Political Satirist Mark Russell was celebrated at the National Comedy Center Thursday night.
Russell, who was a founding Advisory Board Member of the National Comedy Center and a longtime Chautauqua Institution resident, passed away this past March at the age of 90.
Comedy Center Executive Director Journey Gunderson said Russell should be considered a “key architect” of political satire, “And not just one of its practitioners. He reinvented political humor as we know it today. He ushered in a moment where it is not only one of the most popular forms of entertainment, but one of the most powerful forces for change. Political satire, when done well, can have a very real impact on the course of American history and that is Mark Russell’s legacy.”
Russell was born in Buffalo. He is best known for his acclaimed comedy specials on PBS, which were broadcast six times a year for nearly 30 years, many of which were broadcast live from Buffalo Toronto Public Media’s WNED PBS studios in Buffalo. Russell’s routines covered the latest news and political leaders of the day with song parodies based on musical standards with new lyrics customized for current events, while accompanying himself on the piano.
Comedian and Comedy Center Founding Chair Lewis Black said Russell had wit, “Wit is a totally different thing. It is an intelligence that is so refined, it is stunning. And George Carlin is great. Richard Pryor is great. There are all of these great comics. None of them had wit. They had a great sense of comedy. A great sense of what funny is. Mark had wit. Mark had whimsy.”
Gunderson announced Russell’s career archives have been donated to be part of the National Comedy Center permanent collection, “That includes over 40 notebooks full of Mark’s own handwriting, logging song lyrics and diary-like reactions to world changing events like Watergate and 9-11. The pages are dense and cross-referenced, this is incredible if you haven’t seen it, into an ingenious cataloging system comprised of three rolodex files.”
Gunderson added that Russell’s “A Candidate Political” musical also is now on display as part of the Center’s Lyrical Laughter Exhibit.