RIP Mort Sahl: Comedian and Warren Commission Critic Ahead of its Time

John Simkin writes:

Mort Sahl died yesterday aged 94. Younger people might be unaware of Sahl’s connection with the JFK assassination.

Sahl became an influential figure in American poplar culture during the 1950s, when he recorded what the US Library of Congress described as “the earliest example of modern standup comedy on record”.

His routine was based on an anti-establishment stance and Senator John F. Kennedy asked him to write jokes for his speeches. Here’s Sahl on the 1960 presidential debates between Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

However, once JFK became President, he made jokes about him. Although on the left he refused to be committed to any group.

Sahl became convinced that JFK was killed as part of a conspiracy and he became a deputized member of District Attorney of New Orleans Jim Garrison’s team to investigate the assassination. Sahl would read lengthy passages from the Warren Commission report in his act. Although the vast majority of the American public agreed with Sahl about this, the television networks did not, and he was effectively blacklisted, and more of his planned shows were cancelled. His income dropped from $1 million to $13,000 by 1964. Sahl later admitted that “there’s never been anything that had a stronger impact on my life than this issue [JFK],” but added that he nonetheless “thought it was a wonderful quest.”

One rare TV appearance post-assassination took place in 1967 where he discusses the politics of the Vietnam War.

 

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