Budd Friedman, founder and owner of The Improv, has died at age 90.

Budd Friedman, founder and owner of The Improv, has died at age 90.

Friedman helped launch the careers of everyone from Richard Pryor and Andy Kaufman to Bette Midler and Robin Williams. Plus, Adam Sandler’s personal tribute.

Lester Fabian Brathwaite

Budd Friedman, founder and owner of the original Improvisation Comedy Club, better known as The Improv, died Saturday of heart failure. He was 90.

Friedman even briefly managed Bette Midler‘s career when she was just starting out, helping to land her a spot on The Tonight Show.

HOLLYWOOD, CA – JUNE 21: Improv Comedy Clubs co-founder Budd Friedman attends the Hollywood Improv and the Wyland Foundation mural unveiling and “Comics For Conservation” benefit at Hollywood Improv on June 21, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

Budd Friedman, founder and owner of The Improv, has died at age 90.

| Credit: David Livingston/Getty

Born June 6, 1932 in Norwich, Conn., Friedman’s family moved to New York City in 1941. After graduating high school, he enlisted in the army and fought in the Korean War. He was injured on his first day in action by an enemy grenade, for which he was awarded the Purple Heart.

Friedman earned a degree in advertising in 1957 and embarked on a career as an ad executive before deciding he wanted to produce a Broadway play. On the idea of his then-girlfriend and future ex-wife singer-actress Silver Saundors, he opened The Improvisation in 1963 as a place for Broadway performers to congregate after hours in hopes of making some contacts in the theater world.

The Improvisation hosted its first comedian , Dave Astor, in 1964 and the rest is, as they say, history. The success of Astor’s set inspired other comedians and The Improv officially became a comedy club, the first of its kind but certainly not the last.

“That’s how I became a comedy genius, ladies and gentlemen, because of Dave Astor,” Friedman once said. “I didn’t have the idea of opening [a venue] for comics. I got tired of singers singing the same songs all the time, but I could listen to a comic do the same jokes over and over because there was always a nuance I could pick up on.”

In 1974, Friedman opened The Improv in Los Angles, which became the hub for a number of up and coming comedians and performers. Judd Apatow worked the door, Debra Winger was a waitress, Kevin Nealon a bartender.

“The comedy world lost a giant today,” The Hollywood Improv tweeted. “In 1963 he changed the world of comedy by creating the first comedy club for the masses to come together in laughter. In 1963 he changed the world. He went global. He was a pioneer. He was a gentleman. He was a luminary.”

Tributes lit social media highlighting Friedman’s contributions to comedy and his ability to connect with those making their way in the business. One of those names inspired by the comedy legend was Adam Sandler who posted a photo of the two of them and wrote, “Budd Friedman. Can’t thank this man enough for what he gave to all of us. A comedy home. All the stage time. All the tips. All the encouragement. A place for comedians to hang out and talk about nothing but comedy.”

Friedman and Saundors divorced in 1992, and she got the original Improv in the settlement. Then in 2018, Friedman and his business partner Mark Lonow sold the franchise to  Levity Entertainment Group.

Besides being a comedy pioneer, Friedman had minor roles in a number of films, including the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon starring Jim Carrey and Apatow’s Funny People. He is survived by his wife Alix, four children, and five grandchildren.

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