The Venue Review: The Pittsburgh Improv

We’ve talked a lot about the gritty backstage factories where comedy is forged and refined.  But after it’s packaged up and loaded onto the trucks at the distribution center, where does comedy go?  It needs a showroom, a bright floor that will allow the audience to see what comedy can be at its absolute best.

Pittsburgh’s biggest and best comedy stage is the Improv.  Located in Homestead on the banks of the Monongahela river, the Improv is preferred stop for many of the nation’s biggest comedy acts.  On any given weekend you could see a TV star, a Saturday Night Live alum, or a proven road comedian (aka “Drunk”).  I’ve worked with people that I could never have imagined even meeting before starting to do comedy.  Since I’m insecure, I will name a few: Pauly Shore, Jon Lovitz, Jim Breuer, Bill Burr, Billy Gardell and Charlie Murphy.

It’s an awesome venue and stage. Since I started doing open mics there when I was 21, I’ve gathered comedy knowledge and wisdom from some of my childhood idols. -Terry Jones

Perhaps the biggest contribution that the Improv has to offer the comedy scene is a pathway.  I’ve seen literally hundreds of comedians in the past 6 years that have never made it past the stage of an open mic at a dive bar.  The Improv somehow offers a light at the end of that smokey tunnel.  In a lot of ways, getting in the starting line-up of opening and feature comedians at the Improv means that a performer’s skills have reached another level.  It’s like getting called up from Triple A to the big leagues.  When you get booked to work at the Improv, you know that you’ll be performing for over a thousand people over the course of a weekend.  You have to fill out a W-2 form before you get paid at the club, which means one thing: you are officially a professional comedian.

And now a break down of the weekend shows at the Improv by Mike Wysocki:

ThursdayCrowds are usually light.  Its like a run through for the weekend.  Usually a good, more laid back feel.  Nice way to start off the weekend.

FridayEarly shows are packed, lots of old people and parents getting away from their bratty kids.  Late shows are tough for a performer. They start at 10 so the audience is already drunk and tired.  Getting people to pay attention and be quiet and not yawn can be a challenge.   

SaturdayThis is what you live for as a comic.  Saturday night, fired up crowds and the late show at 9 isn’t too late.  Incredible. 

Sunday: Sort of a wind down.  It’s usually for people that weren’t able to make it to the Friday or Saturday shows. 

There’s one thing about the Improv that can annoy comedians (including myself).  Almost every comedian fancies themselves a philosopher in a way.  We believe that by pointing out the stupid, the hypocritical and the incongruent we can somehow make a reverberating ripple on this tainted blue orb we call Earth.  “We can change them!”  The thing about audiences at the Improv is that they rarely give a crap about your “point.”  They don’t want to be told why they should support Green Architecture.  They don’t want to be told about why abortion is immoral.   They just paid $45 for tickets and $20 for a bucket of Heineken because they want to blow off some steam.  So it can be frustrating when you unveil a little piece of fragile artistry to the 300+ audience members and are met with silence. But cut them a break, they’re there to laugh for God’s sake!

It’s a great room when it’s filled and a difficult and intimidating one when it’s not.  You really have to earn it with every audience, but if they like you, then there’s nothing better.  – Bill Crawford

I owe practically every accomplishment in my comedy career to the Improv.  It’s my home club.  It’s the best club.   So we all need to support it.  Let’s fill those seats.

When: Open Mic’s on every other Wednesday.  Weekend shows usually run Thursday-Sunday

Where: Homestead (you can call it the Waterfront if that makes you feel better)

Drinks: Two-drink minimum

Feature: Top touring comedians from stage and screen

Attire: I guess two-levels down from what you think would be appropriate to wear to a Samba Club?  Or one level up from anything you’d wear to your nephew’s birthday party?

Parking: Right by Macy’s under the bridge

Cover Charge: You’re looking at a pretty expensive night.  But you get what you pay for, which is the most top-notch comedy product that the city has to offer.