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National Comedy Center
The late comedian/political satirist Mark Russell was celebrated and remembered at the National Comedy Center last night (August 17, 2023) by comedian Lewis Black and three Western New York institutions that were important to Russell and woven throughout his life — The National Comedy Center, Chautauqua Institution and Buffalo Toronto Public Media.
The ribbon was cut to mark the inclusion of Mark Russell’s career archives into the National Comedy Center’s permanent collection, where these artifacts will be preserved and made accessible for generations to come.
Speakers at the celebration event included:
- Journey Gunderson, National Comedy Center Executive Director,
- Lewis Black, comedian and Founding Chair of the National Comedy Center Advisory Board
- Tom Calderone, President and CEO, Buffalo Toronto Public Media,
- Deborah Sunya Moore, Senior Vice President and Chief Program Officer, Chautauqua Institution,
- Kelly Carlin, producer, author and fellow founding National Comedy Center Advisory Board Member (daughter of George Carlin)
- Tom Becker, former President of Chautauqua Institution
- Ali Russell, wife of Mark Russell
During the event, the National Comedy Center showcased materials and artifacts from Russell’s career and accessioned one of his musical parodies — “A Candidate Political” performed to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Modern Major General” — as a permanent component of its Lyrical Laughter exhibit. Mark Russell’s America, a 2012 retrospective produced by WNED, was also shown in the Comedy Center’s theater.
Russell, who was a founding Advisory Board Member of the National Comedy Center and a longtime Chautauqua Institution resident, passed away this past March at the age of 90. He was born in Buffalo and became one of the nation’s foremost political satirists, skewering Democrats, Republicans and Independents for over 50 years with stand-up monologues and song parodies beloved by audiences nationwide. Perhaps best known for his acclaimed comedy specials on PBS, which were broadcast six times a year for nearly 30 years (1975 – 2004), many of which were broadcast live from Buffalo Toronto Public Media’s WNED PBS studios in Buffalo, Russell’s routines covered the latest news and political leaders of the day with song parodies based on musical standards with new lyrics customized for current events, while accompanying himself on the piano.
Quote from National Comedy Center Executive Director Journey Gunderson, from the remarks last evening:
“Mark Russell is often called a political satirist. It’s more appropriate to credit him as a key architect of that genre — not just one of its practitioners. He re-invented political humor as we know it today, ushering in a moment when it is not only one of the most popular forms of entertainment, but one of the most powerful forces for change. Political satire, when done well, can have real impacts on the course of American history. That’s Mark Russell’s legacy.
“This evening, I am so proud to be announcing that Mark Russell’s career archives will be joining the National Comedy Center’s permanent collection, where they will be preserved and made accessible for generations to come. The National Comedy Center is the United States’ Congressionally designated preservation home for comedy, and Mark’s work will join the collections of peers like George Carlin, Joan Rivers, Carl Reiner, Lucille Ball, and Johnny Carson.”
Quote from Comedian Lewis Black, Founding National Comedy Center Advisory Board Chair:
“Mark Russell was an extraordinarily talented satirist with a unique comic voice. With a mischievous grin, his signature bowtie and a happy-go-lucky piano style, Mark would skewer politicians and their politics through song. It made the savagery of his humor seem lighthearted as he took apart his targets through a thousand paper cuts.”