Mort Sahl

Morton Sahl, standup comedian, actor (born at Montréal 11 May 1927). Mort Sahl, whose parents were American, was brought up in California. After high school he served in the air force before earning a degree in city management and engineering from the University of Southern California in 1953.

Mort Sahl

Morton Sahl, standup comedian, actor (born at Montréal 11 May 1927). Mort Sahl, whose parents were American, was brought up in California. After high school he served in the air force before earning a degree in city management and engineering from the University of Southern California in 1953. He began standup in the mid 1950s in San Francisco's legendary "hungry i" nightclub, at the time of the beat generation. His innovative, iconoclastic anti-establishment humour was unusual for the time, delivered in casual dress instead of the more standard suit and tie, and with only a newspaper for a prop. His jokes were told in a monologue, stream-of-consciousness fashion, and were socially and politically relevant. He became known as "Will Rogers with fangs."

Mort Sahl was the first comedian to have bestselling albums and to appear on the cover of Time magazine (in 1960). Initially a supporter of the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, Sahl turned his humour against John Kennedy when he became president, and subsequently fell out of favour. He was further marginalized when he became obsessed with the idea that the Warren Commission, which concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin of the president, was a whitewash and that the CIA was behind the plot. Later the counterculture embraced his ascerbic wit, and Sahl returned to the public eye with small parts in films during the late 1960s. Comedians such as Lenny Bruce, the Smothers Brothers and Woody Allen were influenced by his casual free-association humour, which resembled jazz-like improvisations.