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Elaine May (Rebroadcast)

Esteemed actor, comedian, director, playwright, and screenwriter, Elaine May, shares insights on the art of writing comedy in this talk from 1997.

This episode of The Archive Project features notable funny woman, Elaine May, in a talk from 1997. Elaine May may be one of the most important Broadway and Hollywood stars you’ve never heard of. In 2019, The New York Times wrote a long appreciation of her in which they referred to her ability to “fuse verbal and physical comedy” as possibly singular, and called her a “criminally underappreciated filmmaker.”

May began her career on stage doing improvised comedy with Mike Nichols in the early 1950s, helped found a comedy troupe that found the iconic Second City Improv in Chicago, became wildly famous on Broadway in the 60s, made four important films in the 70s, contributed countless films as a writer, and has had over ten plays produced as a playwright, many on Broadway.

She is considered by many a comedic genius who was not been taken seriously enough, and that may purely be because she is a woman. In 2013, President Barak Obama awarded her a National Medal of Arts, and I have to think this award was an attempt to correct the record of her career.

“Depth is easy. Comedy is hard.”


Elaine May is an American comedian, screenwriter, director, and actress. She made her initial impact in the 1950s from her improvisational comedy routines with Mike Nichols, performing as Nichols and May. After her duo with Nichols ended, May subsequently developed a career as a director and screenwriter, best known for A New Leaf (1971), The Bird Cage (1996), Primary Colors (1998), and Small Time Crooks (2000). In 2013, President Barak Obama awarded her a National Medal of Arts, and in 2019, at the age of 86, New York’s Film Forum payed tribute to her.

“It’s so hard to say what comedy is because it’s only when you laugh. …You can immediately prove comedy because if nobody laughs, it isn’t funny.”

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