have money to get drywall or sheet, rock, whatever they called it then?

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. When Budd pulled the old, I think it was red paneling or something he had on there from the Vietnamese restaurant, mirrors, that kind of thing. When he pulled it off, there was this brick wall behind it, and they couldn't afford drywall.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. There you go.

Dave Schwensen:
They polished that up a little bit, they cleaned that up. And no one dreamed of it now, the brick wall is associated with standup comedy. Everybody's got a brick wall.

Tom Megalis:
It's the image. The brick wall with the mic. There it is. That's the logo.

Dave Schwensen:
As a matter of fact, if you look at our pictures from What's So Funny! on the website, we're probably standing by a brick wall. It just means comedy.

Tom Megalis:
It could be a dry wall with a microphone if he'd have had some money. That's funny. And I'm sure the comics helped, probably, work on it. Not the comics, but the performers there. And Budd probably did a lot of the work himself.

Dave Schwensen:
I think Budd did most of the work, but even Silver and her friends from the Broadway shows came over. They painted. They cleaned. They put in the booths. All this kind of stuff. I think they wound up having a space that held about 74 seats. Something like that, 75 seats, and no liquor license because he couldn't afford the liquor license, so it was just coffee. They had some inexpensive food, hamburgers, stuff like that. And they opened for business as a music showcase place. Not even a showcase. It was just to blow off steam. They wouldn't even have any customers, I don't think until about 11:30 at night, 11 o'clock, after the Broadway shows closed and everybody changed. They'd come over and if you wanted to get up and sing, you could.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. Just to sing, talk, hang out. It was just a hangout joint.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. He didn't book any acts to sing, so he realized sometimes there'd be no one who wanted to perform or whatever, so he hired singing waitresses. The first night was, I guess, hugely successful. I wish I could name the celebrities that came in, but they were all from the Broadway shows and they got up and sang. It was just a hit.

Tom Megalis:
And then when did it become... Who started the comedy? Who said the first comedian?

Dave Schwensen:
There was a comic named Dave Aster.

Tom Megalis:
Aster. And he was noted at the time. He was a working guy everyone knew, right?

Dave Schwensen:
Again, I have a hard time finding anything about him, quite honestly. Budd had mentioned his name to me when he wrote the book, and I went online to look for anything by Dave Aster, and I really couldn't find anything.

Tom Megalis:
Interesting. Well, it's before internet, before there's really footprints on people. There's probably no video on the guy or... He didn't record.

Dave Schwensen:
I read somewhere he had been on the Ed Sullivan show. He had done some things. Budd called him a comic's comic, which means that's the kind of guy that maybe has some inside jokes or talk about the industry that the comics would understand better. When he came in, he was performing again, down in the Village. He had a regular gig down there opening for some musician or something, and he came up and when he came up... I always said, even when I started my own club in New York, people say, "How do you do that?" All you got to do is put up a microphone, a stand and put a spotlight on a little stage and comics just show up.

Tom Megalis:
Well, you need a place to stage time, right? You need a place to work out your stuff. And it started supplying that need to go somewhere and work on your craft.

Dave Schwensen:
When you think about it, before The Improv, which was the very first comedy club, I mean, really, to focus on comedy and it didn't start out that way, but the only place comedians could work before that were say up in the Catskills, those hotels, they had up there for the summertime, people from New York City to go up there. They had Vaudeville, which is the old baggy pants comics with the, "Take my wife, please," kind of jokes.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And the ones who got really famous had to play big theaters like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope and Bing Crosby... Not Bing Crosby, Jack Benny.

Tom Megalis:
Different level.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. They were playing theaters, but there was no place where they could really go, the new comics, especially, to work out their own material. Because you've got to understand too, those other old comics I'm talking about, they all had writers and stuff.

Tom Megalis:
Right.

Dave Schwensen:
So they were reading... They were pretty much-

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, they just-

Dave Schwensen:
... Had the writers. This turned out to be a place where young comedians, new comedians, who wanted to write their own material, could come in and try it out first before they had important auditions or whatever. So when Dave Aster showed up, I think Robert Klein was the next one who was a big influence on the club, came in, and then they all started coming in and gradually it became a comedy club.

Tom Megalis:
You could say that Budd, The Improv, pretty much, that was the beginning of modern standup.

Dave Schwensen:
I would say so.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, that launched it, ushered it in. A new generation, a revolution in some ways.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, they did not invent standup comedy. It's not like anybody invented the wheel there.

Tom Megalis:
No.

Dave Schwensen:
However, it was the place where comics could come in and work on their act. It was under the radar. They could try new things. They could get the experience on stage. And they still kept the singers, the musicians coming in. Matter of fact, one of the early singers of The Improv regular was Bette Midler.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And Budd became her manager.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. And he didn't think she was very good initially, because I heard him talk about that. He said, "She was..." I think said she was terrible initially and then got good. But it was like, initially he thought, "Wow, this is..." But like everybody. Come on, Dave. Who's great when you're first starting? It takes time.

Dave Schwensen:
Well that's it. And that's why they had to get their stage time and get their experience. Yeah, I remember Budd, I think he went to some other club and saw her and said, "Whoa, she's gotten really good."

Tom Megalis:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) She got good.

Dave Schwensen:
And when he became her manager, he really helped break her. I mean, I think he got her on the Merv Griffin show-

Tom Megalis:
That's interesting.

Dave Schwensen:
... And the Tonight Show, the different things that he really got her... He was her manager. And I think her piano player at that time was a Barry Manilow-

Tom Megalis:
Manilow, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
He was her piano player at The Improv. Dustin Hoffman was a piano player at The Improv. And there's also a very famous story of Liza Minnelli coming to... She was a regular at The Improv watching the shows, and she went Budd Friedman one night said, "Can I please perform? My daddy's here. My dad, he's never seen me perform well." Well that was the famous director, Vincent Minnelli.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. That's awesome.

Dave Schwensen:
And so then he was a little bit celebrity starstruck. And he's like, "Wait a minute, Vincent Minelli's in the office here. Yes, of course. We'll put Liza on stage." And when she came back, she brought her mother Judy Garland.

Tom Megalis:
That's amazing. Did she sing? Did she go up on the stage?

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Tom Megalis:
She hit the stage. Of course she did. There was a stage there. What are you going to do? That's what you do, right?

Dave Schwensen:
Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli performed together at The Improv. And so I mean, there's all those kinds of famous stories of people who are just dropping in. And this is still the early sixties, the mid sixties. Even a couple of the Beatles were there, but they didn't perform, but they were in the club.

Tom Megalis:
Same spot though. Did he stay in the same spot?

Dave Schwensen:
Yes, forever.

Tom Megalis:
Because I'd seen it. I'd gone there in the eighties. And I guess it was the same spot, right?

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Tom Megalis:
Okay. Yeah. Probably didn't change much.

Dave Schwensen:
No, I mean that brick wall was there from the beginning. And I think next store was probably, I think it was a liquor store or something. They took that over also. And by the time I arrived there... Again, the club had been in business for over almost 25 years by the time I got there. The bar was next door on the corner. That's where all the comedians would hang out, and the showroom was next door. You walked through just a short little hallway, and you're in the showroom and there was the original brick wall. And I'm telling you what atmosphere this place had. The comics used to laugh and say, "This thing is held together by duct tape and masking tape and rubber bands and stuff," but it was just wonderful. It was the New York city comedy scene, dingy kind of club. That was just-

Tom Megalis:
That's the best place for comedy, man. It's like... I always wonder... I've been to Vegas, you go to other glitzy rooms and you think, "This, yeah, I don't know." I mean, you put on a show, but it's got to be a little slicker. It feels like it's pushing you to be a little tighter. But in a dingy little comedy place like that, you feel like you could take some risks, play, and a lot of them did. From later on through the seventies, we know the kind of people that started working there from Andy Kaufman, all those people that were taking risks and playing around.

Dave Schwensen:
It was more like a classroom.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And it was a lot of hanging out. And again, I don't want to skip over so many periods because I wasn't there in the late sixties, seventies, I wasn't there yet. And so I heard all the stories of the comedians who around, and of course all their pictures were up on the wall. And so many of them work there. Again, Richard Pryor was one of Budd's favorites and there's Pryor coming in the mid sixties and he's developing his act on stage at The Improv.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And some of the others we've talked about, Lily Tomlin, there's a famous story that she wanted to get in with Budd. He was already making a name for himself, so she went over to one of the Broadway theaters where they had a limousine outside. She had an audition that night. And can you imagine auditioning Lily Tomlin? I mean think about that.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Anyway, she was nervous about her audition. She paid a limo driver like 10 bucks to keep driving around the block until they saw Budd outside the club looking for her. Then the limo pulled up, he got out, the driver opened the door, Lily Tomlin got out of the back to let Budd think she was somebody. He passed the [inaudible 00:17:59] for that audition that night, and she didn't tell him two months later what she did.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. I do a little showbiz, a little set up there. It's funny. But I did read somewhere, and you would probably know better. You're in the family and you know this, but that Budd at one point had said he liked the comedy scene more than the music scene because he would watch comedians develop and refine their jokes and their material, whereas musicians would come in and just sing the songs. And it was the same all the time.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes. They would come in and sing a popular song, and it sounded just like it had before. And the thing with the comedians, they would go up and they were trying to develop and give different punchlines or writing new material, doing things. And it really, if you read Budd's book, and if you have an opportunity ever to meet him and talk with him, this comedy thing came out of nowhere. It was just right place, right time and, "Oh my gosh, this is what I really like and what I'm meant to do, and I didn't see it coming."

Tom Megalis:
Did Budd ever offer... Like, "Hey, you know what I noticed you tried this, you should maybe try that." Did he ever offer that to a standup, to somebody working?

Dave Schwensen:
I'm going to say yes. He was very encouraging. I don't have any specific examples. And I'll say Silver was the same way. I don't want to forget about Silver at the New York club. Because when I came there, she was the one totally in charge and I learned so much from her. I really did. To me, being a man... I went behind the scenes, okay. I'm a behind the scenes guy.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, right.

Dave Schwensen:
And when I... I ran my own small club in New York City for only about six months, and then I got introduced to Silver at the New York Improv, and I really, within two weeks, I was the manager of the club. It's a funny story, I'll tell you real quick. I got hired as a bartender on a Sunday night. She said, "Could you tend bar," and I said, "Oh, sure." Okay, whatever. So I stood behind a bar and it was only... I didn't make any money. I knew financially, this is not going to be great because it was a bunch of comics hanging around the bar, they're not going to tip.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, right.

Dave Schwensen:
At the end of my shift, I was counting the money and I was exactly, I was right on. Thank you college degree finally came in handy and she said, "Oh, would you like to be assistant manager?" Because the assistant manager was leaving the next day, and I said, "Sure." So went back the next day, which is a Monday, I was assistant manager, and then within two weeks, I don't know what happened with the manager of the club or something. I don't know if they had a little tiff. I don't know. But she turned around to me and said, you're the manager of the club.

Tom Megalis:
Nice.

Dave Schwensen:
So it was all within two weeks. And the comics used to say, "My gosh, Dave, you must have mixed a heck of a drink that Sunday."

Tom Megalis:
That's awesome.

Dave Schwensen:
So then I was there. So I was with her, really in training. How do you run the... How do you book the shows? How do you run the shows? How do you manage all these things? The New York City improv, and she showed me.

Tom Megalis:
That's fantastic. Well I mean, you're learning... Because they've already been through it now, this is already 20 something years, they've got it down. It's refined. It's working pretty well, even though in the eighties, that was the comedy boom. And then the nineties was the fallout. A lot of businesses were lost. A lot of comedy clubs closed.

Dave Schwensen:
Well I was there in the mid to late eighties in New York. And so even on the auditions, because Silver would audition the comedians the first Sunday of every month. We had a lottery system and I was part of that. I got to watch how it worked. And the cool thing, too, is I got to really hang out with the comedians. Now here's the thing, I was management. I will tell you, the ones who know me, they'll remember I did a music act at The Improv. I'm not going to say it was great, but it got me some stage time. It also got me some extra money-

Tom Megalis:
Sure, man.

Dave Schwensen:
Instead of a raise, give me two shots a week with the band. And I had a lot, a lot... Sorry. I had a lot of fun with that, and we called it the music wars.

Tom Megalis:
That's awesome. That's awesome.

Dave Schwensen:
But other times I was managing the club and running the shows. And so I got to hang around the bar, and that's, to me, where the real show was. I mean, of course the comics were funny. We had an audience, they're laughing, it was great. But I'd listened to these comics at the bar hanging out and they're cutting each other down. They're making jokes. They're writing jokes, things are going on. And you didn't know who you were going to see there on any night. I mean, I'd come into work and I'd open the club. We'd be there, and as the club filled up, I'd look at the bar and sitting there would be Larry David, Bill Hicks, Dave Attell, the wonderful Dave Attell, one of my favorite comics. He was my door guy. He was my right hand man, he helped me out.

Tom Megalis:
When was Danny Aiello the doorman?

Dave Schwensen:
That was in the sixties. That's before my time.

Tom Megalis:
Oh was that the sixties? Oh man, I thought that was like... Wow. Yeah, he was one of the original... Because Joe Piscopo, I think was a doorman too, wasn't he?

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, a lot. I mean, Keenen Ivory Wayans, you hear about all these people were door guys. It's one way to get your foot in the club. I mean, that's why... Again, that's why Dave Attell worked with me. And that's why you hear so many of these other famous comedians and behind the scenes people, they got in working The Improv as part of the staff.

Tom Megalis:
You're there, and then if you get a chance, you can do some... Get some stage time and the door probably at some point. You're allowed to, "Hey, can I get like five minutes, three minutes at 1:00 AM, 2:00 AM?"

Dave Schwensen:
Well that's what they would do. One of my favorite stories again with Dave Attell as my door guy, it was right before he broke. He was still working on his act. He was doing... Everybody was very impressed with this guy. And I remember here's a story. Okay, here's one of my stories. Larry David, creator of Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, come on, everybody in comedy knows who Larry David is. He also... I didn't know at the time, I was new. He had a reputation that if you went on stage and the audience wasn't getting him or he didn't really like the feeling he got from the audience, he would just drop the microphone and say, "To heck with it. Screw you," or close to it, and walk off the stage.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. I heard that he actually went up a couple of times and looked at the audience, didn't even do any of his act and said, "Nah," and then walked off. What the... How could you even do that? That's amazing.

Dave Schwensen:
The first time it happened to me, because again, he had been on... By this time, he was known, okay. And so, when a celebrity came in, anyone came in, I would ask them, I felt it was my job. I would go up Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Lewis, anybody, whoever it was, they come in and I'd say, "Would you like to go say hello to the audience?" And so when Larry would come in and I remember asking him a lot, and he was a regular guy. We played softball together. He was on our improv softball team. He was our first baseman, by the way. So he was part of the group hanging out. And I would ask him once in a while, "Did you want to say hello to the audience? Want to do something?" And he never really did. He was like, "No," he's just kind of hanging out, he's doing some stuff.

Dave Schwensen:
And then I remember one night he came over to me and he said he'd like to go on. He had some material he wanted to try. I was like, "Great. This is cool. I'm going to get to see Larry David, how good is this?" So I gave him a slot in the show. I said, "All right, you go on next." And I'm standing there watching him. And he went up on stage. He was up there for about a minute, minute and a half. I think I gave him like a 10 or 15, 20 minute set. I don't remember anymore. Anyway, he didn't like the audience. And again, he said, "Screw you-"

Tom Megalis:
Oh man.

Dave Schwensen:
He dropped microphone. He walked off stage and I'm standing at the back and I'm going, "Oh." My heart was going. And he just walked right by me. He didn't say a word. I'm like, "Uh," and I had an empty stage. And the one thing you learned in the comedy business, you do not want an empty stage. So the first thing I could do, who's standing next to me was Dave Attell.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
I grabbed him, said "Dave, go up, go up," and he said, "Sure." He was happy to do it. He ran up on stage.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. That's nuts.

Dave Schwensen:
And then when Dave Attell got off, he came over and he says, "Oh yeah, Dave, I've kind of forgot to tell you that he's kind of known for doing that. You have to have somebody ready to go off."

Tom Megalis:
Oh my gosh. I mean, that was his thing. That was... I mean he was working, he was a writer at SNL for a short time, he got fired from that, right. I mean he's done... But again, it enabled... I'm sure stuff like that was happening all the time. Especially if you have guys like Andy Kaufman and people coming in, you don't know quite what's going to happen, right, at times.

Dave Schwensen:
I mean, Budd's famous story about Andy Kaufman. When he came in... Again, this is way before my time. But Andy used to do that foreign man voice he did on the TV show taxi. And somebody called Budd from Long Island or somewhere Andy Kaufman had been performing, he says, "You've got to see this guy. You got to see it." He says, "All right, send him in." So he came in and he used that accent on Budd.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
"Thank you very much, I'm from..." And Budd said, "Where are you from," he says, "I'm from a small island in the middle of the Cyprus Sea," or something. There's no islands where he was saying. It was all made up stuff, and Budd believed them. And he said, "Oh, I'll put him on stage." So he watched him and Andy wasn't doing that great. The audience was kind of like, "Oh, this guy is too weird, man. What's going on with him?" And the next thing he says, "I'd like to do my Elvis Presley." He turned around-

Tom Megalis:
Boom.

Dave Schwensen:
He turned around and boom, and he did a perfect, spot on Elvis impersonation, singing Heartbreak Hotel or something. And then he goes, "Thank you very much," and he walks off and Budd said he knew he'd been had.

Tom Megalis:
That's awesome. That's awesome.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, he knew he'd been had, and it just became... And that was one of his all time favorites. And I will say Freddie Prinze was also... We've done a show on Freddie Prinze this year.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
That's someone who Budd was also very close with. I think he had him on stage when Freddie was like 16 years old.

Tom Megalis:
The early seventies at that point, right? Because-

Dave Schwensen:
Get out of and go to class in the morning. He had to get him out early so he can go to school the next day. That New York Improv was very, very special as far as the comics you would see. Again, I mean, that's where I met George Carlin. He came in to try new material. It's where one night we looked, we saw this guy walking across the street, like in the rain with no umbrella. He had a jogging suit on. It was half zippered down at the front, so there was this big naked belly hanging out. And my two door guys, they put Dave Attell and Chris Murphy, comedy coach New York City, they saw this guy coming... And we were in Hell's Kitchen, which was a very seedy area, so you had to be careful who might wander in. We could lock that door pretty quick if we had to.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, right.

Dave Schwensen:
They saw this guy coming and they said, "Oh my gosh." So they went over and they started to lock the door so this guy wouldn't come in the club. And I'm looking out, I go, "Wait a minute, wait a minute. Stop." I said, "That's Rodney."

Tom Megalis:
Oh no.

Dave Schwensen:
I looked and it was Rodney Dangerfield.

Tom Megalis:
Just looking like a mess.

Dave Schwensen:
He wasn't the type of guy that would ever get really dressed up or worry about how he looked or anything like that. He was bouncing around. He came in for a drink. He stood there talking to us. I said, "Rodney, do you want to go on and say hello to the audience?" And he looked. I remember that night he said no, because it was like a Sunday night or something, it wasn't that filled. And then... But he would come back quite often. And a lot of times I did get him to go on. So he'd looked, if it was a full audience, especially-

Tom Megalis:
In the work out... In the track suit or the-

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, in the track suit. Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
So he usually wore the tie and the jacket, but-

Dave Schwensen:
He was always a mess. And I say that in a very nice way, but it was Rodney Dangerfield. I mean, the guy was a legend too, come on. Very, very first Saturday night as manager of the club, and Silver was still there with me holding my hand, and we... Again, we could stay open until four in the morning, and we normally did because we always... The Improv had a line around the block of people trying to get in, and we would do three shows on a Saturday night.

Dave Schwensen:
And I remember it had to be about 3:30 in the morning. Had to be about quarter to four in the morning. We're winding down. Okay. And the door opened up and Professor Irwin Corey.

Tom Megalis:
Oh my gosh.

Dave Schwensen:
Remember him?

Tom Megalis:
A disheveled man. You're talking about-

Dave Schwensen:
Yes. He comes walking in and Silver goes, "Irwin." He goes, "Hi," and she goes, "Would you like to go on stage?" He goes, "Sure."

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
So we put Professor Irwin Corey on stage. It's going on four o'clock in the morning in New York city. He probably stayed up there until five in the morning.

Tom Megalis:
Was there a crowd?

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, of course they stayed, he was like a known comedian. They stayed.

Tom Megalis:
That double speak he did was tremendous. It was just great stuff. Man. It was insanity.

Dave Schwensen:
The one thing I do want to point out, I did see some of the older ones like that, like Rodney. George Carlin was established and Professor Irwin Corey, some of them, but the thrilling thing about the New York Club was the younger acts at that time that would come in. And we would only book these shows up until about midnight. We started the show about nine, we'd only scheduled the comedians up until midnight. Then after that it was whoever was hanging around the bar. I could walk around and say, "Do you want to do five minutes? Do you want to do some time?"

Tom Megalis:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dave Schwensen:
And so again, all the established acts... And really the newer comics would come in about 1130. They'd start just sitting in the bar. They'd all start looking at me like, "I'm here, I'm here."

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And I remember walking around with Dave Attell, and I said, "Who's that guy sitting over there?" And this was back in the eighties. I said, "Who's that guy sitting over there." He says, "That's Jon Stewart." I said, "Oh, is he funny?" He goes, "Yeah, he's pretty good." So I go over to him and I say, "Would you want to do five minutes?" He said, "Yeah." And so he got up. But the ones who hung around at that time were like Jon Stewart. I remember Rosie O'Donnell, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Sarah Silverman.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
They were all just hanging around and waiting to go up, see if they can get five minutes kind of... That's how dedicated they were. And that's why I was so impressed with those people, because they were there.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Not just... By this time there were other clubs they could go to also.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
I lived in Manhattan, and for 13 years I was there. And you referred to people who didn't live in Manhattan as bridge and tunnel people.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. Yeah, right.

Dave Schwensen:
Okay. So these clubs on the weekends, you'd have your regulars come in and they want to watch a show and you don't know who you're going to see on a Monday, Tuesday night. Jay Leno could drop in, anyone. But on the weekends we would book solid shows because we knew we were going to get the bridge and tunnel people in, and the tourists. So I've got... Those are my, what you would call "A" acts. They had... Clubs Had "A, "B" and "C" acts. "C" acts were ones building their way up, and "B" acts would be a little bit better. "A" acts were your Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher and Roseanne and these kind of people.

Tom Megalis:
They were going to be home runs. They're going to work. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes. So what I started noticing, we all did, sometime in the late eighties that we weren't getting so much of the bridge and tunnel people anymore because they had comedy clubs on Long Island. They had comedy clubs in New Jersey. They had comedy clubs in Philadelphia, places they were coming to New York City from.

Tom Megalis:
Well, the inevitable crash was going to happen in the nineties. After that boom, I mean there was nowhere to go except down. Did you notice a change, because you were still there in the early nineties?

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. Well I was... I did notice a change, and the thing with me, the other thing I noticed too, is I got sick and tired of cold weather.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
People say, "Why did you go to Los Angeles." I really got tired of being cold. I really did, and it was time for... I'd been in Manhattan for so long. And I love New York city. I still consider myself to be a New Yorker even though I grew up outside of Cleveland, Ohio.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
But yeah, it came time to... I felt for me, I wanted to go to Los Angeles. I really wanted to give it a shot out there in Hollywood.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And boy, I got lucky again because I went from LA to the Hollywood Improv. All right, you know what, Tom, I think it's time we start wrapping up this episode. I hope everyone tunes in next week because we're going to keep talking about The Improv. We're going to do a part two next week.

Tom Megalis:
Wow. This has been fun.

Dave Schwensen:
Are you up for this?

Tom Megalis:
I... Yeah. I mean, part one has had me gripped. I can't wait for part two.

Dave Schwensen:
I had you gripped? Okay. All right well listen, on that note, I'm going to say thank you to cohost Tom Megalis.

Tom Megalis:
Thank you Dave.

Dave Schwensen:
And it's been fun as always. I'll see you next time when we continue talking more about The Improv comedy clubs. Until then I'm Dave Schwensen, you've been listening to What's So Funny! And until then, keep laughing.

Speaker 1:
Thanks for listening to What's So Funny! That's all we have for you for now. Be sure to check back in for the next season of comedy classics. Special thanks to executive producers, Joan Andrews and Michael DeAloia, producer Sarah Willgrube and audio engineer Eric Koltnow.

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