By RODNEY HO/ firstname.lastname@example.org, originally filed Monday, November 30, 2015
The Atlanta Improv stand-up comedy club in Buckhead is shutting down December 31 after three years.
Stephen de Haan, president of the Andrews Entertainment District, said the entire place is closing after 13 years. He said the owners are seeking other properties to purchase or lease but declined to detail what they are seeking. He didn’t count out the possibility of moving the Improv elsewhere. (UPDATE: Tuesday, December 1: Aware how reticent de Haan was on the phone, I came by his offices to see if I could get more information. He declined very politely, only to say I had a couple of bits wrong in this story but refused to say what was incorrect. I begged, pleaded, tried to get him to tell me more about why they were leaving but he didn’t budge. Whatever happened between the East Andrews folks and the landlord was not something either side seems to want to talk about.)
The 22,639-square-foot space not only includes the stand-up comedy club but also a sports bar (Stout), a dance club (Burn Social), a lounge (Prohibition), a pizzeria (Sal’s), a burger joint (Stillhouse), a vodka bar (Czar Ice Bar) and a tapas wine bar and restaurant (Cellar 56.).
The current land owners Edens bought out the Andrews Entertainment District leases. What the Columbia, S.C.-based real estate developers plan to do with the properties is unclear. Edens publicist Shari Misher has not gotten back to me.
The 300-seat Improv club opened in the fall of 2012 with Louie Anderson as the first headliner. That year, Stan Weaver — a partner in the Andrews Entertainment District — contacted Budd Friedman, who founded the first Improv, in New York City in 1963. Within weeks, Weaver and Friedman had a deal.
“Atlanta is a prime market,” said Friedman in 2012. He helped launch the careers of Rodney Dangerfield, Bette Midler and Jay Leno. “When Stan asked to license the Improv name, we were more than happy to do so.”
de Haan, in 2012, told me, “it really brings one of the nation’s biggest comedy brands to a more upscale market such as Buckhead.”
The Improv is a national brand which leases its name out to 22 clubs, including those in Hollywood, Tampa and Kansas City. And despite the name, these clubs do not cater to traditional “improv” comedy like Dad’s Garage or Whole World Theatre do.
By 2014, the Atlanta Improv began booking bigger names than long-time rival the Punchline including Jon Lovitz, Dave Coulier, Paul Reiser and Tom Arnold. Recently, the club has booked the likes of Kevin Nealon, Norm MacDonald and George Wallace.
The locale was also a showcase for up-and-coming Atlanta comics, many who were upset by its pending closure.
“The Improv was a cool, well-run, legit comedy club where new comedians could get their start doing open mics and you could see national names in an intimate venue,” wrote Ashley Hesseltine (right) in an email. “I did a few open mics here; one night Ron White showed up to try out some material and people knew about it beforehand. It sold out, 300 people in the house, and I had one of my best sets. It was magical. I have seen countless big names here and it’s just such a f*cking bummer to see it go. I mean, do we really need more overpriced apartments in Buckhead? Ugh. I don’t know if they have plans of reopening somewhere else, but I really hope so.”
In the spring of 2015, the Punchline closed its doors in Sandy Springs after 33 years and earlier this month opened a smaller 200-seat space at the Landmark Diner about a mile north from the Improv on Roswell Road.
Gary Abdo, who runs the new Atlanta Comedy Theatre in Norcross, said the Improv was used as a way to give patrons a multi-entertainment experience. “I think the Improv’s enticement was that you can see a comedy show, then go to a bar or restaurant in the same complex,” he said.
Abdo said the Improv was using a similar business model to that of the Funny Farm in Roswell, which was part an entertainment complex which included go-karts, a miniature golf course and an arcade in the 2000s but closed in 2009.