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Political satirist and stand-up comedy pioneer, Mort Sahl, dies at 94


The satirist Mort Sahl inspired generations of stand-up comedians. He, though, was inspired by jazz. You could see it in his stream-of-consciousness style. Sahl died on Tuesday at the age of 94. Here's NPR's Elizabeth Blair.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: In 1960, Mort Sahl was on the cover of Time magazine for an article called "The New Comedians." He's surrounded by balloons with caricatures of politicians - Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy. Sahl has a pen in his hand, ready to pop those balloons. In a show in 1967, he said it was his job to burst the public's illusion that presidents are father figures.


MORT SAHL: They'll salute him for a while, and then it begins to bother them, and they say, I have a wish to do him in. That's where I come in. But...


BLAIR: Sahl started doing stand-up in the 1950s, a time when most comedians were men in suits rattling off one-liners. Sahl wore a V-neck sweater, tucked a newspaper under his arm and just talked.


SAHL: And I was walking through Central Park. There's some delinquents running around there who stopped me, gang of kids with knives. And I stood my ground and told them that I admired their vagabond existence, and I wanted to join them. And they panicked from the responsibility.


BLAIR: Morton Lyon Sahl was born in Montreal. His family moved to Los Angeles when he was young. His father was a failed playwright who worked as a clerk for the FBI. Sahl's satire spared no one - young, old, people on the right and the left - yet he socialized with celebrities and government officials. He called President Ronald Reagan a personal friend. He wrote jokes for John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign speeches. After JFK was assassinated, Sahl was convinced the CIA was behind it. He got involved with New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison's investigation, trying to prove the conspiracy. After that, Mort Sahl's career began to stall. He recovered somewhat in later years, but he always stood fast to his belief that a satirist should give people the truth.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN GETZ'S "WHO COULD CARE?") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.
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