Mort Sahl, trailblazing stand-up comic, dies at 94
Mort Sahl, a political satirist whose biting wit and uncompromising intellect broadened the world of conventional standup comedy, died on Tuesday in California.
- United States
Mort Sahl, a political satirist whose biting wit and uncompromising intellect broadened the world of conventional standup comedy, died on Tuesday in California. As reported by Variety, he was 94 when he breathed his last.
In 1953, when Sahl first appeared at the Hungry i, a San Francisco folk singer's hangout, he was an unknown with little stage experience. But his rapid-fire monologues about politics, social trends and fads quickly earned him the nickname "Rebel Without a Pause." "The three great geniuses of the period were Nichols and May, Jonathan Winters and Mort Sahl," Woody Allen told New York magazine in 2008.
Allen credited Sahl's intellectual brand of humour for getting him into comedy. "He was the best thing I ever saw. He totally restructured comedy. He changed the rhythm of the jokes," Allen said in another interview.
In 2011, his live 1955 recording 'Mort Sahl at Sunset' was cited as the first standup comedy album and named by the Library of Congress to the National Recording Registry. Sahl placed 40th on Comedy Central's list of the 100 greatest standup comedians of all time, revealed in a 2005 special. Sahl's fame began to soar when he co-hosted the Academy Awards show in 1959 (the same year he hosted the inaugural Grammy Awards ceremony). In 1960, he appeared on the cover of Time; two months later, the New Yorker published a profile of him called "The Fury."
Sahl wrote jokes for President John F. Kennedy and was a ubiquitous guest on television shows; hosts Steve Allen, Jerry Lewis and Merv Griffin were big fans. He even had small roles in films, including 1963's 'Johnny Cool' and 1967's Tony Curtis vehicle 'Don't Make Waves'.
He was unyielding, even in old age. In 2011, the 84-year-old Sahl began his show at a Mill Valley, California, club before a pro-Obama crowd with the line, "No, he can't." He continued performing near his Mill Valley home. "If you were the last man on earth. I'd have to oppose you. That's my job," Sahl told an interviewer.
In 2008-09, he was writer-in-residence at Claremont McKenna College, where he taught courses on politics, critical thinking and screenwriting. In his 1976 quasi-memoir 'Heartland', Sahl, who by that time had lost most of his audience, struck a hopeful note: "I went to the cover of Time magazine without ever leaving the city of San Francisco, and I did it by having a one-night-club platform. If you have a place to stand, you can move the world."
"Mort was a hero to all of us who used current events as raw material. He never backed down from controversy. He was a mentor and a friend I will miss him terribly," comedian David Steinberg said in a statement. He was married and divorced four times, and is not survived by any immediate family members. (ANI)
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