Mort Sahl turned 80 on May 11. Along with Paul Krassner and Lenny Bruce, Sahl revolutionized comedy in the 1960s by making satire (cultural and political) a staple of standup routines. His career flourished from the beginning of the Eisenhower era (he got his start at the Hungry i in San Francisco) and continues to this day, though since the end of the ’60s he has had less of an influence in our culture (in 1960 he appeared on the cover of Time magazine). I remember seeing him one night, oh sometime around 1963 or 1964, at the Crescendo Club on the Sunset Strip (located in what later became the Playboy Building). Sahl appeared on stage dressed in his trademark sweater with a rolled-up newspaper in one hand, riffing on politics and the latest daily news, making you laugh as his machine gun delivery skewered officials and their follies with razor sharp, biting ctitical comedy, actually making you think. I guess you could call him an intellectual comedian. Later he had a nightly show in L.A. where he would diagram his routines on blackboard; it was during the height of the Vietnam War and Sahl had no shortage of targets.
The L.A. Times’ Al Martinez wrote an interesting column May 18 on Sahl, pointing out two important events surrounding the comedian’s birthday: One is a June 28 tribute at Westwood’s Wadsworth Theater, where comedy notables such as Bill Maher, Robin Williams and Jay Leno are expected to appear. The other is the announcement that Sahl will teach a course in critical thinking twice a week beginning in September at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont.
Two of our favorite Sahl quotes:
“Liberals feel unworthy of their possessions. Conservatives feel they deserve everything they’ve stolen.”
About Richard M. Nixon: “Would you buy a used car from this man?”
Check out Sahl’s official Web site at www.mortsahl.com.