Mark Russell, Bidding 2006 a Comic Adieu Mark Russell is known for his satirical songs about politicians and all things political. He's been a wise-cracking fly on the wall, observing official Washington for 50 years. He gained national fame through PBS specials. Who better to reflect on the past year?
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Mark Russell, Bidding 2006 a Comic Adieu

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Mark Russell, Bidding 2006 a Comic Adieu

Mark Russell, Bidding 2006 a Comic Adieu

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Comedian Mark Russell is known for his satirical songs about politicians and all things political. But really, no one is safe.

MARK RUSSELL: (Singing) What movie star got wasted on booze? Mel. When busted, who insulted the Jews? Mel. Who drank Tequila Sunrises till he was coherent as a duck? That stuff full of surprises made Gibson start behaving like schmuck. Oh, pardon me.

WERTHEIMER: Earlier this week, we visited with the irrepressible Mr. Russell in his home, at his piano, to reflect on the changes brought by the '06 election, and listen to a master at work.

Though born in Buffalo, Mark Russell is a Washingtonian through and through. He's been a wisecracking and singing fly on the wall, observing official Washington. He started out in the 1950s at the old Carroll Arms Hotel and became known nationally through PBS specials.

RUSSELL: I like a transition. I like it when the voters said, throw the bums out and bring on new bums. That's what it is to me.

WERTHEIMER: Well, some of these guys, like, for example, the majority leader of the Senate, Harry Reid of Las Vegas.


WERTHEIMER: Now, he's not a colorful fellow.

RUSSELL: He doesn't even look like he's from Las Vegas. He looks like somebody from Iowa. That's kind of a paradox there. But yeah, Reid isn't as good as the new majority leader - the new speaker of the House. The speaker of the House is going to be wonderful, because the voters said - the voters were told - the Republicans said if the Democrats win and Nancy Pelosi becomes speaker of the House, the Democrats will impose their hippie lifestyle, hippie lifestyle on the heartland. And the heartland responded by rolling a joint.


RUSSELL: So I'm looking forward to Pelosi. I really am. The inaugural parade is going to be wonderful. And they have the Marine Band. And I've been working on this, a work in progress here, you know, with the speaker of the House - new speaker of the House.

(Singing) God save our glorious queen. Turn on the smoke machine and cue the band. The schedule will be full, weeklong inaugural; obscene will be the spectacle at her command. The nation looks with hope and tries to cope. At last we'll have a female pope, Nancy the first.

(Speaking) It's going to be great.


WERTHEIMER: But you haven't grappled with one of the great issues there. What rhymes with Pelosi?

RUSSELL: Oh, you noticed that. Well, there was another - before I heard about the size of this hoopla that she's going to have, I sort of gave it Pelosi. You know, I gave it sort of an ethnic and sort of...

(Singing) She's from San Francisco. She is bellicoso, congressioni, impossioni. Minority, no! Majority now. Her majesty walks regally in her tiara. Nancy Pelosi...


RUSSELL: (Singing) ...she gives her ring.

(Speaking) And so that was the first version there. The rhyme, you know, you mentioned rhyme. That's a - if you immediately try and think of what rhymes with the subject, you're going to blow the joke. You're going to telegraph the joke.

WERTHEIMER: The election had its interesting moments, especially right toward the end when we saw how it was going to come out. But I have to say that this previous year with the war, the large numbers of deaths, and all the sort of depressing events...


WERTHEIMER: the Congress, which was a relatively grim and...

RUSSELL: It was a - 2006 was a grim year. I mean, if it wasn't for Cheney shooting that guy, there might not have been any laughs at all.


WERTHEIMER: So what do you do in your line of work with 2006?

RUSSELL: Well, that story with Cheney, it broke on a Sunday. And I was at Ford's Theater here in Washington the following night. And it required no setup, and this is a gift. This is a gift where you don't have to set up a joke. You don't have to. The audience is sitting and anticipating, so I walked out. I sat down at the piano.

(Singing) Oh, never go hunting with Cheney, just might change your luck. 'Cause if you go hunting with Cheney, he might mistake you for a duck. Dick Cheney's a gun-toting cowboy, his aim we won't try to defend. Gun control, that was his version. He just shot two quail and a friend.


RUSSELL: And ironically, the friend, you remember, turns out to be a gentleman name Harry Whittington, who, as it turned out, is the one trial lawyer in the country who supports George Bush. And Cheney shoots him.

WERTHEIMER: Was that the high point or the low point of 2006?

RUSSELL: There were some surprises, from out of the blue where we discovered that one of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai, was going to manage the major harbors of our country. Well, you remember, I mean the lid blew off of this. Everybody went ballistic. And we said, well, why Dubai? And I thought maybe it's at the top of the list of countries that nobody at the Department of Homeland Security can find on a map.

Well, as you remember, the deal fell through, obviously, as America sang...

(Singing) Goodbye Dubai, goodbye. Running our harbors, nice try. The Dubai deal went wayward when people learned that you were the A-word. Arabs! Oh, no. Is it true? There'll be no approval of you. Bush ran it by the Congress, oh my. Whoever voted for it could kiss his seat goodbye. For the Dubai deal, it's curtains, hello Halliburton. Goodbye Dubai, goodbye.

So that was nice. Lasted about a week but it was okay.


WERTHEIMER: What about - what about - but what about the ones that are coming on the horizon?

RUSSELL: Well, the front-runner for the Republicans is John McCain. Now, McCain, he's already under the Guantanamo primary. And he supported Bush on that measure regarding the detainees at Gitmo. And they're cutting back on torture and the CIA has been limited to one body part per electrode. And...



RUSSELL: I cleaned that up for you, by the way.

WERTHEIMER: Thank you.

RUSSELL: And McCain has what is known as the fire in the belly, as you know. And the fire in the belly is that passion within to run for president. And the only - I think it was the great Congressman Mo Udall who once said the only cure for fire in the belly is embalming fluid.

WERTHEIMER: Oh, dear. Oh, dear.


RUSSELL: Never leaves.

WERTHEIMER: What about the other character in this election season who seems to me to be just, and already has been, had songs written about him - Mr. Obama?

RUSSELL: You can't talk Obama without talking about Senator Clinton. Let me tell you something. Most of the Hillary bashers I have met are women. And these are women who if they could ask Hillary one question, it would be: Why didn't you kill him? So one of the things she did this year, attempting to broaden her horizons, was she co-sponsored a bill to ban flag burning. And one of the sponsors in the bill was one of the senators from Utah.

Now, Hillary will carry Utah the day that the Great Salt Lake turns into 80-proof Jack Daniels. Now, okay...


RUSSELL: She had smooth sailing until Mr. Obama comes along. Obama is about to throw his halo into the ring and so...

(Singing) Don't tell momma, I'm voting for Obama. He's a man who's both articulate and humble. He'll be a president sincere with articulation clear, as opposed to guy we got who tends to mumble. He'll provide the highest service, that's why Hillary isn't nervous. For the nomination, he'll supply the drama. Accomplishments as such, in the Senate, well, not much. Which is why he's qualified. Vote for Obama. Oh, he's not from Alabama, Arkansas or Tennessee. No, his father came from Kenya, that's good enough for me. President Obama, get used to it, just try. He's already famous, but will someone tell me why?

WERTHEIMER: Mark Russell, thanks very much.

RUSSELL: Thank you.


RUSSELL: Whoops!


WERTHEIMER: For Mark Russell's musical views on blogs and his presidential humor hall of fame, head to Mark Russell will also be at Ford's Theater in Washington this February.

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