With The San Francisco Improv Festival opening this week (check out my post on the fest), I thought I’d look back at some of the great comic improvisers of all time. And unquestionably one of the best were actually two of the best: the duo of Mike Nichols and Elaine May.
Nichols and May began their career at The Compass Theater, the predecessor to Chicago’s Second City. They went on to huge fame on TV and Broadway and produced the Grammy award winning An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May.
They also starred in these 1950’s animated ads for Narragansett Beer. The improvisers did their thing, and then the animator came up with a visual interpretation of the fun.
Narragansett has an interesting history including the fact that Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) designed the company’s original logo and their history of interesting ads and promotions. The brewery went out of business in 1981, but was reestablished in 2005.
Mike Nichols went on to be an incredibly successful film director including Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate and Catch 22. He is one of only 12 people who are EGOT winners (having won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony). Elaine May focused on writing for stage and screen, one of her few forays into directing was the legendary flop Ishtar.
The Public Radio show Comedy College has a great episode on Nichols and May hosted by Steve Martin. All of this wonderful comedy came out of their incredible chemistry and their well practiced improv technique.