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Miss May Does Not Exist

The Life and Work of Elaine May, Hollywood’s Hidden Genius

Author: Carrie Courogen

Miss May Does Not Exist

Miss May Does Not Exist


About This Book

Miss May Does Not Exist, by Carrie Courogen is the riveting biography of comedian, director, actor and writer Elaine May, one of America’s greatest comic geniuses. May began her...

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Miss May Does Not Exist, by Carrie Courogen is the riveting biography of comedian, director, actor and writer Elaine May, one of America’s greatest comic geniuses. May began her career as one-half of the legendary comedy team known as Nichols and May, the duo that revolutionized the comedy sketch.

After performing their Broadway smash An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Elaine set out on her own. She toiled unsuccessfully on Broadway for a while, but then headed to Hollywood where she became the director of A New Leaf, The Heartbreak Kid, Mikey and Nicky, and the legendary Ishtar. She was hired as a script doctor on countless films like Heaven Can Wait, Reds, Tootsie, and The Birdcage. In 2019, she returned to Broadway where she won the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in The Waverly Gallery. Besides her considerable talent, May is well known for her reclusiveness. On one of the albums she made with Mike Nichols, her bio is this: “Miss May does not exist.” Until now.

Carrie Courogen has uncovered the Elaine May who does exist. Conducting countless interviews, she has filled in the blanks May has forcibly kept blank for years, creating a fascinating portrait of the way women were mistreated and held back in Hollywood. Miss May Does Not Exist is a remarkable love story about a prickly genius who was never easy to work with, not always easy to love and frequently often punished for those things, despite revolutionizing the way we think about comedy, acting, and what a film or play can be.

Imprint Publisher

St. Martin's Press



Reading Guide

In The News

"A deeply researched, psychologically astute new biography of May by Carrie Courogen...The book is written with a brash literary verve that feels authentic to its subject, and it does justice both to May’s mighty artistry and to the complex fabric of her life, linking them persuasively while resisting facile correlations between her personal concerns and her blazing inspirations." — Richard Brody, The New Yorker

"Casual, sympathetic and compulsively readable." — The New York Times Book Review

"A minor miracle...a fascinating, three-dimensional portrait of a brilliant, complicated artist" — The Los Angeles Times

"Miss May Does Not Exist, like its subject, contains multitudes, and it captures the complexities and contradictions of the fiendishly funny and fiercely independent artist who once said, 'The only safe thing is to take a chance.'" — The Washington Post

"Courogen delivers a vibrant biography of filmmaker Elaine May...This is a gem." — Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

“Carrie Courogen has written the biography Elaine May deserves. Shimmering with insight and grounded in deep research, this book is as iconoclastic, engaging, and challenging as Miss May herself.” — Claire Dederer, author of Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma

“In Miss May Does Not Exist, Carrie Courogen pulls off quite the feat; she manages to capture, with nuance and wit, the life of a woman who is as hilarious as she is complex, as sparkling as she is serious, as ambitious as she is aloof. Courogen makes an undeniable case for May's permanent place in the cinematic canon as a major director and singular comedic talent; after reading this book, I will be saying ‘justice for Ishtar!’ to anyone who will listen.” — Rachel Syme, Staff Writer, The New Yorker

"Carrie Courogen has achieved the impossible: she has written the first (and very likely last) full-scale biography of Elaine May, the most beguiling, infuriating, thrilling, comedy genius — and let’s not use that word casually — of the twentieth century, and she has done it splendidly, with admiration, welcome outrage, and scrupulous attention to detail. We all of us who have loved and wondered at this creature Elaine May owe Courogen our thanks, money, food — whatever she wants — for having written this book." — Sam Wasson, NYT Bestselling Author of The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood and Fosse

“What an upbeat, positive and perceptive take Carrie Courogen has given us on one of our funniest and most interesting film artists, the extraordinarily elusive and talented Elaine May! Her research has followed her subject’s “factual fiction” crumb-trails to hell and back with great love to elucidate on May’s truth, even if it means she’s going to get an excoriating tongue-lashing for giving a younger generation a story it needs to know if they want to be half as smart as May. We get the feeling that Carrie Courogen understands Elaine May really well. Their intelligence has no gender.” — Tina Weymouth, Tom Tom Club and Talking Heads

"Elaine May is simply one the funniest people to ever live on this planet." — Phil Rosenthal, creator of Everybody Loves Raymond and star of the Netflix hit Somebody Feed Phil

“I have loved Elaine May ever since I fortuitously saw A New Leaf at age eleven, just as I was discovering my own sense of humor. But I revere her even more now, after reading Carrie Courogen’s essential biography Miss May Does Not Exist. I already knew May was a force, but Courogen’s no-stone-left-unturned account enlightened me as to just how much her vision and inimitable voice have pervaded the culture for decades. And learning about May’s process and trajectory has galvanized me to dive back into my own creative self. Just as Nichols and May brought each other to life on the stage, Courogen and May bring each other to light on the page. And this book might just inspire you as well.” — Wendy Liebman, stand-up comedian, star of Showtime’s Wendy Liebman: Taller on TV

“Don’t miss Miss May Does Not Exist by Carrie Courogen, a brilliant mix of stalker-thriller, quest-saga, and awe-inspiring biography. Drop-dead talented, funny, singular, gorgeous, and imperious, Elaine May is a figure both elusive yet professionally impossible to overlook for women interested in standup, in humor, in comedy, in film, in theatre, in writing—and in the world. Spotlighting the grueling, finally triumphant trajectory of May’s inimitable career and strewn with new insights and commentaries from May’s friends and colleagues, Courogen’s well-researched book is at once hilarious and very, very important. In Miss May Does Not Exist, Elaine May is finally, wonderfully, and delightfully captured by Carrie Courogen.” — Gina Barreca, PhD , Board of Trustees and Distinguished Professor of English Literature at The University of Connecticut, author of They Used to Call Me Snow White, But I Drifted and It’s Not That I’m Bitter

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Miss May Does Not Exist

Miss May Does Not Exist