Last Thursday, I had the distinct pleasure of attending Atlanta Improv Comedy Club and Dinner Theatre’s Media Night, which we will call “Improv” from here on out! I had high expectations considering Improv’s reputation amongst the stand up community. Founded in 1963, Improv has grown from very humble beginnings in New York, to becoming a catalyst for such comedy superstars as Richard Pryor, Jerry Seinfeld and Dave Chappelle. Expanding all over the U.S., Atlanta is Improv’s 24th location, and just recently opened October 4th. With a history as rich with talent as Improv, I was expecting nothing less than pure comedic gold…I was not disappointed.
Located in East Andrews entertainment district, Improv is nestled at the top of the stairs adjacent the Czar Bar. It was a busy night for Buckhead and there was plenty of commotion surrounding the district. After wading through countless mini-skirts and Affliction tee’s, I finally made it to the small entrance of the club. I kind of enjoyed the fact that Improv took a minute to find, and that the entrance was not flashy or over-sold. It added to a feeling that you had stumbled upon some lonely comedy club that only you were cool enough to know about. After having my picture made in-front of a back-drop full of sponsors, that feeling kind of died, but nice while it lasted.After a walk down a narrow hallway, the club opens up to display a modern, yet simple stage and seating arrangement. Dark wood chairs and tables covered the room with little to no decorations on the wall. I admired this because it put focus on the act, not the aesthetics. Plenty of seating, with high tables in the back added to the very casual atmosphere. After I was seated, I immediately ordered a strong drink knowing that a little of grandpas old cough medicine makes everything funnier. The stage had a giant screen on the back wall, showing clips of comedy legends throughout history. There were also two large screens on either side of the stage that displayed the act as it went on. This seemed somewhat overzealous considering the size of the club and the fact there didn’t seem to be a bad seat in the house. However, it’s nice to know they had your viewing pleasure in mind when designing the layout.At first, the menu seemed like a joke in itself. The sushi menu butted up right next to the quesadilla selection which paralleled the spicy mac-n-cheese…But once I realize the menu was comprised entirely of specials from all the surrounding East Andrew’s restaurants, I began to relax. It was actually nice having such diverse options, and knowing that the food was coming from great places such as sushi from the Czar bar and bistro plates from Cellar 56.As the lights dimmed and the show began, the large screen behind the stage was lifted, revealing a brick wall behind it. I have no idea why comedy clubs consistently have brick walls for their comics to perform in-front of, but I admired the commitment to tradition. Budd Friedman, co-founder of Improv, opened the show with a special thanks to the audience and some comedic anecdotes to loosen up the crowd. He seemed genuinely happy to be opening up this new venture and it was obvious he was an old pro at the comedy game.Comedian Jamie Ward was hosting that evening, and further lubed up the audience with witty banter and some carefully inserted Asian jokes. It was apparent he was smart enough not to overplay the racial stereotype stuff, and only let it loose when appropriate.Two small penis jokes and one martini later, Gene Pompa hit the stage. Gracing both the big and small screen, Gene is probably best known for his consistent rotation on late night talk shows and Comedic Justice. Gene’s performance was fantastic and he himself seemed like a “comic’s comic.” He came across as someone who had worked the circuit, and gained superior knowledge on how to connect with an audience. If you are having trouble putting a face to a name, Google Gene Pampa…”OHHHH, that guy!” will follow shortly…The evening’s main act was Owen Benjamin of TBS’s Sullivan & Sons and a variety of other television sitcoms and movies. Leading with his interesting take on the relationship between canine and human, Owen proceeded to put on one the most hilarious shows I have ever seen. His jokes were centered around everyday annoyances that we all face. The kind of mundane occurrences that are funny, but in a daily life scenario, feels like the onset of dementia. Half way through he began to play the keyboard that was sitting behind him, and bugging me all night. His interpretation of modern pop music was spot on and as he showcased a somewhat new trend in younger comics by incorporating music. This is both a great way to mix up a routine and probably a convenient way for them to get laid at the end of the night. It is always refreshing to hear comics that can relate to everyday situations, but present them in a unique and comical way that makes you think differently the next time they occur. He reminded me a more attractive and less self deprecating version of Louis C.K.The night closed with a surprise performance from George Wallace! A comedy legend, it was great to see him come out and solidify Improv’s place in the Atlanta comedy scene. Wallace’s legendary comic career it way too long to describe and actually takes a few extra seconds to load on IMDB!Improv is a great combination of old school stand up tradition with a bit of modern flare. Mixing both a diverse group of comedians as well as cuisine, Improv keeps audience members always looking for something new. Even though it has barely been open a month, Improv has already set a line-up including Henry Cho and Sean Patton. Improv combines a great mix of location, setting and talent that will surely be the highlight of Atlanta’s comedy scene.FOR MORE INFO ON IMPROV CLICK HERE