About Mort Sahl
Crowned as leading the new breed of modern comedians by Time magazine in 1960, Mort Sahl was the first nightclub comic ever to appear on its cover. Before comedy clubs existed, Sahl began performing at the hungry i in San Francisco in early 1953. He differed from other comedians, appearing in casual clothing rather than a suit, skewering popular politicians such as Eisenhower, Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon. Sahl’s approach is energetic, tangential, and deep and wide in both social and political scopes, inspiring Woody Allen, George Carlin and countless other comedians.
A 1955 performance with Dave Brubeck was recorded and released (without Sahl's permission), as Mort Sahl At Sunset, which was recently recognized by the Library of Congress as the first stand-up comedy record album.
When John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Sahl regularly targeted the Warren Commission Report during his routines, resulting in the loss of much of Hollywood's support, while maintaining audience popularity with college tours and his book Heartland written in 1976.
Mort Sahl is the longest active performing American social satirist, spanning more than sixty years and twelve presidents.
Excerpt from Roger Ebert's Review of Sahl's Performance, 1971
"I went back to Mister Kelly's the other night to catch Mort Sahl again[...] watched the finest, quickest, most intelligent comic mind in America at work. [...]"
The fundamental difference in style between Sahl and other comedians is that he doesn't do a monologue, he does a tapestry. Almost all comedians do linear routines. The old-fashioned comics string together jokes - that most linear of all literary forms - and the newer comics impose some kind of an outside structure like autobiography, in order to give their essentially unrelated material the appearance of hanging together.
Sahl works in the opposite way, seeming to glory in the fact that his material seems incredibly diverse and unorganized. He moves from Muskie to air in your hot dogs to Radical Chic parties to Lenny Bruce to Freud, and then reminds himself he was talking about Muskie, and doubles back, and free-associates off the track in a new direction, and doubles back again, and keeps all of these subjects going for ten minutes at a time and then snatches a line out of thin air that somehow, miraculously, gathers everything together into one penultimate vision of America.
This style cannot be imitated because it's more of a personal revelation than it is a method. It is probably the most complex verbal style yet produced by an American humorist, and in the way it reflects the moment-to-moment functioning of a restless mind, it is the spoken equivalent of some of William Faulkner's prose.
My admiration for Sahl is based less on the tenacity with which he has pursued the political mysteries of the 1960s than in his style of doing so. I think it's possible to like comedians despite their material; if Mort Sahl is funny, cynical and adroit in what he has to say about the assassinations, it should be possible to appreciate his art entirely apart from his subject matter.
Read more on rogerebert.com
The Bigger Picture by Chuck Noyes
Who is Mort Sahl, and what is his role in relation to the collective gestalt of America? The true fact is that Mort is considered, by the greatest comedians and satirists of our time, to be the progenitor of modern comedy. He took prosaic comedy in America, much of which came from the Shtetls and villages of Eastern Europe and Russia, and created something new under the sun. Perhaps the only two Americans who could compare to Mort's Political/Social satire would be Mark Twain and Will Rogers; August Company indeed. You can read about Mort and the American Masters show which PBS aired, on Google. Mort is the first comedian to win a Grammy, and the first to grace the cover of Time Magazine.
Mort was really rolling during the Sixties. Then, Jack Kennedy was assassinated. Read More..