Before They Were Famous: 19 Stand-Up Comedians Who Performed on A&E’s An Evening at the Improv

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Improvisation comedy club’s opening in New York City (since closed in NYC, though The Improv chain has expanded to Los Angeles and currently in 22 other cities), the club has a new documentary out via EpixHD, The Improv: 50 Years Behind The Brick Wall.

Lots of memories. Lots of careers launched and/or helped by the club, particularly through its long-running cable TV showcase on A&E, An Evening at the Improv. That show aired from 1982-1996.

Through Hulu, we can relive some of the hundreds of stand-up comedians who received their first big breaks and TV credits on this showcase.

Let’s travel back and see what some of these big-name talents were like two or three decades ago…

ADAM SANDLER circa 1989, two years before he first appeared in the cast of Saturday Night Live


JEFF DUNHAM without the dummies!

DAVID SPADE talking about his first Hollywood minutes

KEVIN POLLAK circa 1987, on turning 30

BILL ENGVALL from 1988, hating on stupid people

BILL MAHER already had a beef with the kids of the 1980s in 1988, what with their blue hair and such

BRAD GARRETT in 1987 impersonating Sammy Davis Jr., Bill Cosby, Rodney Dangerfield and Richard Pryor, gambling in Las Vegas (Garrett now has his name on a Vegas comedy club)

ROSIE O’DONNELL and what she thought of Oprah Winfrey in 1988

JEFF GARLIN talking gibberish in 1988 when his own voice was still young — curb your enthusiasm, please


LARRY WILMORE in 1989, when his best credit was playing a cop on The Facts of Life. You remember that, don’t you?

MARTIN LAWRENCE in 1989, after Star Search but before Def Comedy Jam

RICHARD JENI before his first Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1988

PAUL FEIG, neither freaky nor geeky in 1988

PAULA POUNDSTONE when the only kids in her life were her roommate’s kids

GEORGE LOPEZ on being Mexican in 1989 and explaining his love of golf even back then

JEFF FOXWORTHY tells us that single people and married people are different, whether or not they’re rednecks

TIM ALLEN defining men behavior and tool time, and within two years, redefining it in his own hit ABC sitcom, Home Improvement

And for a bonus 20th clip, here’s RON PERLMAN as a guest host, on being recognized in 1988 while being himself while starring in the TV series, Beauty and the Beast, after first being a neanderthal in the movie, Quest For Fire, and The Name of the Rose

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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