An entertaining book, recommended for aspiring comedians who want to historicize their practice.



An uncensored look at how and why improvisation came to be such a significant art form.

In his latest book, Wasson (Fosse, 2014, etc.) presents a refreshing look at the ways in which comedians, artists, writers, and actors started getting involved in improvisation. Today, we often take it for granted, with comedians active in popular culture—especially in the Trump era—distilling complicated political phenomena into palpable and often hilarious stories. Divided into three sections—“We the Jews (1940-1968),” “We the Punks (1969-1984),” and “We the Nerds (1984-)”—the book covers the necessary material, including the public’s growing obsession with TV as the primary artistic medium. More importantly, Wasson takes readers on a journey through a genre that “was invented, in America, by young, mostly middle-class amateurs, performers, and producers who, in the true spirit of the form, were making it up as they went along.” We meet all the key players, including the inimitable Del Close, the notorious screenwriter and actress Elaine May and her relentless partner Mike Nichols, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, Second City Television director Andrew Alexander, Tina Fey, and many others. This massive cast of characters spans decades, but they shared the same values: “players understood that no improvisational ensemble could sustain an atmosphere of competition…creating spontaneous realities en masse demanded…patience and consideration.” Wasson has a clear understanding of the challenges many of these comedians faced—particularly the Second City group, who, in part, worked with actors such as Dustin Hoffman and competed with the scripted protocol of big movie studios in introducing a new kind of stage presence: “you had to stay funny, which was difficult when everyone around you, riff after spectacular riff, was actually getting funnier.” 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.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-55720-8

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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