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Daily Variety
March 7, 2000

By David S. Cohen
It's almost 40 years since they last performed. Video of their sketches is rare and their old LP's long ago shrank to CD's. Yet even today the chemistry between Mike Nichols and Elaine May is the stuff of legend.

"Each of us always knew what the other one was doing or was going to do," remembers Nichols. "We wouldn't have been comedians if not for each other."

That uncanny chemistry, along with glittering intelligence and an unerring instinct for a laugh, took two college kids who improvised their first scene in an Illinois Central railroad station and turned them into a national sensation.

Nichols and May were founding members of The Compass, which became Second City, America's great cradle of comedians. Later, they were the first popular improv act, astounding audiences with their ability to invent a sketch on the spot.

They were staples on television and radio. Their Broadway smash "An Evening With Mike Nichols And Elaine May" became a classic album. And they were still on top when they broke up in 1962, pursuing separate writing and directing careers. May mostly stopped performing, and Nichols will not perform without her.

"I was never any good with anybody except Elaine," says Nichols."and Elaine was good with anybody she worked with, so I was very lucky that she ended up working more with me."

They have begun to collaborate again, though now as filmmakers. They worked together on The Birdcage and Primary Colors, with May writing and Nichols directing, and will soon re-team for a remake of Kind Hearts and Coronets. Nichols says he still has the same rapport with his "once and future partner."

"It's the old thing, where what one of us can't solve the other one can. We really dovetail. Working with her is for me not like working with anyone else, because we complete each other in some peculiar and enjoyable way."

Career milestones:
November 1957 — Nichols & May's first performance
December 1957 — First national TV appearance, on the Steve Allen Show
1960 — "An Evening With..." opens on Broadway
1962 — The Broadway run ends when the team breaks up.
Known for: trailblazing improv comedy.
Best career move: Teaming up
Perfect punch line: Nichols, as son who hasn't phoned: "I feel awful."
May, as mother: "If I could believe that, I'd be the happiest mother in the world."
Future plans:Remaking Kind Hearts and Coronets, with Nichols directing and May writing.
Cool quote: Nichols: "I can't compare anyone else to us because I'm not a watcher of Nichols & May. It's not my idea of a good time to look at me performing."