Morton Lyon "Mort" Sahl (born May 11, 1927) is a Canadian-born American stand-up comedian, actor and social satirist, considered the first modern stand-up comedian since Will Rogers. Sahl pioneered a style of social satire which pokes fun at political and current event topics using improvised monologues and only a newspaper as a prop.
Sahl spent his early years in Los Angeles and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where he made his professional stage debut at the hungry i nightclub in 1953. His popularity grew quickly, and after a year at the club he traveled the country doing shows at established nightclubs, theaters and college campuses. In 1960 he became the first comedian to have a cover story written about him by Time magazine. He appeared on various television shows, played a number of film roles, and performed a one-man show on Broadway.
Television host Steve Allen claimed that Sahl was "the only real political philosopher we have in modern comedy." His social satire performances broke new ground in live entertainment, as a stand-up comic talking about the real world of politics at that time was considered "revolutionary." It inspired many later comics to become stage comedians, including Lenny Bruce, Jonathan Winters, George Carlin and Woody Allen. Allen credits Sahl's new style of humor with "opening up vistas for people like me."
Following Kennedy's assassination in 1963, Sahl's interest in who was responsible was so great that he became a deputized member of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison's team to investigate the assassination. As a result, Sahl's comedy would often reflect his politics and included readings and commentary about the Warren Commission Report, of which he consistently disputed the accuracy. He alienated much of his audience, was effectively blacklisted and more of his planned shows were cancelled. His income dropped from $1 million to $19,000 by 1964. According to Nachman, the excessive focus on the Kennedy assassination details was Sahl's undoing and wrecked his career. Sahl later admitted that "there's never been anything that had a stronger impact on my life than this issue," but added that he nonetheless "thought it was a wonderful quest."
A biography of Sahl, Last Man Standing, by James Curtis, was released in 2017.