Evening at the Improv
They often say that you can’t go home again, but you actually can, as long as you accept that it won’t be exactly like it used to be, but if you are willing to look past the impressions you can find that old home once again.
I was invited to the LA Improv last night for a tribute to Budd Friedman, who was not just the owner of the famous club, and the man responsible for so many comedy careers, but also provided the a supportive atmosphere that made us all feel welcomed and part of the comedy community.
When I walked into the Improv last night, for the first time in over 20 years, I was immediately thrown off balance by the fact that it no longer looked like the place that was seared into my memory from spending five hours a night, five nights a week for more than 10 years there. The dining area where we would all sit for hours, sharing stories and laughs and helping each other navigate the business, was no longer filled with dinner tables but rather had a few couches and seating areas, where patrons could spend a little time waiting for the show. A dinner spot and more importantly, a clubhouse for the regulars it was no longer.
The bar as well as the staircases had been moved, and the jukebox was gone, along with the railing that we would lean against when we first arrived, scouting the room until we could find where our group was sitting or Budd would sternly remind us, by name, to get out of the aisle. Also missing was Budd’s big round table which usually remain empty until our group got the required upgrade, usually by Rodney or Milton or one of the other bigger names joining us, at which point Budd would step up to the table, quietly say, “Gentlemen,” and wave us to his table.
As disquieting as the new surroundings were, as soon as guests started to arrive, and you started to recognize people you’d spent so much time with years ago, or they recognized you, it started to feel like you were back home. Well, almost, as all those young, promising faces, were now aged by the passing of time, and while the conversation was often as funny and as clever as ever, it now more often than not, revolved around aches and pains, doctors and surgery and careers that exceed or failed to meet those expectations of youth.
Upon entering the showroom, a place I now realized I had spent a lot of time in, but had never actually sat for an entire show, mostly just popping in to watch a friend’s set, then once again rejoining the conversation in the outer dining area. At the same time however, it was strikingly familiar. The dark room filled with tables, the stage with a microphone stand, a piano, and the now traditional brick wall comedy background, which Budd originated, and I later found out was replaced a few years ago with a new brick wall.
As the tribute began with pictures from the past, stories about the way it was, and comics both live and on video including Jay Leno, Billy Crystal, Tom Dreesen, Byron Allen, Adam Sandler, Judd Apatow, Kevin Nealon and even Bette Midler, as well as family and former staff telling sharing stories about what Budd meant to everyone, those old feelings of being home again slowly built.
When the tributed ended, we moved back to the bar area, and searched out more of those familiar faces. We caught up a little more with each other, shared more great memories, exchanged numbers with promises that we’d grab a lunch or coffee together, though we knew in most cases we probably wouldn’t. Sure, the place was different, but so are we, but for one glorious night, we were all back home, all together again, and in a place that meant so much to all of us.
It turns out you can go home again. Places may have changed or no longer physically exist, but they will always be part of who you are and where you came from, and no matter where you go in life, those memories travel with you.