One of Sahl’s shares asked if there were any groups he did not offend. His retrograde ideas about sex and his direct sexism deserve a setback. After gaining fame as the quintessentially liberal critic, Sahl became a Nixon voter who spoke heartily of Ronald Reagan. His image shifted from Professor Sage to Middle American outlaw, putting a cowboy in a silhouette on the cover of his raucous, naming memoir, “Heartland,” which announced with a straight face on the front page: “Here is the pain. . and the ecstasy of a conscience out of control. ” He later called Lenny Bruce “ignorant” before lashing out over time as Marilyn Monroe put her hand on her chest and said, “Don’t be afraid, Mr. Sahl.” It’s a journey.
You will hear the echoes of the current chapel in this book: self-mythologizing, sensitization, the eruption of grandeur. Sahl plays the victim brilliantly, saying he could not sign a single record deal after taking a position on the Warren Commission. If the term cancel culture was around then he would have used it.
Like so many comics that have been “canceled” today, Sahl continued to work, and when he never regained his old stature, he did not retire either. I did not notice that he was still active until a few years ago when someone told me that he not only performed every week in a theater in Mill Valley, California, but it was also streamed live. And sure enough, I looked him up and there he was in his 90s, still spoiled, and flashing that wolfish grin. It was inspiring and not a bit bizarre, like discovering that Fatty Arbuckle was still alive and acting.
In the popular narratives of stand-up story, Lenny Bruce is often positioned as the founding father, and his struggle for free speech is a super romantic story to build on. A biopic called “Mort” just does not have the same rank. But look around the comedy scene today, which is good, bad and ugly, and this saloon talker seems more relevant than ever.