There’s something about watching old comedy clips that’s comforting and irrelevant all at once. A lot of the jokes aren’t exactly topical anymore, but they serve as a weird slice of the times. The four disc set The Best of (the Original) An Evening at the Improv offers up a somewhat surreal trip down memory lane with its grainy, VHS quality preservation of performances by some of the biggest names in Hollywood. It’s like turning on the TV late at night and finding that it’s 1982 again.
An Evening at the Improv originally aired from 1982 to 1996, and like most late night fare seems as though it was produced to be ephemeral – current, funny, cutting-edge, entertaining, yes, but also fleeting. The end result is a treasure trove of stand-up featuring a wide range of well-established and not-yet-famous faces, saved for posterity in a collection that looks a lot like something you would have taped off TV back in the day. That’s not necessarily a criticism. It seems only fitting that the picture quality is as dated as some of the jokes.
The performers featured on The Best of (the Original) An Evening at the Improv make up a virtual who’s who of comedy. You’ve got seasoned veterans like Milton Berle and Phyllis Diller mixed in alongside rising stars like Michael Keaton, Billy Crystal, Paul Reiser, Jerry Seinfeld, Arsenio Hall, Bob Saget, Keenan Wayans and Jim Carrey. A St. Elsewhere era Howie Mandel (I’m guessing) does the impression of Bobby that would become the basis of Bobby’s World. Paul Reubens does Pee Wee Herman. And a bunch of people I couldn’t place try to be funny too (Mort Sahl? Larry Miller? John Byner?). It’s sort of a smorgasbord of 80s and 90s comedy with a random performance by country supergroup Alabama thrown in. Though a bit uneven at times, the DVD set makes for good background and offers up a fair amount of nostalgia as well.