Improv Nation by Sam Wasson

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...

Details Improv Nation

TitleImprov Nation
Release DateDec 5th, 2017
PublisherEamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
GenreNonfiction, History, Humor, Comedy, Plays, Theatre

Reviews Improv Nation

  • Stewart Tame
    Full disclosure: I won a free ARC of this book in a Goodreads giveaway. As you’d surmise, this is a history of the improv movement in the USA. Wasson presents it as an American artform--yes, there are antecedents in European traditions, but nothing quite like improv as the term is commonly understood. Anyway, he makes a persuasive case, but whether you accept it as American or not, the history--Nichols & May, Second City, the Groundlings, Satur...
  • Dave
    Wasson's Improv Nation traces the American art of improvisational theater from its workshop beginnings in the Fifties through its influences on such movies as the Graduate and to the great Improv theaters of Second City in Chicago and Toronto and the Groundlings in Los Angeles. In the Seventies under the direction of Lorne Michaels, the amazing talents of John Belushi, Dan Akroyd, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, and Jane Curtin became the foundation f...
  • Hannah Petosa
    I can’t even begin to describe how much this book means to me. When I first started reading it, I assumed it would be the history of improv. However, this was way more than just a history book. This is the story (or should I say, stories) of artists we have come to know and love and their passion for improvisation. As an improviser myself, I can say that yes I did know a lot of the information already written in my book. But, this book made me ...
  • Andrei Alupului
    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 ...
  • Mary
    Unlike the quirky creators of the art of improv and the many improvisors about whom the author so beautifully and lovingly writes, all of whom seem to know just what to say on the spur of the moment, I find myself at a loss for words to describe just how much I enjoyed this extraordinarily good book. So let me just say that, f I could give it more than five stars, I would gladly do so.
  • Evan Kostelka
    I didn't have a large knowledge of older improv comedians going into this book, but after reading the book I see the progression from Mike & Elaine to Will Ferrell. The author presented the material energetically and in some cases, dramatically, leaving me hanging to read how the story ended. I thought the beginning was a little slow, but once he gets into the Second City era, the names and movies started to become familiar to me and I enjoyed th...
  • Lyndsay West
    Here's an excerpt from my review of this book on my blog. You can check out the rest of the review here: Stepping on my soapbox for a sec! Improv has significantly improved my life, and if you’re on the fence about taking a class, DO IT. It puts you back in touch with the imaginative, vulnerable, and curious parts of yourself that shone more readily as a child. It improves your quick-thinking skills, tea...
  • David
    "They were creating constantly, and without the help of lighting, costumes, sets, script, or even story. In or out of the theater, Shepherd had never seen such interconnection. These people were all working together, like a family, to alchemize empty space into art."Rating: 5/5Quotes:"Every kid assumes he has a secret identity," Close would say, "and if you could just find the magic word, the godlike powers would indeed burst forth.""There are tw...
  • Gregory Butera
    This is the hilarious story of America’s largest dysfunctional family, since it seems everyone really has worked with nearly everyone else in the improv comedy world. If you have any interest in improv comedy or comedians or the process of creating humor this is a must read. I just love the work of so many of the folks included in this volume. These men and women have made me laugh and have made the world a more bearable place. I’ve read othe...
  • Steve Lionel
    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...
  • Michael Brown
    The author tried real hard to cover everything. Each section covered a group of years. In each section were various chapters that covered either groups, players, events or all of them. Too much time was spent at times on trivial points that seemed to not be continued later or part of further treatments of improv. Lots of personal data was provided and again often over and over again. The main theme was the growth of improve in the US following th...
  • James
    From the birth to the current status of the art of improvisation which Sam Wasson believes is a true American art form like jazz. He goes from the inception created by a mix of European acting ethics and abstract realism that comes from the inner self ... no rules, just feel. It morphs under the tutelage of different innovators and stylists and has become what we basically see 'comedy' as today. Reading this is a bit of a chore. I'm a big fan of ...
  • FittenTrim
    NOTE: I know/knew a few of the people in this book; improvised at some of these theaters.Bringing the unruly history of improvisation into one book was always going to be difficult. IMPROV NATION does as well as one book could; though a tighter focus on the original Compass players would've provided more a cohesive tale. Pulling in Del so early (because you can't tell the story of improv without Del) destroys any momentum in the first 100 pages o...
  • Clark
    As an improvisor and a long-time fan of most of the folks whose history with the form is chronicled in this book, I found it amazingly engaging. The recounting of the evolution of the form as it has passed through the minds and artistic souls of so many adherents and participants is nothing short of a revelation. There's many of the names who you'll instantly recognize, and not a few who you might not, but should. I've been inspired by what I've ...
  • Nick Scott
    This was an interesting book to listen to, but as a history of how modern improv started and how it became this dominant American art form I think it's just alright. The focus here is on the big celebrity names that came from improv, which I think only tells part of the story. And I understand why the author chose to focus on those names, to get a mainstream audience to be interested in this book it helps to put those people at the center. It was...
  • Dan Lalande
    Sam Wasson takes on what is, by his own humble admission, a formidable task: an inventory of the development and influence of American-style improv, from its proletariat origins in 1950's Chicago to its imprint on today's ubiquitous political satire. In the spirit of the brave ad-libbers he so worships, Wasson dives right in - but his showy sang froid isn't rewarded by much. Like a long, rambling improv, there are worthy moments - brushing acquai...
  • JBP
    Exhaustive and comprehensive history of improvisational comedy--from its earliest beginnings to now. It focuses mostly on Chicago/Second City connections but it does go into Toronto, NYC, a little bit of L.A. I go to the Groundlings all the time [it's a 15 minute walk from my apartment] so was kind of disappointed there was very little coverage of that group's history but aside from that slight, all the heavy hitters of comedy are included. The s...
  • Donna Hines
    Sam charts the rise of the improv with many well known in the business of making people laugh.Fitting this all together was a bit pieced but that is to be expected based on the time constraints and locations.The discussions about well known improvs and the interactions with them was unique and awe inspiring for those who love the work they do.Many I've not heard of with many I loved all combine to create one magical moment that you can tell has b...
  • Melinda M
    Improv Nation: How We Made a Great American Art by Sam Wasson is a history of Improv in American. It has wonderful notes filled with videos to watch as well as articles and books to read. It was interesting to find out how connect to each other that the performers all seemed to have worked with one another at some point. It is well researched and written.I received a copy thru a Goodreads Giveaway
  • Jordan Parker
    I was really excited for this one and it was kind of a letdown. For starters, it's a book about improv comedy that really isn't all that funny. With that being said, it does have moments that were really interesting but there are so many stretches(especially towards the beginning of the book) that are very dry and hard to get through. It picked up for me towards the middle and end mostly because I started really recognizing the people. Great deta...
  • Craig Leimkuehler
    This book is a must read for anyone who performs improv, enjoys improv or for that matter is alive and breathing. (Zombies will not enjoy it.) It gives a very detailed history about this aspect of comedy that is often overlooked. The one fault is that it fails to explain why Del Close is regarded as some great comic genius. The ability to consume large amount of drugs and alcohol does not strike me as something to be admired, but maybe that's jus...
  • Justin
    I enjoyed this very much; it actually made me miss doing improv and I’m currently part of a team that performs and practices weekly. I appreciated the breadth of the book and that the author decentered Del Close’s place in improv’s invention. It is imperfect, as are all histories, but the style and writing helped to make up for these imperfections. Overall, I’m glad my girlfriend checked this out for me from our local library.
  • Duncan
    Informative look at the history of improv, and how many well-known comedians/actors passed through Second City and other troupes. Bill Murray and Tina Fey come across particularly vividly in the recollections of fellow improvisers. I wished there had been more about the actual formats, though; on the page, it's a little abstract, and it's not always clear exactly how the form was evolving at various times.
  • Chris
    What a wonderful history and introduction to improvisational theater. It covers a lot of ground, so you may find yourself wanting more information on the players or feeling someone was left out. Nonetheless, it does a great job discussing the major trends and themes in improv and hitting the who's who in the last 60+ years of comedy. I have a feeling I'll be referencing this book a lot in The Popcorn Auteur's Christopher Guest episode.
  • Robin
    This is one of the all-time best books I’ve read. Even if it weren’t about Improv, it is so well written and gave so many great perspectives behind the history of Improv. I have found a greater appreciation for artists that I didn’t love before, and was introduced to some artists I knew little to nothing about. Highly recommend it for all of my friends, especially my Improv peeps.
  • Erin
    4.5 Stars. I enjoyed this very much, and it was cool to be introduced to improvisers who I had never known. Sometimes it was a bit difficult to keep all the details of the different personal histories in my brain, but I was impressed with how well so many threads of developing improv were woven together.
  • Rebekah Haas
    Inspirational and funny, Wasson takes you on a wild ride, from many years past, to modern comedians with a household name. Filled with many side-stories and anecdotes that perfectly add to the plot-line, Improv Nation really does prove a compelling argument to why improvisation is the true American Art genre. (I won this book from a giveaway on this site.)
  • Jeff J.
    There’s a very thin line between improv and sketch comedy, and even standup comedy. Was son makes an admirable effort to establish improv as a unique art form but never quite succeeds, largely because his subjects tended to migrate away from improv. I did enjoy many of the profiles, particularly Bill Murray and Chris Farley, and applaud the attention paid to the under-appreciated SCTV.
  • Ryan
    I really liked this book. The way it weaves the tendrils of all the different ways improv influenced entertainment was really well done. However, as a performer at ComedySportz, an organization with a 30 year history and teams all over the world, I felt like a glaring omission was made.
  • Michael
    Very informative and entertaining look at how improv really took root in America. The third section of the book I feel should have been part of a second, longer book because you can feel Wasson's laser focus starting to fade as he burns through a lot of information. Still, a very fun read overall.