Sahl, Mort

Sahl, Mort, 1927-2021, American comedian and social commentator, b. Montreal, Canada, as Morton Lyon Sahl, Univ. of Southern Calirofnia (B.A., 1950). Sahl was raised in Los Angeles. After serving in the Army Air Force, he studied city planning in college and then moved to Berkeley, Calif., where he began performing at local clubs. He was among the first to base his act on social commentary, critiquing rightwing figures like Senator Joseph McCarthy. He became popular among the late-'50s counterculture intelligentsia, and was a regular on television, record, and even on Broadway. Sahl often appeared holding the day's newspaper, using it to riff on contemporary topics; he also introduced contemporary language drawn from jazz and pop culture in his act, all of which influenced the next generation of stand-up comedians. He parodied both Democrats and Republicans, and over time his popularity faded as he became increasingly focused on conspiracy theories surrounding the Kennedy assassination. He returned to popularity during the Watergate era, and continued to perform for decades later, including a one-man show on Broadway in 1987. In 2011, The Library of Congress added his live album, At Sunset (1955), to the National Recording Registry.

See his memoir, Heartland (1976); biography by J. Curtis (2017); G. Nachman, Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s (2003).

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