A&E’s Evening at the Improv is commonly pined as a marker for the beginning of the end of the comedy boom. Not necessarily bad in and of itself, but as the start of ubiquity — a parade of comedians who were as indistinguishable as the brick walls they stood in front of.
I can’t recall ever seeing a full episode, just a few clips on the internet. But now, Hulu has put up 52 episodes of the series with possibly more to come, judging from how it’s pulling currently from the middle of the show’s run.
What’s fascinating about Evening at the Improv is how executives thought they had to package this “new” thing called stand-up… specifically using guest hosts who often aren’t stand-ups. Stand-up must have been seen as less than a sure thing. Why else would you try and goose viewership with a parade of 80s names who’ve never done it?
It leads to some hysterical incongruities. Below, Emanuel Lewis awkwardly introduces Dana Gould, who later became a pioneer in performing comedy away from comedy clubs. Gould’s routine — which even then is pointing at the artifice of stand-up and shows like Evening at the Improv — elicits a cut to Lewis again at some wonderfully dark material (around 18:50 below)...
Yep, lets put the camera on the child after that joke. Good idea.
Digging in from what’s currently up on Hulu, you’ll find some big names like Adam Sandler, Tim Allen, George Lopez and Jeff Dunham but also some interesting rarities. Like a routine from Bridesmaids director Paul Feig, who starts off with an intentional stinker:
It’s probably a slippery slope to draw a line from that joke to Feig’s work on “Freaks and Geeks”, but here I am, doing just that.
Also on Paul Feig’s show: Jeff Garlin and Colin Quinn. Hosted by “Body by Jake.”
There’s so much more to dig into here. This was the apex of the first boom. We’re in the middle of a second stand-up boom, maybe even at an apex. Some lessons perhaps?