The 13,049-square-foot entertainment venue will open to the public Aug. 20, bringing a lineup of notable names and full-service culinary program. Nationally renowned stand-up comedian Steve Byrne will take the main stage opening weekend, with back-to-back evening performances on Friday and Saturday and one on Sunday.
The lineup continues with Dusty Slay, Aug. 26-29; Annie Lederman, Sept. 3-4; Josh Potter, Sept. 5; D.L. Hughley, Sept. 10-12; Jay Mohr, Sept. 17-19, among others.
Improv’s 402-seat showroom includes a variety of table seatings as well as VIP booths facing the main stage. Located toward the back of the showroom is a second live performance stage, The Lab. With seating for up to 100 people and a retractable wall to divide it from the rest of the room, the smaller black-box theater space will host up-and-coming local comedians, exclusive acts and private events. Besides Improv’s flagship location in Hollywood, Brookfield is the only other venue that has such a space.
“Dave Chapelle loves The Lab in Hollywood because he wants to be really close to the crowd,” said Amber Gainey Meade, Improv’s vice president of marketing during a media tour Monday. “We wanted to bring this here because you have such a strong local comedy community. It’s an opportunity for new, local comics to cut their teeth on our stage and eventually graduate to the full room and start touring.”
Los Angeles-based Improv was originally founded in New York City in 1963 and now has 25 locations nationwide, including Brookfield. Improv stages have hosted the likes of Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres, Dave Chappelle, Tim Allen, Jay Leno, Chris Rock, Dane Cook, among other big names, and have helped give rise to many industry careers.
Now with Improv’s step into the market, southeastern Wisconsin is poised to draw more up-and-coming high-profile talent in the years to come.
“We have relationships with everyone from those who are absolutely unknown all the way to the biggest names that ever have performed on any stage …,” said Alireza Ghaemian, CEO of Improv. “The expectation in the market from us should be you not only can discover new local, national and global artists coming to Milwaukee, but also the biggest names in the industry.”
Improv’s booking team has been in contact with comedians throughout the region and other comedy clubs in the area for the past 18 months in an effort cultivate new relationships within the local entertainment scene and find “the next generation of talent,” said Ghaemian.
With its close proximity to Chicago, the Milwaukee market is fertile ground for accessing new talent, he said.
Improv’s opening comes after a tumultuous year for live entertainment as the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions forced music venues and comedy clubs to shutter.
From a business standpoint, surviving without cash flow at one point seemed impossible — and ramping back from ground zero has been its own challenge. But Ghaemian never doubted the comeback of live comedy.
“If you’ve been in the comedy space for long enough, you know that nothing can change the core value of live entertainment,” said Ghaemian. “We’ve been through that process when Netflix came out and people were saying it’s going to replace live comedy. Nothing is going to replace live comedy. If you’ve been to the club once, that’s an experience you can’t get in any way shape or form (elsewhere).”
He said the experience of enjoyment and laughing together with a room full of people is what keeps the industry relevant.
Ahead of its opening, Improv is staffing up. The venue so far has onboarded 45 to 50 employees, with plans to hire a total of 84.