Because their career as a comedy team was so brief, their body of work is fairly small, and there is precious little video available. That which can be found online does not really convey the brilliance of their improvisational record albums (from which excerpts follow). But just to see what they look like and get a sense of them, here's a short sketch from one of their television appearances:
(Other Nichols and May stuff you can watch right now includes a mildly amusing CPA promotion, an appearance on What's My Line?, and part of their Telephone Operator routine, which would be great if only the audio were in sync.)
Their first two albums, Improvisations to Music and Mike Nichols and Elaine May Examine Doctors, were recorded in a studio, with no audience. As comedy, these records are generally less riotous than their live stuff. But alone in a studio, with only one another to amuse, Nichols and May travel to darker, more nuanced, more satirical places than a nightclub could withstand. Here is one track from each of those records.
SECOND PIANO CONCERTO (THE DENTIST)
A LITTLE MORE GAUZE
Their third and best album, An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, was culled from performances of their Broadway show of the same name. As a comedy act of the Sixties, Nichols and May were unique. They did a little of what Lily Tomlin did and a little of what Shelley Berman did, but the fact that they did it together, with onstage rapport worthy of all the great comic duos in history -- and entirely improvised -- is astonishing. Even when they were doing familiar scenes, they improvised them, and people who loved the record were sometimes disappointed when they went to see the show and didn't hear the lines they knew.
MOTHER AND SON
After the act broke up, both Mike Nichols and Elaine May embarked on extraordinary careers which continue to this day. Nichols quickly established himself as one of the best theatre and film directors in America, from Neil Simon on Broadway to the film version of Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf? to The Graduate in just a few years.
May appeared in films (she was hilarious in Luv, with Peter Falk and Jack Lemmon), and by the Seventies she was an auteur. She wrote and directed A New Leaf (1971), one of the great comedies of its time, and appeared in it, too, opposite Walter Matthau. She directed Neil Simon's The Heartbreak Kid (1972). She wrote and directed the unconventional Mikey and Nicky (1976), a largely improvised crime drama starring Peter Falk and John Cassavetes. She wrote Heaven Can Wait (1978). The fourth -- and still the last -- film she directed, unfortunately, was Ishtar (1987), one of the biggest flops of all time. Elaine May conceived a frothy comedy in the tradition of the Hope/Crosby Road movies, wrote a script full of gags and deliberately hokey dialogue, and cast Warren Beatty as the nebbish and Dustin Hoffman as the ladies' man. Ishtar was a small idea, and it would have made a nice little movie; but it was wildly overproduced, an example of studio excess trying to turn a bauble into an epic. Take a look at Ishtar sometime, though, with the awareness that Elaine May is behind it; it's not nearly as bad as people think it is, and the first half hour is wonderful.
Since splitting up as a comedy act, Mike Nichols and Elaine May have crossed paths often and worked together occasionally. They have reunited to perform as Nichols and May on at least two occasions -- Jimmy Carter's inauguration, and the one-night-only Mike Nichols and Elaine May: Together Again on Broadway (1992). In 1980, they starred together in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on stage in New Haven. Elaine May has also written the screenplays for two excellent comedies directed by Mike Nichols, The Birdcage (1992) and Primary Colors (1996).
Nichols remains a great and productive filmmaker, most recently directing Aaron Sorkin's Charlie Wilson's War. He's one of only ten people to have won all four major entertainment awards. In recent years, Elaine May has written a number of plays on and off Broadway, including Taller than a Dwarf and After the Night and the Music.
In 2000, she made a rare film appearance in Woody Allen's Small Time Crooks -- a hilarious performance, in a role Allen wrote specifically for her (and even named May). The interplay between Allen and May, two old hands who emerged as part of the same Sixties comedy scene, is a treat. (In fact, May preceded Allen to the spotlight by a few years. Allen as a young comedy writer signed with his lifelong agents Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe because they handled Nichols and May, and he dreamed of writing for them. He was crestfallen to learn that they wrote all their own material, and presumably impressed to learn that they wrote it on the spot.) This excerpt from Small Time Crooks contains some of Allen and May's scenes together (there are also nice turns by Tracey Ullman and Hugh Grant).
See also: Nichols and May at Comedy College.