NCC To Hold Celebration Honoring Mark Russell

From left, Mark Russell, Dick Smothers (of the Smothers Brothers), and Lewis Black. Submitted photo

Political satire is timeless.

“With politicians, it’s just a matter coming up with a different joke for the same thing,” Lewis Black said.

Black will be at The National Comedy Center Thursday to celebrate one of best political satirists, the late comedian Mark Russell, and to host a reception and dedication in Russell’s honor.

During the event, the NCC will have materials and artifacts from Russell’s career on display and will be accessioning one of his musical parodies as a permanent component of its Lyrical Laughter exhibit. Mark Russell’s America, a 2012 retrospective on Russell’s more than 100 PBS specials produced by WNED, will be presented in the Comedy Center’s theater.

Black fondly recalled how he used to spend time with Russell at Chautauqua Institution.

Comedian Lewis Black is pictured during a previous appearance in Jamestown. P-J file photo

“It’s beautiful and he was quite at home there and comfortable. And it just was sitting with him and listening to him talk about his life and performing, and every so often letting rip with an old some joke of his that either was very topical, or something that seemed to apply, even though it was 30 years old,” Black added.

When he was about 15 or 16, Black said, his parents first took him to see Russell perform, and it was then Black began his admiration of Russell.

“So that was the real joy of it because I had seen him when I was a kid, and he’d always been someone whose work I really admired. And I was not heading to becoming a comic, so I didn’t study him or anything. I just really enjoyed his work a lot,” Black said.

And with his piano, Russell accompanied his political satire with musical precision and lyrical prowess. Black said Russell had a one-of-a-kind act.

“He’s doing a bit, only the bit is lyrical, and there’s music. And he’s singing,” Black said.

Mark Russell, who was a founding Advisory Board Member of the NCC and a longtime Chautauqua Institution resident, passed away this past March at the age of 90. Submitted photo

Black, who is also the NCC Advisory Board Chair, added that when he’s performing his own stand-up routine, it’s hard enough for him to talk through a joke, let alone to attempt to even sing it.

Russell, who was a founding Advisory Board Member of the NCC and a longtime Chautauqua Institution resident, passed away this past March at the age of 90.

See RUSSELL, Page A3

He was born in Buffalo and became one of the nation’s foremost political satirists, skewering Democrats, Republicans and Independents for over 50 years with stand-up monologues and song parodies beloved by audiences nationwide. Perhaps best known for his acclaimed comedy specials on PBS, which were broadcast six times a year for nearly 30 years (1975 – 2004), 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, the NCC said in a statement.

“Mark Russell transformed the landscape of political humor in America and, in doing so, influenced a generation of comedic artists. His musical satires, beloved for decades by those inside and outside of Washington, made him comedy’s greatest lyricist. His comedy legacy is unique and incomparable. We’re pleased to honor and celebrate Mark with this special event, along with the two other Western New York cultural institutions that meant so much to him – Buffalo Toronto Public Media and Chautauqua Institution,” National Comedy Center Executive Director Journey Gunderson said.

Russell filled his satirical performances with serious wit and irony and decimated his targets with “paper cuts,” by taking little swipes at them. By the time a song was finished, Black said, Russell’s target was completely disfigured.

“Everything he had to say was deadly serious, but his approach to it was not,” Black said.

The event in association with Buffalo Toronto Public Media and Chautauqua Institution is open to the public from 5 to 7 p.m. at the NCC, 203 W. Second St., Jamestown, with a dedication and brief remarks taking place at 6 p.m. Advance reservations are recommended at ComedyCenter.org/MarkRussell. A $33 contribution in Mark Russell’s memory to support the non-profit NCC is suggested, and is inclusive of museum admission for the entire day. Hors d’oeuvres and refreshments will be served at the reception.


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