Legendary Comedian Mort Sahl's Death: What to Know

Legendary comedian and political satirist Mort Sahl passed away on Tuesday, Oct. 26 at the age of 94. Sahl was one of the most bombastic voices of the 20th century, with biting political comedy throughout the era of McCarthyism and the Cold War. Now, fans are looking back on his remarkable career.

A friend of Sahl confirmed the news of his death to The New York Times last month, explaining that he had died at his home in Mill Valley, California. Sahl's career goes back to at least the 1950s, when he drew giggles from crowds in comedy clubs by breaking the social taboo against speaking about politics. He aimed his fierce wit at politicians on both ends of the political spectrum, ignoring the potential danger for backlash. It paid off, as Sahl became the first comedian ever to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine in August of 1960. At the time, he was described as "Will Rogers with fangs."

(Photo: Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

Sahl came originally from Montreal, Canada, though his father was an American citizen who worked as an FBI clerk and wrote unpublished plays. His family moved to Los Angeles, California when he was young, and Sahl went to the University of Southern California after a brief stint in the U.S. Army.

Sahl tried his hand at stand-up comedy early on and got his first major gig at the legendary "hungry i" club in Berkeley, California in 1953. He set himself apart from other comics at once by taking on material right out of the headlines, with no regard for whether it would alienate listeners or one political persuasion or another. One of his most famous jokes — and most controversial, for the time — went: "For a while, every time the Russians threw an American in jail, the Un-American Activities Committee would retaliate by throwing an American in jail too."

Over the years, Sahl was a sought-after guest on talk shows and in stand-up circuits and was reportedly earning around $1 million a year for his work. He continued to dispense blunt political commentary up until his passing. On Twitter, he took aim at both former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, by writing to Trump: "After five years of Barack Obama, I'm severely wounded, but I can't find a doctor."


Sahl's work has been highlighted in books, memoirs and clip shows over the years. Perhaps the best single place to see a sampling of his work is the 1989 American Masters documentary Mort Sahl: The Loyal Opposition, which is streaming for free on Vimeo here. Meanwhile, Sahl's colleagues and fans are busy memorializing him now on social media.