Last Man Standing: Mort Sahl and the Birth of Modern Comedy

Last Man Standing: Mort Sahl and the Birth of Modern Comedy

by James Curtis


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Last Man Standing: Mort Sahl and the Birth of Modern Comedy by James Curtis

A Times Literary Supplement 2017 Book of the Year

On December 22, 1953, Mort Sahl took the stage at San Francisco's hungry i and changed comedy forever. Before him, standup was about everything but hard news and politics. In his wake, a new generation of smart comics emerged—Shelley Berman, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Lenny Bruce, Bob Newhart, Dick Gregory, Woody Allen, and the Smothers Brothers, among others. He opened up jazz-inflected satire to a loose network of clubs, cut the first modern comedy album, and appeared on the cover of Time surrounded by caricatures of some of his frequent targets such as Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Adlai Stevenson, and John F. Kennedy. Through the extraordinary details of Sahl's life, author James Curtis deftly illustrates why Sahl was dubbed by Steve Allen as "the only real political philosopher we have in modern comedy."

Sahl came on the scene the same year Eisenhower and Nixon entered the White House, the year Playboy first hit the nation's newsstands. Clad in an open collar and pullover sweater, he adopted the persona of a graduate student ruminating on current events. "It was like nothing I'd ever seen," said Woody Allen, "and I've never seen anything like it after." Sahl was billed, variously, as the Nation's Conscience, America's Only Working Philosopher, and, most tellingly, the Next President of the United States. Yet he was also a satirist so savage the editors of Time once dubbed him "Will Rogers with fangs."

Here, for the first time, is the whole story of Mort Sahl, America's iconoclastic father of modern standup comedy. Written with Sahl's full cooperation and the participation of many of his friends and contemporaries, it delves deeply into the influences that shaped him, the heady times in which he soared, and the depths to which he fell during the turbulent sixties when he took on the Warren Commission and nearly paid for it with his career.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496809285
Publisher: University Press of Mississippi
Publication date: 05/02/2017
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 1,197,167
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

James Curtis, Brea, California, was a senior executive in the health care and computer industries before turning full-time to writing. He is the author of William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Films to Come; Spencer Tracy: A Biography; W. C. Fields: A Biography (winner of the 2004 Theatre Library Association Award, Special Jury Prize); James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters; and Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges.

Table of Contents

Part 1 The Next President of the United States

1 I'm Not Geared to Total Acceptance 3

2 I Knew We Were in Trouble 16

3 I Discovered I Had to Talk 29

4 Are There Any Groups We Haven't Offended? 46

5 You Can't Do Better Than Capacity 75

6 A Pretty Good Exercise 108

7 My Life Has No Dissolves 135

8 I'm Still in Business 154

9 The Meaning of the Word Loyalty 173

Part 2 Anyway, Onward

10 The Nation's Conscience 193

11 A Vast Spirit of Pessimism 210

12 Uncontaminated by Reason 234

13 I Have Met My Dream Girl 256

14 Why Am I the Only One? 272

15 The Loyal Opposition 295

16 Who the Enemy Is 309

17 More Comedians, Less Humor 324

Acknowledgments 327

Source Notes 329

Index 349

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Last Man Standing: Mort Sahl and the Birth of Modern Comedy 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
bookwomen37 More than 1 year ago
This is an exhaustive biography of Mort Sahl the ground breaking comedian. It covers all aspects of his personal life and his work. The author has done a very good job researching his subject and setting the time and place. Enjoy this fascinating look at one of the first satirical comedians.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mort Sahl is the most interesting person you'll ever read about.... Most importantly, he's a great man - very moral, a standard-bearer for humanity. Great book, full of laughs and tears... Explore more - he has 90 years of brilliance!