- Virgo New Moon, Happy New Year 5778
By Shelley L Ackerman
Hello from Hollywood!
Hours after experiencing my very first earthquake (and hours before my brother Mark’s apt would be devastated by one ten times the size of the one in L.A. in Mexico City), I am sitting here contemplating the Virgo New Moon, Roshashana (the Jewish High Holy Days beginning with the New Year and commencing with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement), and reviewing the past year.
And as I join millions of others in prayer to be written into the Book of Life, a very different book of sorts has been published as of today: The Improv: An Oral History of the Comedy Club that Revolutionized Stand-Up by BUDD Friedman (my former boss -with me in the above photo) and Tripp Whetsell, is here and well, it’s really something.
As many of you know, I started at the club at age 17, worked there as a kid from 1971-1980, and began my career as a performer alongside everyone from Jay Leno to Andy Kaufman, Gilbert Gottfried, Billy Crystal, Bill Maher, Jimmie Walker, Marty Nadler, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, Marvin Braverman, Larry David, (Senator) Al Franken, Richard Lewis, Robert Klein, Rick Overton, Joe Piscopo, Mike Preminger, Liz Torres and first rate comedy writer Alan Zweibel, and on and on for years. It was a magical time to say the least.
There were two distinct universes coexisting at the Improv at all times: first and most obviously there was the crowded club with that famous brick wall, the aforementioned brilliant comics, the house pianists: Raymond Johnson, John Foster, Tony Monte, Alan Marlowe, John Lenehan, Paul Greenwood, Robert Sprayberry, Eddie Rabin, Shelly Markham, and before my time, Johnny Meyer, Dustin Hoffman (yep!!), and several others, and the singers and musical acts: Bette Midler (who shot to fame months before I arrived on the scene), Laura Taylor, Alto and Mantia, Melissa Manchester, Marsha Malamet, Diane Vega Snow; Jane Stuart, Betty Rhodes, Nancy Opel, Donna Murphy, Zora Rasmussen, singer -comedienne Lynne Lipton, Weeden and Finkle, and yours truly. And then there was the scene at the bar/bull pen where the acts waited to be called and where gifted writers: Oscar nominee Norman Wexler, academics and producers: Dr. Nick Catalano, actors: Danny Aiello, Carmine Caridi, J.J. Barry, Tim Thomerson, Ray Serra, Vincent Gardenia, and Sandy Baron; musicians: Thad Jones & Mel Lewis, Bobby Scott, Charlie Smalls, and balladeers such as Mike Sergio; agents and managers: Shelly Rothman, Peter Paull, Joe Lauer, Harvey Elkin, star patron and benefactor to many, Kenny O’Neill, and so many other key loyalists and supporters: Joe Amiel and Eddie Miller; who added color and chemistry and love to the unique ambiance of this one-of-a-kind establishment that can never be again.
And tonight Sept 19, erev Roshashana, at the LA Improv on Melrose Avenue, those of us still on the planet will meet again for the first time in 30-40 years! It is both joyful and bittersweet. Many are no longer here to celebrate the history that we created and shared: Andy Kaufman, Freddie Prinze, David Brenner, Steve Landesberg, Bobby Alto, Martin Harvey Friedberg, Nick Arnold, Ronnie Shakes, Marjorie Gross, Tom Davis (of Franken & Davis), Bernie Travis, and Bob “Uncle Dirty” Altman, to name a few. But their spirit lives on in their work, in so many memories and now in this rich gem of a book in which I am so proud to be quoted (extensively).
So Happy and a very SWEET New Year, and whether celebrating or not, may YOU be written in the Book of Life.