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Town Hall Seattle: Arts & Culture Series

Town Hall’s Arts & Culture series elevates the voices of local artists while bringing world-renowned cultural icons to Seattle audiences. The series celebrates music, photography, sculpture, philosophy, heritage, and traditions around the world that enrich our lives.

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Dec 28, 2017

In many ways comedy is a great equalizer—a ubiquitous and nationally beloved form of entertainment. To give us some perspective on the meteoric rise of American comedy, Sam Wasson took the stage to discuss his book Improv Nation: How We Made A Great American Art, a richly reported, scene-driven narrative that moves fast and digs deep. Wasson tracked the origins of improv, from the experimental theater troupe Second City who set up shop in Chicago at the height of the McCarthy era, to Dan Aykroyd’s after-hours bar and home for icons like John Belushi, Bill Murray, and Gilda Radner.

Wasson was joined onstage by Jet City Improv Artistic Director Andrew McMasters. Together, they unpacked the evolution of improv comedy as an unscripted, interactive, consciousness-raising style and lead a conversation that took us through improv’s influence on landmark productions such as The Graduate, Caddyshack, and The Colbert Report. With signature verve and nuance, Wasson and McMasters offered their thoughts on why improv deserves to be considered the great American art form of the last half-century—and the most influential one today. 

Sam Wasson is a social historian of cinema and comedy whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and The Wall Street Journal. He’s served as a consultant for The Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA Film. He is the author of five books including Fosse (NPR’s book of the year), A Splurch in the Kisser, and the 2010 bestseller Fifth Avenue, 5 AM: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman.

Andrew McMasters founded Jet City Improv in 1992, and then incorporated as the 501c3 Wing-It Productions in 1996. He is the Artistic Director of Jet City Improv and corporate consultant for his own company ImprovMindset, as well as the executive producer of the Seattle Festival of Improv Theater.