Mark Russell

Inside Media: Mark Russell

April 04, 2009

Guest: Mark Russell

By Lesette R. Heath, special programs coordinator

Comedian Mark Russell was at the Newseum to discuss his colorful career and how he crafts musical satire from current events.

Political humorist Mark Russell is known for turning headlines into hilarious verse. Remember former Vice President Dick Cheney’s accidental shooting of a hunting companion? Russell’s musical parody, which began with "Oh, never go hunting with Cheney," got him his biggest laugh at Ford’s Theatre.

"The worst shape the country’s in, the better time I’m having, and that’s always a little bit embarrassing," said Russell.

While certain presidents have given him lots of material over the years, several people warned that the Obama presidency would pose a problem.

"For the first time in my life, people weren’t saying, ‘Boy, you’re going to have a field day.’ They said, ‘Isn’t it too bad that you can’t joke about Barack Obama?’ I don’t buy into that. But if it’s true, maybe that’s why God created Joe Biden," he deadpanned.

Russell’s career as a satirist began in 1961 with a two-week gig at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. He later became a recognizable face on PBS, where his self-titled comedy specials were highly successful.

But things haven’t always been rosy for Russell. In 1983, his parody about taking U.S. troops out of Lebanon was seen as crossing the line.

"I got 50 very angry letters," he said.

Today, he said, others aren’t shy about offending audiences.

"Rush Limbaugh does it on a daily basis, and his career is not threatened," said Russell, but "Don Imus was zapped — boom and gone."

When it comes to competition, Russell doesn’t worry. He likes Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and agreed that "Saturday Night Live" made a nice comeback during the election, thanks to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Although Russell has been off the air for five years, his shows live on.

"People say to me, ‘Saw you on YouTube last night.’ I love that."

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