Mort Sahl, one of the greatest, sharpest and most influential conversational comedians of the mid 20th Century, whom I was honored to interview at the Beverly Glen shopping plaza 18 or 19 years ago, has passed at age 94.
Saul was an iconic, whipsmart Jewish wit who focused on social trends and politics (he always carried a rolled-up newspaper in his hand). He rose and peaked in the era of Lenny Bruce, Steve Allen and Jackie Mason but hung in there and kept gigging for many decades to come.
Sahl was a Kennedy liberal in the early ’60s, then he became a Dealey Plaza assassination conspiracy buff, then segued into becoming a jocular Reagan Republican (chummy with Al Haig). I forget why I called him in ’02 or thereabouts, but I was delighted when he suggested a sitdown.
Sometime in the late ’70s a girlfriend and I caught a Sahl set on the North Shore. I forget the name of the club but it was in Revere, Swampscott, Lynn…one of those towns. We arrived 15 minutes before showtime, and my heart stopped — the room was one-third filled, if that. I felt so badly for the poor guy, but you know what? Sahl came out and did his show as if he was playing to a packed house at Carnegie Hall. Which deeply impressed me. As I sat and listened and laughed, I was thinking “wow, nothing but class…this is how a professional plays to a nearly deserted room.” Grace under pressure, never say die, the show must go on.
Heres a 2008 James Wolcott Vanity Fair profile called “Mort The Knife.”