Improv Nation
From the best-selling author of Fosse, a sweeping yet intimate—and often hilarious—history of a uniquely American art form that has never been more popular. At the height of the McCarthy era, an experimental theater troupe set up shop in a bar near the University of Chicago. Via word-of-mouth, astonished crowds packed the ad-hoc venue to see its unscripted, interactive, consciousness-raising style. From this unlikely seed grew the Second City, the massively influential comedy theater troupe, and its offshoots—the Groundlings, Upright Citizens Brigade, SNL, and a slew of others.   Sam Wasson charts the meteoric rise of improv in this richly reported, scene-driven narrative that, like its subject, moves fast and digs deep. He shows us the chance meeting at a train station between Mike Nichols and Elaine May. We hang out at the after-hours bar Dan Aykroyd opened so that friends like John Belushi, Bill Murray, and Gilda Radner would always have a home. We go behind the scenes of landmark entertainments from The Graduate to Caddyshack, The Forty-Year Old Virgin to The Colbert Report. Along the way, we commune with a host of pioneers—Mike Nichols and Harold Ramis, Dustin Hoffman, Chevy Chase, Steve Carell, Amy Poehler, Alan Arkin, Tina Fey, Judd Apatow, and many more. With signature verve and nuance, Wasson shows why improv deserves to be considered the great American art form of the last half-century—and the most influential one today.    

Improv Nation Details

TitleImprov Nation
Author
ReleaseDec 5th, 2017
PublisherEamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN-139780544557208
Rating
GenreNonfiction, History, Plays, Theatre

Improv Nation Review

  • Andrei Alupului
    January 1, 1970
    really solid and entertaining history - the notes section alone is a trove of cool stuff to follow through on, videos to check out, interviews to read, etc. the writing gets a lil clumsy i think, proportionate to the author's enthusiasm. like based on how he described some of the sctv crew's parties i could tell they were his favs cause it got a little cringey reading it - and then in the afterword it's like yep, they were his favs. but honestly there's also something kind of lovely about that, really solid and entertaining history - the notes section alone is a trove of cool stuff to follow through on, videos to check out, interviews to read, etc. the writing gets a lil clumsy i think, proportionate to the author's enthusiasm. like based on how he described some of the sctv crew's parties i could tell they were his favs cause it got a little cringey reading it - and then in the afterword it's like yep, they were his favs. but honestly there's also something kind of lovely about that, i appreciate revealing earnestness more than detached cynicism and lord knows the latter is easier and my escape hatch through life. anyway! this is really a wonderful history, i'm sure there are the usual complaints to be had about omissions or generalizations or etc in certain points but for me it filled a lot of gaps and was also a total pleasure. additionally it reminded me why i love doing and seeing improv so much, how it became an obsession for me as it has for so many. i think this is a good book for improvisers to give to their loved ones in the hopes of creating a better understanding in that way. i'm glad it exists!
    more
  • Steve Lionel
    January 1, 1970
    Until I read Improv Nation, I had not realized how many comedians/actors I was familiar with had connections to Chicago's Second City. Sam Wasson starts in the 1940s with the birth of improvisational comedy and Viola Spolin and Del Close who taught classes in what was later to be called improv. We later meet Mike Nichols and Elaine May, who remain central to the story through the decades, but also many more comedians and others who flitted in and out of Chicago's improv troupes.While I was famil Until I read Improv Nation, I had not realized how many comedians/actors I was familiar with had connections to Chicago's Second City. Sam Wasson starts in the 1940s with the birth of improvisational comedy and Viola Spolin and Del Close who taught classes in what was later to be called improv. We later meet Mike Nichols and Elaine May, who remain central to the story through the decades, but also many more comedians and others who flitted in and out of Chicago's improv troupes.While I was familiar with Nichols and May as comics, I had forgotten that they were also movie directors and screenwriters. Nichols had great success as a director ("The Graduate" and many more), May did not (cf. "Ishtar"). But behind the scenes, May's screenwriting talents saved movies for which she did not get credit, including "The Graduate".What fascinated me about Improv Nation was seeing the comics as people, often destitute and begging for any job. Some became successful (for example, Stephen Colbert), some a bit too successful and flamed out (John Belushi). The early deaths of several prominent comics (Belushi, John Candy, Gilda Radner) weighed heavily on those who survived.I had never before heard of Spolin and Close, but that's because they were always backstage, guiding the comics we came to know and love. Del Close was himself a fascinating character, and I understand there's another book about him which I may seek out.Overall I enjoyed Wasson's tale immensely, more so than I expected, but I noted that in his telling everyone was brilliant and I began to wonder if it was really true. The book is arranged chronologically, and towards the end it becomes somewhat spotty with very short paragraphs and jumping around. It's a very dense book with a huge story to tell. The actual comedy is a relatively small part of the story - the personal relationships are out front. I loved it.
    more
  • Maria
    January 1, 1970
    well-written, just found that I like listening to improv more than reading about it
  • Art
    January 1, 1970
    In the World of Comedy, Improv May Now Be More Important Than Stand-Up. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/30/bo...
  • Andrew
    January 1, 1970
    Improv is an indigenous art form and its evolution mirrors fundamental shifts in the American cultural fabric—from the uptight fifties to the liberated sixties and beyond—this is the first book that takes it all in , lays it all out and lets it hang out. Recommended.
    more
Write a review