The interior is revamped and the menu is fresh, but the jokes are still funny as ever. The Tempe Improv is reopening April 19 with a new look and a new owner, but a familiar headliner — comedian and impressionist Frank Caliendo.
The Improv closed last May due to financial struggles, with a press release from the Improv last year stating that downtown Phoenix’s newer comedy club Stand Up Live had taken a majority of the Improv’s comedic acts.
With its owner, Mark Anderson, reported missing just days earlier, the Improv closed on June 1 last year. Anderson was found dead in a Buckeye hotel room on June 6; authorities confirmed he died of natural causes.**
Joel Bachkoff owns Stand Up Live and says he was approached by Anderson’s widow to take over the Improv. The two clubs will now work together to bring comedic acts to the Valley. They will have separate lineups, but both will feature big-name acts. The Improv’s summer lineup already includes Brad Wollack, co-executive producer and writer on E! Network’s “Chelsea Lately,” and Chris D’Elia, a comedian and actor on NBC’s “Whitney.”
“I just felt that there’s such history (with the Improv),” says Bachkoff. “It’s a very embraced club, and I just thought that it was really important to keep it in the market and keep the legacy going.”
Frank Caliendo is a Tempe resident and has fond memories of the Improv. Before he was telling jokes on Dave Letterman and Conan O’Brien, and working on shows like “MADtv” on Fox, “Frank TV” on TBS and “Fox NFL Sunday,” Caliendo was making audiences laugh at the neighborhood comedy club.
“One of the things about (the Improv) that I love is the location because it’s on the east side,” says Caliendo. “A lot of my audience tends to be families… (and) there’s just a lot of families that live in Tempe (and) Chandler and people that just seem to like what I do on this side of town, so that’s where my biggest group of fans is.”
Caliendo is known for his spot-on impressions of celebrities like Al Pacino, Morgan Freeman, Christopher Walken and Robin Williams. His impression of President George W. Bush even earned him an invitation to perform at the 2007 White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
“I look at it as my job is just to make people laugh,” says Caliendo. “I’m not trying to be the greatest impressionist ever or anything like that; I’m just trying to make people laugh.”
Although Caliendo’s material is available on TV and the Internet, he says that virtual comedy doesn’t compare to seeing it live and in-person.
“I just think there’s nothing that beats being in the moment at a live comedy show, especially at a club, even if it’s a bigger club like the Tempe Improv,” says Caliendo. “You’re there, and you feel like you’re part of it.”
Caliendo also says that the Improv renovations will create a great atmosphere for the audience.
“I think people are going to be blown away when they see how different (the Improv) is,” says Caliendo. “It’s the same space, but at the same time, it’s going to look like such an upgrade that people are going to be … in a good mood because it feels so clean and new.”
Bachkoff says that he spent more than $1 million renovating the Improv, gutting the club’s old interior and creating new elements. The bathrooms, kitchen and showrooms have all been redone, and the box office is more accessible with its new outdoor location. Bachkoff also added an upstairs VIP section along with a bar where customers can enjoy drinks before the show.
“We’re really going to embrace the community, and we’re going to put on some great shows, great customer service, (and a) great menu,” says Bachkoff. “It’s really about the community… We’re not going to try to change the culture of the room, we just changed the look of the room.”
If you go
What: The Tempe Improv reopens with local comedian Frank Caliendo.
When: 7:30 and 10 p.m. Friday, April 19, 7 and 10 p.m. Saturday, April 20, and 7 p.m. Sunday, April 21.
Where: 930 E. University Drive, Tempe
Cost: $35, plus a two-drink minimum per person. Must be 18 or older.
Information: (480) 921-9877 or TempeImprov.com
• Ellen, a junior at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact her at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
**Correction (Thursday, April 18, 7 p.m.): This story, appearing at EastValleyTribune.com and in the April 17 print edition of the Tribune originally misstated the cause of death for former Improv owner Mark Anderson. Anderson died in mid-2012 of natural causes. The Tribune regrets the error.