The DC Improv: A History of Laughter


Improv comedy clubs have been recognized as the nation's premiere comedy venues -- and that's not just a brilliant marketing scheme. Founded by Budd Friedman, The Improv first opened in New York City in 1963. It was built as a venue for aspiring comedians to practice their craft in front of both the public and the entertainment industry.

The club's success sparked a mass expansion across America. Improv clubs popped up in Hollywood, Irvine, Las Vegas, Cleveland, Tempe, Addison, Tampa, Coconut Grove, Houston, Pittsburgh -- and of course, Washington, D.C.

The DC Improv opened its doors in 1992 under the direction of the late Mark Anderson. Our first show featured Ellen DeGeneres, Dave Chappelle and Brian Regan! In the early days, the club hosted a mix of stand-up shows and small-scale comedy theater productions, such as "Defending the Caveman." Stand-up gradually took over the schedule, and throughout the 1990s and early 2000s the club was a regular destination for many of today's superstars -- among them, Dave Chappelle, Jim Gaffigan, Sheryl Underwood, Lewis Black, Brian Regan, Adam Sandler, Margaret Cho, Kevin Hart and more.

Thanks to our intimate set-up and Washington's great crowds, the club has become a favorite venue for the comics themselves. Dozens of people have recorded stand-up albums here. Jerry Seinfeld came to the DC Improv when perfecting his "comeback" set, as seen in the 2002 documentary "Comedian." In 2012, an amazing lineup of heavy hitters came to town to help us celebrate 20 years:  Brian and Dennis Regan, Bill Burr, Jim Gaffigan, and Mike Birbiglia. (By the way, Mike used to work here as a door guy.) Our 30th anniversary celebration, in the summer of 2022, was a special edition of The Goddamn Comedy Jam at the world-famous 9:30 Club. And when Dave Chappelle received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2019, he used the DC Improv stage to film a big piece of the television special.

The DC Improv expanded its mission in 2003 by starting a comedy school with classes in both improv and stand-up comedy. Our instructors have helped thousands of people in the Washington area have fun and pursue their dreams. We expanded our performance space in 2006 by adding the comedy lounge, a showroom that seats around 60 people. If we think of more ways to expand, we'll be sure to let you know about it.

Recently, the DC Improv enjoyed its busiest years ever, bringing in a record number of audience members from 2015 through 2019. When the pandemic hit in 2020, we were forced to close our showroom to the public for more than a year, but we adapted: online Zoom shows and in-person drive-in shows (at RFK stadium!) kept the DC Improv name alive. Crowds were limited to 50 people when we reopened our renovated showroom in spring 2021, but with the support of a great city and comedy fans, we worked our way back to regular operations. 

The DC Improv is more than just a comedy club. It represents a tradition of excellence and laughter. Thanks so much for being a part of our history. We couldn't do it without you.