Mort Sahl, a political satirist and stand-up comedy pioneer, has died at 94 Sahl started doing stand-up in the 1950s, a time when most comedians were men in suits, rattling off one-liners. Sahl wore a V-neck sweater, tucked a newspaper under his arm, and just ... talked.

Mort Sahl, a political satirist and stand-up comedy pioneer, has died at 94

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Satirist Mort Sahl died on Tuesday at his home in Mill Valley, Calif. He was 94 years old. As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, Sahl's stream-of-consciousness style was influenced by jazz, and his topical humor influenced generations of stand-up comedians. George Carlin, Bill Maher and Jon Stewart are just a few of the performers who followed his lead.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: In 1960, Mort Sahl was on the cover of Time magazine for an article called "The New Comedians." He's surrounded by balloons with caricatures of politicians - Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy. Sahl has a pen in his hand, ready to pop those balloons. In a show in 1967, he said it was his job to burst the public's illusion that presidents are father figures.

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MORT SAHL: They'll salute them for a while, and then it begins to bother them. And they say, I have a wish to do him in. That's where I come in. But...

(LAUGHTER)

BLAIR: Sahl started doing stand-up in the 1950s, a time when most comedians were men in suits rattling off one-liners. Sahl wore a V-neck sweater, tucked a newspaper under his arm and just talked.

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SAHL: And I was walking through Central Park with some delinquents running around there who stopped me, gang of kids with knives. And I stood my ground and told them that I admired their vagabond existence.

(LAUGHTER)

SAHL: And I wanted to join them. And they panicked from the responsibility.

(LAUGHTER)

BLAIR: Morton Lyon Sahl was born in Montreal. His family moved to Los Angeles when he was young. His father was a failed playwright who worked as a clerk for the FBI. Sahl's satire spared no one - young, old, people on the right and the left. Yet he socialized with celebrities and government officials. He called President Ronald Reagan a personal friend. He wrote jokes for John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign speeches. After JFK was assassinated, Sahl was convinced the CIA was behind it. He got involved with New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison's investigation trying to prove the conspiracy. Here's Mort Sahl on Steve Allen's TV show in 1971.

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SAHL: I'm interested, very selfishly, as an American in what the results are in the living values in this country since the death of Jack Kennedy because I think he was removed for a reason. Can we (unintelligible) that?

BLAIR: After that, Mort Sahl's career began to stall. He recovered somewhat in later years, but he always stood fast to his belief that a satirist should give people the truth, as he told WHYY's Fresh Air.

SAHL: I wanted them to give the audience some credit for being bright, and it is. The audience will never let you down. It'll keep you honest.

BLAIR: Mort Sahl performed well into his 80s every Thursday night at a small theater near San Francisco. He married three times. His only son died in 1996.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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