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May 11: Mort Sahl

May 10, 2015

mort_sahl_5i8g7Mort Sahl, the first modern stand-up comedian to crack wise about current events and politics, was born in Montreal on this date in 1927. Sahl took the stage casually dressed in a v-neck sweater, and with a newspaper under his arm, and created rapid-fire verbal routines based on the headlines. In 1960, Time magazine dubbed him “Will Rogers with fangs.” “His unbridled critiques of the House Un-American Activities Committee brought strong criticism and even violent threats,” says PBS’s American Masters series. “Through it all he continued to work, putting out several comedy albums and performing frequently on The Tonight Show and The Steve Allen Show.... Pioneering stand-up comedy in a circuit of night clubs that presented primarily jazz music, he adopted much of the jazz aesthetic.” His obsession with the Kennedy assassination, however (he had written some jokes for the president), which had him mocking the Warren Commission onstage, got him blacklisted for several years. Nixon’s Watergate scandal brought Sahl back into the spotlight — and he’s still performing today, at 88, weekly at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, California. To see him explaining politics of the left and right in 1967, look below.

“Liberals feel unworthy of their possessions. Conservatives feel they deserve everything they’ve stolen.” —Mort Sahl

Gene Barry introduces Mort Sahl for a 1967 bit on The Hollywood Palace: