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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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