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Friday, November 26, 2021

Mort Sal, a revolutionary comedian who began his career in San Francisco, died at the age of 94.

NEW YORK – The satirist Mort Sal, who helped revolutionize stand-up comedy during the Cold War with his constant commentary on politics and current events and became the favorite of a troubled new generation of Americans, passed away on Tuesday. He was 94 years old.

His friend Lucy Mercer said he died “peacefully” at his home in Mill Valley, California. The reason is “old age,” she said.

At a time when many comedians dressed in tuxedos and told jokes about his mother-in-law, Sal met his audience in the 50s and 60s in trousers, a sweater and an open collar and with a rolled-up newspaper on which he pasted notes about his act. … Reading the news as if sitting across from you at the kitchen table, he made his inevitably harsh comments, often adding laughter to his own horse roar and ending his routine with a question, “Is there a group I haven’t offended yet. ? “

Sahl was featured on the cover of Time magazine on August 15, 1960. (Handout photo)

“Every comedian who’s not kidding his wife should thank him for it,” comedian Albert Brooks told The Associated Press in 2007. making a zest “.

Sahl prided himself on bullying every president from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Donald Trump, though he admitted that he privately admired Democrat John F. Kennedy and considered Republican Ronald Reagan one of his closest friends. About President George W. Bush, he remarked: “He was born again, you know. The inevitable question arises: if you were given the extraordinary opportunity to be born again, why would you return as George W. Bush? “

Sahl rose to fame in 1953 in San Francisco, in a hungry “i” (“i” for “intellectual”), the perfect place for a comedian of his type. The city was a meeting place for beatniks and college activists, and they crowded into the tiny club to listen to someone speaking out in their disdain for the status quo. Rumors of a young comedian with a unique style spread quickly. Sal was soon earning $ 7,500 a week in nightclubs across the country and appeared on television with Steve Allen and Jack Paar. He made the cover of Time magazine in 1960 and was featured in The New Yorker.

A new generation of comedians, including Bill Cosby, George Carlin and the crew of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, were inspired by Salom. David Letterman continued the iconoclastic tradition, and more recently John Stewart, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver. Woody Allen compared his work to Charlie Parker’s jazz, and reviewers compared him to Will Rogers, who tweaked politicians more gently.

“I don’t see myself as a comedian,” Sahl himself said. “I never said that I was one of them. I’m just telling the truth, and on the way, everyone disperses. ”

Salh played a witty soldier in two war films: In Love and War (1958) and All Young People (1960). He starred in his own TV show. His comedy albums have become bestsellers. At the 1959 Academy Awards, he co-hosted alongside Bob Hope, Laurence Olivier, Jerry Lewis and others. Fearing that he would appear to be joining the establishment, Sal said, “We just lost the college crowd; all over the country shouting: “Sell!” “

In the 1980s, he often made fun of his friend Reagan, but, according to him, the president never took offense.

“If you’re his friend, it doesn’t matter if you’re a fraud,” Sahl once said of Reagan. He added that Democrats often do not show such leniency. In the 1990s, Sal lost their affection when he complained that President Bill Clinton’s only long-term legacy would be his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

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“A lot of the people I have met in the Democratic Party are extremely helpful,” he said. “When it’s over, they don’t want to know you. Of course, this is not typical for Democrats. “

However, Sal held Kennedy in such high regard that he even wrote him jokes during the campaign, including the one that inspired John F. Kennedy at his own expense – about a telegram from his rich father. “Don’t buy a single vote more than necessary. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for the landslide.

But when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Sal was devastated, and the tragedy foreshadowed the comedian’s decadence. He quickly became convinced that Kennedy had been killed as part of a CIA conspiracy and accused the government of organizing a massive cover-up. He devoted most of his monologues to reading long passages from the report of the Warren government commission appointed to investigate the murder. The audience stopped laughing and his orders plummeted.

Sahl also experienced personal tragedy in 1996 when his only child, Morton Jr., died at the age of 19. Ten years later, this topic was so acute that the mention of his son’s name could make him cry.

“My child was like me, more human,” he once said.

During difficult times, he continued to work in colleges and small clubs. Although he never regained his former height, he eventually returned to a comfortable life through comedy. He continued to carry the newspaper with him onstage, although at the dawn of the 21st century he joked that he probably should have replaced it with a laptop.

At the age of 80, he also began teaching a critical thinking class at the prestigious Claremont McKenna College in Southern California.

Mort Sal, a revolutionary comedian who began his career in San Francisco, died at the age of 94.
Comedians Robin Williams and Mort Sal joke at the opening ceremony of the Mill Valley Film Festival in 2011. (Jocelyn Knight / Special Announcement to the Marin Independent Journal)

It was a return to the academic life that Sal had known decades ago when he received his degree in urban planning from the University of Southern California in 1950.

Putting aside plans for graduate school, he decided to make money by writing jokes for comedians. He once said that he took the stage himself when he discovered that those he wrote for were “too dumb” to get material.

Morton Lyon Sal was born on May 11, 1927 in Montreal to a Canadian mother and father from New York, who ran a tobacco shop. The family moved to the United States, where Sal’s father, Harry, worked for the Justice Department in different cities.

They eventually settled in Los Angeles, where young Morton joined his ROTC school program and excelled at speaking. His mother said that he began to speak at 7 months, and by 10 he was already speaking like a 30-year-old man.

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