HOLLYWOOD, CA – Legendary comedian Henny Youngman once quipped that instead of coming up with new jokes, he preferred to find new audiences. That may work for comics, but not for comedy clubs, which have to keep things fresh for regular patrons. Management at the world-famous Hollywood Improv knows this, which is why they recently did a lighting rehab at the iconic club with some help from CHAUVET DJ. Well-known designer Richard Rutherford of Rutherford Design (Northridge, CA) was responsible for the rehab project, which involved updating the Hollywood Improv’s sound and video systems, as well as lighting, plus the addition of new carpeting, draperies and seating. “The Improv is a longtime client,” said Rutherford, who’s done design work for some 30 comedy clubs. “We all knew it was time to update the lighting to incorporate the latest color mixing technology and have it work well for video recording, as well as live performances. Often described as “the most famous comedy club in America,” the Hollywood Improv is the flagship of the Improv chain. Located on colorful Melrose Avenue, the Improv occupies a near mythological place in our popular culture as the club that launched the careers of Andy Kaufman, Tim Allen, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Elaine Boosler and many other comedic superstars.
Respecting and celebrating this tradition was essential to Rutherford’s design when he updated the club’s lighting rig. “The brick wall and signage of the Improv are visually iconic, so I was very aware of how they needed to be ‘available’ in every look when I designed,” he said. “There are only a few looks required in any given room when you design for a comedy club, but it’s important that the mood on stage can be adjusted with lighting for the personality of the act.” Rutherford’s lighting rig at the Hollywood Improv consists of 24 SlimPAR Pro RGBA par fixtures and 4 SlimPAR Pro VW par fixtures from CHAUVET DJ along with 4 COLORado 1VW Tour quad-color warm white/cool white LED pars from CHAUVET Professional. The designer used these fixtures to illuminate the club’s 16’ x 12’ stage and relied on four LED panel lights for broadcast lighting.
“We used the SlimPAR Pro VW for upstage looks; the SlimPAR RGBA for upstage side key lights as well as for RGBA color mixing and COLORados for front lighting. All the fixtures have barn doors – both for aesthetic and functional reasons,” said Rutherford, who completed the entire project in an impressive 72 hours. As is true at most comedy clubs, the Hollywood Improv’s small stage creates special challenges for lighting designers. “The angle of incidence on the performer is critical for video,” said Rutherford. “Since the stage is a thrust from the wall, there’s no real proscenium; the audience is viewing the performer from 270° essentially.” The addition of amber LEDs in the SlimPAR Pro RGBA results in more saturated and vivid colors, in addition to providing a more complete spectrum in some of the harder-to-create hues. These attributes are particularly critical in lighting a comedy club like the Hollywood Improv, where achieving the right color mix is no laughing matter. Since there are typically no moving beams, video walls or gobos at a comedy club, the colors projected by lighting fixtures are essential to conveying the right look for each performer.
Video recording (either for broadcast or a comedian’s portfolio) is another factor that must be considered when designing comedy club lighting, according to Rutherford. “I think the initial design has to be capable of lighting all the basic angles for video with enough flexibility in levels and temperature,” he said. “After that, we want to focus on illuminating the visually iconic elements, and then we look at anything that provides architectural delineation.” As visitors to the Hollywood Improv can see for themselves, Rutherford Design succeeded in celebrating the iconic image of the club while enhancing it with a more vibrant mix of colors. When asked how happy his client was with the lighting design, Rutherford answered, “Giddy, always giddy. I kid you not, the manager wept when he saw the finished project,” and that’s no joke!
For more information on Rutherford’s work visit www.rutherforddesign.com