Happy Birthday Mort
Q. Where could you have seen the talents of George Carlin, Jay Leno, Jonathan Winters, Shelly Berman, Albert Brooks, Bill Maher and several other luminaries of stand-up comedy under one roof, at one time?
A. If you attended the 80th birthday celebration given for Mort Sahl at the Wadsworth Theatre on Thursday, June 28…, that’s where!
Coming together to pay homage to one of America’s foremost critics and satirist on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, seven producers got together and formed the Heartland Comedy Foundation to give its first “Legend’s Concert” honoring Mr. Sahl and contributing the receipts to provide financial assistance to comedians.
The jokes came from all sides as each comedian’s barbs took a different spin, depending on their style and point of view. Because it was Sahl, most of the comics spoke about current events, i.e., Paris Hilton: “What’s so great about Hilton? If she were Paris Four Seasons or Paris Ritz Carlton, that, I could understand! She should really be Paris
Travelodge!” said Drew Carey.
From George Carlin: a seven minute poem recited, non-stop, telling us that he’s a “modern man who is a high tech, low life, an inner child out bound, an alpha male on beta blockers, a love child who receives hate mail, an interactive-hyperactive” and on and on
“person!” The applause he received at the end of this monologue was deafening.
Albert Brooks indicated his overwhelming chagrin when he realized this event was not called to honor the memory of Mort Sahl because of his recent death; that the P.R. agency representing this event had been so ineffectual as to cause him embarrassment at his incorrect conclusion. “I was sickened, dismayed and terribly disappointed when I saw Mort standing here tonight.” he said. “Therefore, I have written my eulogy to him and it will be that or nothing,” as he proceeded to read a glowing, satirical and most clever tome in Sahl’s honor.
In his own inimitable manner, Shelley Berman came out, looked at the audience and announced, “I dressed up for you people…where did you park your tractors? “ A few not-too-funny observations later, he closed with one of his telephone shticks, which delighted the crowd.
Jay Leno took charge immediately, telling us that, contrary to popular belief, Mel Gibson’s uncle died in the Holocaust. He fell off the tower! Ka-Boom! MacDonald’s was preparing a new 900-calorie hamburger that “ comes with a coke, fries and a headstone!”
Ka-Boom! He added a few comments about our kids being so fat it takes Michael Jackson over an hour to work on one of them. Yuk!
Perhaps the man who rated highest with this reporter was Norm Crosby, whose rapid-fire delivery scored huge laughs: “Two antennas got married: the wedding was awful, but the reception terrific; Nobody wants to get married anymore except priests and homosexuals; don’t go into a crematorium and say, “What’s cooking?” Ten minutes of non-stop laughter with some solid applause registered as he took his bow.
The humor of Kevin Nealon, Paula Poundstone, Richard Lewis, Jonathan Winters and Bill Maher rounded out the evening’s entertainment. Both Don Rickles and Woody Allen paid their respects via tape shown to the appreciative audience.
Sahl, dressed in his bright red sweater, holding the New York Times, took the stage
and introduced everyone to his new wife. He accepted the contributions and ovation with a wonderful grace and humility. Throughout the evening, you were reminded of the many breaks Sahl provided to these stars at the start of their show business careers.
For me, Bill Maher summed it up most cogently and correctly as he said, “Mort Sahl is one of my heroes and I have so few of them.”
The evening concluded almost three hours later with no intermission and host, Jack Riley, bid adieu, creating a question as to who will the Foundation select to honor next year? All I know is, we’re coming back because an evening of laughter like this is almost impossible to find, anywhere, anytime!