How We Made a Great American Art
“Like the best of his subjects, which include Stephen Colbert, Bill Murray and Tina Fey, Wasson has perfect timing.”—Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Finalist for the 2017 George Freedley Memorial Award
In this richly reported, scene-driven narrative, Sam Wasson charts the meteoric rise of improv from its unlikely beginnings in McCarthy-era Chicago. We witness the chance meeting between Mike Nichols and Elaine May, hang out at the after-hours bar where Dan Aykroyd hosted friends like John Belushi, Bill Murray, and Gilda Radner, and go behind the scenes of cultural landmarks from The Graduate to The Colbert Report. Along the way, we befriend pioneers such as Harold Ramis, Chevy Chase, Steve Carell, Amy Poehler, Alan Arkin, Tina Fey, Judd Apatow, and many others.
“Compelling, absolutely unputdownable…And, in case you’re wondering, yes, the book is funny. In places, very funny. A remarkable story, magnificently told.”—Booklist
“One of the most important stories in American popular culture…Wasson may be the first author to explain [improv’s] entire history…a valuable book.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Improv Nation masterfully tells a new history of American comedy…It holds the element of surprise—true to the spirit of its subject.”—Entertainment Weekly
De Vries does a remarkable job of narrating Wasson's sweeping history of American improvisational comedy, which begins in a Chicago bar in the McCarthy era and covers the emergence of groups such as Second City, Upright Citizens Brigade, and the cast of Saturday Night Live. De Vries's whimsical tones capture the eccentric working relationship of the groundbreaking team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May as they move from stage to film. In rendering the heartbreaking passages related to comedic superstars John Belushi and Chris Farley both of whom died from drug overdoses at the age of 33 De Vries provides a wistful tenor of regret in the reactions of their friends and colleagues. De Vries also ably handles the rapid transitions in the narrative with skill, pausing just enough to shift gears so that listeners can keep up. With the exception of providing vivid mimicry of Bill Murray's performance as the gopher-hunting groundskeeper in the movie Caddyshack, De Vries does not attempt to imitate celebrity voices. Rather, he devotes the bulk of his energy to the narrative at large and in doing so skillfully keeps listeners attuned. A HMH/Dolan hardcover.