“When I was a young boy in Catholic school, we would have had to go to confession after watching Beyonce's half-time show.”—Political satirist Mark Russell, quoted in “The Laughter of Politics: Mark Russell,” MBA Business Magazine, May 2013 issue
Comedian Mark Russell was born 85 years ago today in Buffalo, NY. A graduate of Canisius High School, he went on, after a stint in the Marines, to trod the comedy circuit, becoming especially well-known for his hilarious PBS specials over three decades beginning in 1975. There, frequently turning to his piano, he performed one musical parody after another, an equal opportunity offender in skewering both political parties.
Over a decade ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Russell offstage, on his birthday. A resident of Chautauqua, NY, he came by that day to visit a friend who owned an inn on the grounds at the Chautauqua Institution, where I was staying. The friend surprised him with a large birthday cake, and the group of us staying at the inn then serenaded him with “Happy Birthday.” What struck me was the genuine warmth he transmitted to those around him.
For the last several years, Russell has been retired, emerging for the occasional benefit appearance. I suspect that he finds the current political environment and the venom associated with it uncongenial to his style of gentle ribbing.