Legendary Comedian Mort Sahl Turns 90 With Publication Of New Biography By James Curtis
SAN FRANCISCO, April 27, 2017/PRNewswire/ The first book-length biography of groundbreaking political satirist Mort Sahl will be published on May 2 by University Press of Mississippi. The release of "Last Man Standing: Mort Sahl and the Birth of Modern Comedy" is timed to coincide with the iconoclastic comedian's 90 th birthday on May 11. The book's author is James Curtis, whose previous biographical subjects include W.C. Fields, writer-director Preston Sturges, and Spencer Tracy. "Last Man Standing" will be available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and retail booksellers everywhere.
When Mort Sahl made his debut at San Francisco's hungry i in December, 1953, the public's idea of stand up comedy was limited to Borscht Belt comics like Henny Youngman. Nightclub comedians steered clear of hard news, and Bob Hope's political jibes generally came off as friendly. Working in an improvisational, jazz-inflected style, Sahl attacked Senator Joseph McCarthy, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and, particularly, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, who was to remain a favorite target for decades. Now in his 64th year as a professional comedian, Sahl appears every Thursday night at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, just north of San Francisco. All of Sahl's Thursday night appearances are streamed live on Periscope.
Mort Sahl recorded the first modern comedy album in 1955, and appeared on the cover of Time in 1960. (The magazine famously described him as "Will Rogers with fangs.") In breaking the mold of what a standup comedian should look or sound like, Sahl opened the door for an entire generation of "smart" comics that included Lenny Bruce, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Shelley Berman, Bob Newhart, Dick Gregory, and the Smothers Brothers. Steve Allen called Sahl "the only real political philosopher we have in modern comedy."
Mort Sahl's career, which extended to TV and movies, has spanned 12 presidencies. Appearing on stage in a pullover sweater and open collar, he worked alone, writing all his own material, using a rolled copy of the day's newspaper as his only prop. "It was like nothing I'd ever seen," said Woody Allen, "and I've never seen anything like it after." In the mid-1960s Sahl put his career on the line when he went to work as a volunteer for New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who was investigating a conspiracy to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. He became such a fervent believer in Garrison's crusade that it took nearly a decade for him to get his career back on track.
Written with Mort Sahl's full cooperation, Last Man Standing incorporates interviews with Sahl's friends and colleagues, including Woody Allen, Dick Cavett, Shelley Berman, and the late Yvonne Craig. "It wasn't a very puritanical life," comments Sahl, who has declined to read the book, "but it was a whole lot of fun."