'Improv Nation' book tells of comedic art form's start in Chicago

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A new book examines Chicago's contribution to comedy and theater: improv. (WLS)

"Improv Nation: How we made a great American art" is a new book that explores Chicago's gift to the world of comedy.

Author Sam Wasson spoke to ABC7 about how a powerful improv legacy started at Chicago's renowned Hull House, where teacher Viola Spolin invented games to help immigrant children adapt to their new country.

Spolin's son was Paul Sills, a founding member of the Second City, where he put his mom's games on center stage.

"He made the very, very good decision to cast (Mike) Nichols and (Elaine) May in his improvisational theater with no intention of making a funny theater, it just so happened that Nichols and May were brilliantly funny," Wasson said.

Some might not realize this comedic art form was created by a woman. Yes, May was the muse of improv, in a creative triangle with Nichols and the brilliant firebrand Del Close.

"Del had his own vision of what he wanted comedy to be, which was risky and follow the fear and Mike Nichols had his own vision of what he wanted improvisational comedy to be which was more reflective, psychological, and Elaine, being as powerful as she was, is straddled both worlds," Wasson said.

Wasson believes Second City is still a star maker, creating diverse talent such as Joan Rivers, John Belushi and Tina Fey.
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