Recording information: The Improv, Hollywood, CA (02/09/1995).
Photographer: Shelley Berman.
Shelley Berman devoted much of his time to acting in the '90s after spending the lion's share of the previous two decades semi-retired, but this album, recorded at one of Los Angeles's best-known comedy clubs, shows his talent and instincts as a standup comic remained as sharp as ever. Live at the Improv features both fresh material and Berman reprising routines from his classic albums of the '50s and '60s. While somewhere along the line Berman seems to have developed a fondness for dialect gags (such as the Latino room service operator in "Hotels" or the presumably Eastern European translator in "International Conference"), for the most part this finds Berman firmly in touch with his neuroses and diving into them with comic panache. The new recordings of "Department Store," "Neurosis," and "Father and Son" are different but not necessarily inferior to the original performances, and the passage of time has added a gravitas to "Father and Son" that separates it from the version on Outside Shelley Berman. And while new bits like "Argued with My Pants" and "Soap" are on the lighter side of his spectrum, they're consistently funny and show he hasn't lost his touch (and the latter's construction as a series of letters is a clever variation on the telephone call routines that helped make him famous). Folks wanting a perspective on why Shelley Berman's classic albums were so path-breaking ought to dig up some of his vintage Verve recordings, but longtime fans will find plenty to enjoy on Live at the Improv. [Live at the Improv was previously released as Live Again! by the Chuckle label, and also issued in an edition by Laugh.com.] ~ Mark Deming