Improv Nation by Sam Wasson
How We Made a Great American Art

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Those shortcomings aside, Wasson has assembled a loving tribute to one of entertainment’s most daunting challenges, with lots of laughs to boot.
-Star Tribune

Synopsis

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.   
 
 

About Sam Wasson

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SAM WASSON is the author of the New York Times bestseller Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M .: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman and two works of film criticism. He is a visiting professor of film at Wesleyan University.
 
Published December 5, 2017 by Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 485 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Humor & Entertainment, Arts & Photography. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Improv Nation
All: 3 | Positive: 2 | Negative: 1

Kirkus

Good
on Sep 17 2017

While comedians today take up a large space in public life, Wasson reminds us that a lot of hard work has been done for them to get there. An entertaining book, recommended for aspiring comedians who want to historicize their practice.

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Star Tribune

Above average
Reviewed by NEAL JUSTIN on Dec 01 2017

Those shortcomings aside, Wasson has assembled a loving tribute to one of entertainment’s most daunting challenges, with lots of laughs to boot.

Read Full Review of Improv Nation: How We Made a ... | See more reviews from Star Tribune

NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Jason Zinoman on Nov 30 2017

Some of the best parts of the book are its explorations of overlooked pioneers, like Wasson’s superb reporting on Valri Bromfield, a brilliant and largely forgotten comic who started on a comedy team with Dan Aykroyd.

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85%

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