REVIEWS and INTERVIEWS (2001 and earlier)

REVIEWS and INTERVIEWS (2001 and earlier)

October 2001 Paul Brownfield, Los Angeles Times

In August, comedian Mort Sahl performed two nights at the Jazz Bakery in Culver City, as the opening act for Woody Allen. The order was somewhat backward, given that Allen once said of Sahl: "Watching him made me want to be a stand-up comedian." In the event, Allen was appearing not as a comic but as an abashed clarinetist, sitting in with the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band to promote his then-forthcoming film "Curse of the Jade Scorpion."

Allen and Sahl go back more than 40 years, to the days of the last true renaissance in stand-up comedy, when Sahl owned audiences at the Hungry i in San Francisco and the Crescendo in Los Angeles and Allen was coming up as a shy, nebbishy comedy writer who spoke wittily of girls. Over the years they have, off and on, remained in touch, though they travel in different worlds, on different coasts. So when the 66-year-old Allen suggested the 74-year-old Sahl come do shows in New York, Sahl thought Allen was merely being friendly, the way people say, "We should have lunch." He wasn't.

On Sunday, Allen will introduce Sahl at Joe's Pub in Manhattan, a four-night engagement put together by Allen and his longtime manager, Jack Rollins.

"Woody called me immediately [after the Jazz Bakery dates] and said, 'Listen, this guy is hilarious. We gotta bring him to New York,'" said Rollins, mostly retired and living in Connecticut himself. In addition to booking Joe's Pub, Rollins got on the phone to another comic whose career he used to manageDavid Letterman. Sahl will appear Monday on Letterman's "Late Show" on CBS. He last did Letterman in 1988.

Over lunch at the Mulholland Grill, one of his haunts in a fashionable strip mall at the top of Beverly Glen, Sahl is clearly touched that Allen found him a place to work in New York two shows a night, an hour each. He last worked there in 1994, during a run of "Mort Sahl's America." At Joe's Pub, Sahl will come onstage holding a newspaper, his trademark. He figures he'll talk about Michael Bloomberg, the newly elected billionaire mayor of New York City, and Sen. Hillary Clinton. And, of course, America's latest war.

But it's not like he writes down an act, exactly. Rather, he does what he always did feel out an audience for what amuses them, relying on a store of anecdotes about friends such as Al Haig and Eugene McCarthy and a mind tuned to hypocrisy.

Post-Sept. 11, of course, there has been much hand-wringing in comedy about which of our leaders are safe to harpoon. But this presumes that there are voices out there up to the challenge in the best of times. Asked about comedy in a time of patriotism, Sahl who ran afoul of the political and entertainment establishments in the 1960s for his onstage mocking of the Warren Commission's findings on the JFK assassinationresponds dryly: "Now I realize how hard it is to be a humorist."

These days, Sahl does the occasional out-of-town date, but he concedes that he doesn't work nearly as much as he'd like to, a fact that he variously attributes to disinterest among theater operators, agents and erhaps most especially television's tremendous capacity to trivialize everything it touches. In September, after the terrorist attacks, he performed at the Jewish Theater of New England and was taken aback that his setups were playing like applause lines, in no less a liberal bastion than Newton, Mass.

"I said, 'Isn't the president a great leader?' And they start cheering," Sahl says, bemused. "And I said, 'What about that speech he made on the state of the union?'" More cheering. To Sahl, this disrupted what to him was one of his eventual punch lines: that the president was doing so well it made you embarrassed that he hadn't actually been elected. Or: that Bush wants to be the education president. Yeah, and now he's being home-schooled by Condoleezza Rice.

Today, Sahl is a godfather of stand-up, though not a relic. After Sept. 11, many of the contemporary successors to his stardom waited (some are still waiting) an "appropriate" amount of time to resume poking at America. It mattered greatly that they're on television, while Sahl's platform was the stage and the recording studio. Bill Maher, the mainstream figure perhaps best positioned and equipped to follow in Sahl's footsteps, touched off a controversy on ABC's "Politically Incorrect," calling the U.S. cowardly for lobbing missiles at far-away foreign targets. The comedian briefly became a hot topic of debate about the intersection of patriotism and polemics. Ari Fleischer, the While House press secretary, used the occasion to remind Americans to watch what they say these days.

But in the final analysis what plagues Maher most are his formatwhich demands that people speak quickly and semi-coherentlyand his genre, television, the great seller of product and reducer of thought.

And so, at a time when newspapers have more immediacy, Sahl is a man with a country but not a stage. What about comedy clubs, you ask? Have you been to a comedy club lately?

"McCarthy used to say, 'The jokes should draw blood,'" Sahl says. "I think the comedians think you're supposed to help the audience escape [rather] than go into it."

Of the war on terrorism he asks: "How long can they keep the program going? It's kind of expensive, isn't it?" Of this heightened-state-of-alert business, he says: "They said if you hear anybody say anything that sounds disloyal you should report them to the Office of Homeland Security. What a great way to get even with your parents."

There are those for whom Sahl will be forever frozen in the '50s and '60s, his name synonymous with such figures as Adlai Stevenson and Jim Garrison. Then, too, he has over the years befriended icons of the right, people whose politics don't square with the die-hard liberal causes with which many mistakenly associate him. In March, for instance, Sahl spoke in Florida, at a fund-raiser at Haig's house. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was there, and Al Hoffman, a Florida developer and major fund-raiser in Bush's 2000 presidential campaign. Sahl was there at Haig's behest. They met in 1987, at the Beverly Wilshire, when the former secretary of state in the Reagan White House was running for president. They became fast friends, Sahl writing the tagline for the Haig candidacy: "He's throwing his helmet into the ring."

"He's got a very willing sense of humor," Sahl says of Haig. "He knows he's foreboding."

It is Sahl's opinion, in fact, that real-life guys like Haig are better sources for humor than the comedians sanctioned to make fun of them. Sahl feels this way about another acquaintance, Alan Simpson, the conservative former Wyoming senator whom Sahl met two years ago, at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, where Simpson is a director at the Institute of Politics.

"Simpson told me a great joke, he gave it to [Vice President Dick] Cheney," Sahl says. "Did I tell you about the two prisoners? They're in a federal penitentiary. All they have to look forward to are the meals. The guard brings a tray, one prisoner digs in, and the other guy's dispirited, and he says, 'How's the food?' And the one guy says, 'It was better when you were governor.'"

Earlier, he had brought up Warren Beatty, which reminded him of the Kennedy School, which reminded him of Simpson. Which reminded him of the prisoner joke.

"I ran into Warren Beatty up here," he had said. "He says to me how about this, I've known him 40 years, 41 he says, 'You see any good movies lately?' How about that for a deep question. You wanna say to him, 'Have you made any good movies lately?'

"They have a hard time laughing at what they're doing," he had continued of Beatty and the like. "I saw him speak at Harvard. I was back there to be interviewed for a fellowship, and I went to hear him, he spoke at the Arco Forum .... And he says to the kids, 'Basically, America's story is the haves and the have-nots.' Then he says, 'I believe if you have more you should share it with those who don't.' Then he says he rolls out [presidential candidate Ralph] Nader's statistics 'A CEO today makes 424 times what an assembly-line worker makes.' So a girl stands up and she says, 'How many times do you make what a grip makes on a picture?' And he had no answer. And Simpson said to me, 'If he's gonna run for president, he's gonna have to have more answers than that.'"

Sahl's day is such that he has time on his hands. His third wife, Kenslea, is a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines. In Los Angeles, he counts among his friends Fred Dryer, the former pro football player and star of the cop series "Hunter." They met at the Playboy Mansion, on one of Hugh Hefner's old movie nights. Asked what they talk about, Sahl says: "Nonconformity, mostly."

His days begin with three newspapersthe New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal. Midday he'll come up to the Glen Center and have a cup of coffee or get a doughnut. He goes home in time to catch the East Coast feed of the network news at 3:30. His satellite dish beams in 561 channels, including six Discovery networks. After the news he'll go surfing for an old movie.

"Yesterday I was looking at Audrey Hepburn, Steve McQueen, a good picture with Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn, 'Best Friends.' You ever see that? They're really good in it. Tells you a lot about men and women."

And what tells you a lot about Mort Sahl? "You hear people say, 'Mort, he's got a lot of integrity, he doesn't care whether they laugh or not.' Oh, yes, I do. See, I'll tell you what it comes down to in the town. I'm on a search for purity as perceived by them. Not to get a laugh. But they're just hoping they don't have to go with me."
Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times



(slightly edited...mostly Chuck Booms and Tucker Carlson's extraneous remarks)

LARRY KING: Tonight, elections aren't supposed to be funny stuff, but as David Letterman said, some jokes just write themselves. Joining us in New York, entrepreneur, author and radio talk-show host Joan Rivers; in Los Angeles, the original political satirist, Mort Sahl; with him, comic Chuck Booms, the co-host of "Kiley and Booms" on Fox Sports radio; and in Washington, our man Tucker Carlson of "The Weekly Standard," and CNN's "SPIN ROOM." They're all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Humor and politics is as old as Mark Twain, but never as more prevalent as in recent days, and the man who started it all, begins with our panel discussion tonight. Mort Sahl, back in 1958, 59, 60, he caused a stir by wearing that sweater, coming out on major stages across the United States with a rolled up newspaper and just reading headlines and making comments. Did you know you were starting something? Did you?

MORT SAHL: I was trying to pay the rent.

KING: Did you know that political humor would become what it is now in...

SAHL: Yes, because Adlai Stevenson dropped in to see show in San Francisco he said, you can represent the oppressed majority, the Democrats.

KING: Oppressed majority, but did you know that it would start a wave?

SAHL: No. No. You only know from the opposition. KING: Joan Rivers, are you surprised that political humor has become the norm of the day?

JOAN RIVERS: I'm thrilled. In the old days you would say, like you know, Linda Byrd and Lucy Baines were bow-wows and you would get hate mail and terrible mail. Nowadays, anything goes. It's wonderful.

KING: Chuck Booms, does anything go?

CHUCK BOOMS: Absolutely, and I think that one of the shows that came along, as a friend of mine and yours Larry, Bill Maher in "Politically Incorrect" which deals with it every day, and with the cable news channels and so much coverage of politics, and, of course, the debacle we all just went through, the humor just never ends. It really does write itself.

KING: Leno and Letterman do politics every night. It's part of the scene, right?

BOOMS: Yes, and I think that it was reflected in the campaign when you saw each candidate vying to get on Letterman a lot, Leno a lot, "Politically Incorrect," a Stewart show as many of those things as they could. Absolutely. KING: Tucker, what do you make of this boom?

TUCKER CARLSON: Well, I mean, as a general matter, I'm all for it. If I see NBC News cross-promote "Saturday Night Live" a single more time I think I'm going to be ill, but I mean it's, you know, it's humanizing, obviously, for candidates to, you know, tell jokes, but it's also appealing, and it's certainly more interesting than listening to them talk about SDI or something, so I'm for it.

KING: Was this funny, Mort.

SAHL: I was you thinking, you know, maybe we could get a sex scandal for a Republican president to humanize the Republican Party, at long last. Was it funny?

KING: Was it funny? Was this last six weeks funny?

SAHL: Well, it always is. You know, but, I mean -- my good friend Mark Russell said after the Supreme Court interceded, he said the people have spoken. All five of them.

KING: Joan, did you enjoy it, no matter what side of the political spectrum you were on?

RIVERS: Well, let me -- first of all, to hear the Supreme Court voices, I mean, I had no idea. I have had phone sex with four of them -- it was so fabulous. Just -- it was great. Every day.

CARLSON: I hope Ginsburg wasn't one of the four.

RIVERS: I'm not going kiss-and-tell, but it was just wonderful, I mean even now, we saw Laura Bush, and you now suddenly are aware that Russian women, after you have look at Laura, that Russian women are chic. I mean, there is just so much -- everything that happens, you're just so excited about.....

KING: ....You know, if you know Al Gore, Al Gore is funny.

BOOMS: Correct, and everybody in Washington who knows him outside of these horrible, dummied-up, wooden appearances says that he's very funny.

KING: What's his problem, Mort.

SAHL: Well, I always felt during the campaign, just as a voter not certainly as performer, I felt that they were both lying, but Gore knew he was lying. So, I voted Republican because I have relatives in Florida, Larry.

KING: Well, you've written for both candidates. You've written for a lot of candidates, right?

SAHL: Yes, I started with President Kennedy. I was the only writer at that time.

KING: But you have written for Republicans, too.

SAHL: Yes, I've written for Alexander Haig; George Bush, Senior; Ronald Reagan; Donald Regan.

CARLSON: Alexander Haig, now there's a cut-up.

KING: In fact, Joan, to give credit where it's due, it was Mort Sahl who give the great line about Al Haig. He's thrown his helmet into the ring.

SAHL: Thank you, Larry.

KING: I never forgot that. Now it's part of the -- is it part of your routine, Joan?

RIVERS: Oh, of course, of course it has -- it started -- God bless Monica Lewinsky and her knees. I mean, you have no idea that the biggest laughs in my act now come from my screaming about Monica, you know, that she was under the desk more than Buddy the dog. I mean, you know, it just -- I brought a pet whale so I could say there she blows. You know...

BOOMS: I would think Joan would have at least something on pregnant chads. That's got to tie in with Joan's friend from high school somewhere, the pregnant chad....

KING: Anything goes. Joan, are you going to miss Clinton?

RIVERS: Oh, am I going to miss Clinton? He was such great fodder. Of course. He was always doing something. He was always in the middle of a scandal. There was always -- files -- you know, thank God she's still going to be around.

KING: Who? Oh, Hillary.

KING: What do you make, though, of the American public relationship with him? A high rating?

SAHL: You -- yes, you have to make a choice. It was like having dinner with your folks. When I was about 17 -- my father was boring me with the idea of heroism and aspiring to the level of what he did in World War II. But my brother would take me behind the barn and let me get high; I liked him. He was going to Canada, so he wouldn't -- that's what it was, you know. All the Republicans went to Vietnam and all the Democrats went to Canada. That's what I recall.

BOOMS: I want to have dinner with your brother.

KING: So you're going to miss him?

SAHL: Oh, yes. Can I take a second here, Larry?

KING: Yes.

SAHL: You know, I worked at the White House with both of them on a PBS special.

KING: Both of who?

SAHL: The President and Senator Clinton -- Senator-elect Clinton, and Yeltsin was at the White House. And there was a photo- op, but they wouldn't run any sound. And Clinton was killing time while they took all the pictures. They're clicking the shudders. And he said to Yeltsin, how's it going? And Yeltsin said, I have a lot of trouble with the Congress, and I had to open fire on them and repossess that building. So... He said, well, I have trouble with the Congress, Clinton said. So Yeltsin said, why don't you do that? So Clinton started to laugh, and then he noticed that Andrea Mitchell from MS was over there taking it down. So seizing a political opportunity, as Clinton always did -- we admire him for that certainly -- he turned to Yeltsin. He (UNINTELLIGIBLE). He says, well, Mr. President, that's not the way we do things here, and Hillary was kicking the president under the table and she said, keep quiet and listen to him, he's trying to help. That's as I remember it.

KING: What kind -- what do you think she's -- Chuck, what do you make of the $8 million?

BOOMS: Well, I think even better -- the better story that isn't out, the book deal is funny. The hysterical is the house is up for sale. They haven't even got the plastic off the furniture, for crying out loud, and the house in New York is up for sale, and she's going to Washington.

RIVERS: Thank God. Well, the best thing that she won is we got her out of the state. If I knew we were going to get her out of the state, I would have voted for her. Oh, please.

KING: Why don't you like her, Joan?

RIVERS: Because she's a liar. You know, she's as honest as the day is long in the Antarctic. I mean... I'm just -- I'm scared she's going to become president, and then all those female interns are going to have the same, you know, problems again. And...

KING: Stop it. Stop it, Joan.

KING: Now. Mort Sahl, we were discussing, in the '60s you couldn't have gotten away with this.

SAHL: No. I think, Larry, on balance, that you can attack all of humanity, but you're not allowed to attack one group.

BOOMS: That's very true.

KING: So like Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" wouldn't go today.

BOOMS: Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" could not get away with the jokes, the words, any of that -- even though it's rip-roaring funny. However...

KING: However, you can rip up a president.

BOOMS: Right. You can go after -- Mort's exactly right. You can go after a single individual, and be as vicious about their personal life, their appearance. Look at what they did to -- one of the ones we're leaving out here is Katherine Harris. Oh, my God. This poor woman walks out with a bullseye on her forehead, and going after her makeup and her hair and her this and her...

KING: What do you make of -- Joan, is just any -- is nothing, nothing sacred, Joan?

RIVERS: And there shouldn't be. This is such a difficult time for the nation, and truly, everyone was so tense and we were all so worried: How was this going to be handled? Will it be handled in a calm way? There were no tanks in the streets. There were no, you know, coups. There were no machine guns. You never heard one bullet. It was an amazing time, the way the country did this process. And you have to let the steam out some way. And that is humor, Larry. And thank God. Thank God that we could, every night, sit and laugh about it and make jokes about the whole thing.

KING: ...Is it true now that -- we've changed a lot, but you couldn't have rapped -- well, you weren't born. But 40 years ago, you couldn't rap the president. You couldn't rap John F. Kennedy. Steve Allen could not rap John F. Kennedy

CARLSON: No. And the reporters had to hang around and not take notes, et cetera. And I think there was probably a much higher level of collusion between the press and politicians. And that's, on its face, a bad thing. You know, if you know something and you are a reporter, generally, you ought to report it. That's pretty much your job, I guess.

RIVERS: Oh, yes. No, no, no. But at one point...

CARLSON: No, no, no. Yes, yes, yes.

RIVERS: But do we really care...

CARLSON: Yes, actually, we really do. Yes, we really do care.

RIVERS: ... that John Kennedy had girls in the White House. No, we didn't.

CARLSON: Actually, as I remember, it spawned about 60 or 70 books and a number of documentaries. And people seemed to care, yes.

RIVERS: Later. Later, but not were while he was our leader, not -- I don't think a man's sex life has anything do with the way he is leading the country. And, truly, I think it is terrible that the press picks up on everything. I think it's awful. It's great for us.

(CROSSTALK) CARLSON: I guess it depends what his sex life is. I mean, there are certain sex lives that are -- you know, probably have an effect on the way somebody governs. I mean, not all sex lives, but some of them.

KING: Did you know that when it was happening? You knew John Kennedy. Did you know?

SAHL: I knew John Kennedy very well. And...

KING: Did you know that part of him? SAHL: The...

KING: Come on, Mort.

SAHL: You want me to come clean? What -- I will tell you one thing I remember, though. I was on Air Force One with him, flying from L.A. to Palm Springs. You would walk on the front of plane, you would be there. But anyway, Mrs. Kennedy was in air. And William F. Buckley was in there talking to him. And he kept raising his eyebrows and licking his lip, as he does stuff. And then he went to the men's room. And the president had the fire ax under glass over his head. And Jackie Kennedy said: "He drives me crazy with the relentless mannerisms. I would like to take that ax and cut his tongue off." And the president said to his wife: "He would only grow another one right away." I do remember that.

KING: But nothing about women?

� SAHL: Women? He noticed the attractive women.

KING: OK. I have heard. We'll be right back with more on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. We'll be taking calls at the bottom of the hour. Don't go away.

RIVERS: ...I love George Bush. He's so excited about the inauguration, he kept saying to everybody: We are going to have ice cream!

KING: Mort, you were going to...

HAMMOND: I was going to say, Larry: Was it Cheney who said: "Leave no child behind?" We know who he meant, too.

RIVERS: I'm just sorry for Bush.

KING: You feel sorry for him? Why, Joan?

RIVERS: Yes, because he so is easy. You know he's not as dumb as we all are being told he is. And yet every joke that you do now: He had a great visit with Clinton because he got to play with Buddy the dog and Socks. And, I mean, all these jokes just come so easily. And I hope that he will get a persona finally that will not make us be able to write these jokes as quickly as we are writing them.

BOOMS: There is a certain danger -- I think Joan's hitting on something -- there is a certain danger at some point for all of us as comedians, that...

KING: Go too far?

BOOMS: ... if we continue to do this and go too far, we actually destroy Bush's credibility, actually, not only to the population here, but around the world. If everybody in Europe and in Asia and everything thinks, "He's the guy that they are doing on 'Saturday Night Live,'" you are not so worried about pointing missiles or anything else. And I think that if we go too far -- especially this early -- it's amazing -- he isn't even sworn in -- and we are just destroying him.

CARLSON: So basically, what you are saying is comedians are putting us at risk of nuclear war.

BOOMS: Yes, I...

KING: That is what you are saying, Chuck.

SAHL: How about, based on the prognosis of Alan Greenspan, Hollywood makes a science fiction movie where's there a nuclear confrontation and the world ends, and there is only five people left alive, and two of them are out of work? Could we start with that? Why don't we talk about the economy for a minute?

KING: What happened to it today?

SAHL: Why can't anybody fire Greenspan, no matter who is elected?

KING: Why is that? Why is he sacrosanct?

BOOMS: Well, I believe that it is because Andrea Mitchell is a kick boxer. From what I understand, this is a tough broad. And if you get anywhere near Alan, she will just whack you.

KING: Can we get a break? If you join us later, I'll re- introduce our panel and we'll take your phone calls. Don't go away.

KING: We're back, and let's meet our panel discussing humor and politics: Joan Rivers, entrepreneur, author, actress and radio host of "The Joan Rivers Show"; the dean of political humor in the United States, Mort Sahl, the pioneer; Chuck Booms, funny guy and the host of "Kiley and Booms" on Fox Sports radio and our own treasure, Tucker Carlson. He has emerged into his own in the year 2000, has he not? He's become a household symbol, staff writer of "The Weekly Standard," writer for "Talk" magazine and the co-host of CNN's "SPIN ROOM."

BOOMS: "THE SPIN ROOM" with one of the real funny cut-up guys, Bill Press. He's a laugh a minute, isn't he?

CARLSON: He is. He's a great man, Chuck.

SAHL: I'll ask the questions.

CARLSON: The Chuck Boom show.

KING: Cushing, Texas, Hello. Cushing, Texas, are you there?

CALLER: Yes, Cushing, Texas here.

KING: Go ahead.

CALLER: If they recount all those votes in Florida and Gore won, what will happen?

KING: What will happen, Mort? Let's say "The Miami Herald" does a recount. Let say they use judges, college professors, impartial people. They check it out in three different way and they say if you counted the chads. They counted this, Gore won. What happens then?

SAHL: Bush will come out of his meeting with Greenspan and demand a recount.

KING: Bush demands recount.

BOOMS: I was under the understanding that in all the other states, perhaps Tucker knows more about this, but I was under the understanding that you weren't allowed to do this. I know they kept saying the Freedom of Information Act, but all the other states I thought the ballots get destroyed.

KING: Florida's Sunshine Law. No Florida court is not televised.

SAHL: It's kind of Jewish. I don't want to know. The anti- Sunshine Law, yes. KING: Joan, what happens? I mean, Bush doesn't lose the presidency. But what happens to our national psyche?

RIVERS: Well, I think the whole national psyche already is so confused. I mean, in Florida, they were telling people: Call them up and complain. Well, all those Jews down there were calling up and they were complaining like: My son doesn't call me. I have bad elbows.

SAHL: You never faxed us.

RIVERS: They missed the point.

KING: You never faxed us....In fairness, had Gore won, would Heston have left?

BOOMS: No, he would have went and got a gun.

RIVERS: And shot Gore.

SAHL: Gray Davis is trying to disarm Heston, Larry, even as we speak.

BOOMS: You want to take on Moses? That ain't me.

SAHL: You know, there is a Web site call Deport-A-Lib.

KING: Deport-A-Lib?

SAHL: A-Lib, trying to -- honest to goodness. And you are supposed to contribute money. They're soliciting money to deport Robert Altman, and Barbra Streisand, and Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen.

KING: Deport to who? You can only deport to countries that they were born in.

SAHL: Because they said they were going to leave -- yes.

BOOMS: They said they would leave.

SAHL: To think, Elian Gonzalez was 21 today.

KING: Well, one relief, though, if it's a Web site, it's out of business tomorrow.....

� RIVERS: ....I was in London both for the Monica Lewinsky scandal and I was also in London -- which is funny that this gentlemen called -- during all this and they just think we're idiots. But, you know, again, look at what they've got to contend with. I mean, they've got their own stuff. I just think that Bush is going to be fine. I think he's going to surround himself with wonderful people and he's a nice man. He's a humble man. He never brags that he's got an eighth grade, you know, graduation certificate and God bless him.

SAHL: I thought you were going to say and eighth grade administration.

RIVERS: That was joke I screwed up. I was going for a joke that didn't work.

KING: What did you think of Colin Powell's appointment, Mort?

SAHL: Well, it's not exactly Jesse Jackson, is it Larry? You all remember Jesse Jackson? A man of the cloth, cashmere and who said, I have a scheme.

BOOMS: Jesse's certainly emerged here Larry, back -- well, I mean, he gave all new buffoonery to himself. Sharpton, these guys. You know, it was interesting. I mean, he's comparing things to the Dred Scott case. He's bringing up the Holocaust. He's doing all these different things and it seems as if he gets away with it, and you must admit there is some humor in the fact -- and I want to here Joan on this one -- that guy who referred to New York City as Hymie- town is down in Palm Beach defending the rights of Jewish voters. Well, there's a good guy you want defending you.

RIVER: Yes, but wait a second. As a Jew, there's defending and there's defending. And this guy is defending, you know.

BOOMS: Hell, yes.

CARLSON: That's a subtle distinction.

KING: Las Vegas, go ahead.

CALLER: Hi, Larry. How does the panel think that the media will treat this presidency?

BOOMS: They'll be a couple people that like Bush, a couple people that don't and what it does is it shakes out and you get a chance to see it. The thing I'm most concerned about is the network nightly news, but with the CNNs and the Fox and the MSNBC a lot people are tuning them out but Rather -- he lost a lot of credibility in this thing. I mean, God almighty, he was -- you could read his moods as the bad news was coming in for Gore. Then when the Supreme Court thing came and he thought he had a chance I was waiting for him to reach under the desk and have pom-poms. I mean, those guys are the one I think that are not going to like Bush.

KING: Tucker, do you think the evening news is unfair?

CARLSON: I'm not sure who watches it, but it's a Dan Rather -- I mean, I couldn't even understand what he was saying. It was like crack them like a squirrel in a hickory fire, like a doggy -- it was like bizarre metaphor after bizarre metaphor. If there was bias there, I couldn't even get past the weirdness to get it.

BOOMS: Yes, it was. It was like Perot was behind him, feeding him these -- I was waiting for Rather to look up and go it was like a chicken in a bread patch picking out dough.

KING: Do you the network news is biased, Mort? You've been watching it longer than anybody.

SAHL: Well, I never did people, but what happens is people come along and accuse them of being on the left and it kind of reinforces them. They're just about running out of gas and somebody comes along and says you're radical, then all those guys say, I am? And it gives them a new lease on live.

KING: They like it.

SAHL: Sure.

KING: Joan, do you think they're unfair on NBC, ABC and CBS?

RIVERS: Oh, I think they tend very much so, you know, to be very liberal. Also the comedians. That's what's really turning this whole thing so badly. I mean, "Saturday Night Live" is not going to let go of Bush. Bill Maher is not going to let go of Bush.

KING: But they would have done the same to Gore in all fairness, don't you think?

RIVERS: Oh, not the way they're going after Bush. No way. No way, because they all love Bush. They all love Gore, rather.

BOOMS: I have to disagree with Joan on that, Larry, and I agree with you. I think that when they show the two characters, they're both buffoons. And you know, the whole thing is about Gore and you see even the subtleties where he's rolling the eyes and doing the stuff he did in the debate.

KING: It's a parody. BOOMS: It's a parody guy who, you know, said he invented the Internet. KING: The "Saturday Night Live's," the Mort Sahls, the Jay Lenos cannot like the president. If they like him...

SAHL: That's right, you have to be a subversive.

KING: If they like him too much it ain't going to work.

BOOMS: But can a Mort Sahl look the president on his own and still do his stage show?

SAHL: Yes, a fair example...

KING: But you can't like him on camera.

BOOMS: Well, that's true because then it's not funny.

SAHL: When Reagan was president, Nancy took a cake down as he goes through 70s, you know, and I had seen Ted Kennedy there and somebody said, why don't you attack Reagan about this legislation and Ted Kennedy said, attack Reagan? Good luck. You're kidding. Anyway, she came in with a cake into the press room at the White House and she cut it. She said this is for Ronnie's birthday, and Sam Donaldson, you get the first piece. And all the guys and his colleagues said, oh, you sold out for a piece of cake to the Reagan. And President Reagan walked in and said you sold out for a lot less than a piece of cake a long time ago and the house came down.

KING: We'll be back with more. Don't go away....

SAHL: Humor should be dangerous, Larry. I don't think we can by this without making that point. Rather then just should -- it should penetrate rather than just be topical, youth serum face cream. Example, Alexander Haig was a great admirer of yours, as you know.

KING: Great guy.

SAHL: He was in Russia recently, you know, in his business, and he said: I walked in a Russian hotel, and there were all these 55- year-old entrepreneurs setting up the net, and they all had 600 Mercedes in the parking lot and 18-year-old girls on their arms and Rolexes. And he said, "I could have been in Beverly Hills." And I said to him, "Except there weren't any communists." Well, that's a tough joke, right? I mean, you know...

KING: Well, you once said, "Is there anyone I haven't offended," right?

SAHL: Yes, I said it many times. KING: It should be, don't you agree, Tucker, it should be gutsy? Humor should be gutsy.

CARLSON: Oh, yes, and I also think journalism ought to be. I mean, I'm much more comfortable seeing reporters, and for that matter, comics -- I don't know -- mock a president than, you know, be in deep sympathy with him. I was at the White House correspondents dinner last year or the year before, and I was sitting next to a reporter whom I like, and Clinton was speaking. This reporter turns to me and says: "You know, isn't" -- misty-eyed -- "isn't he wonderful?" I don't know, that -- there was something creepy about that. I'd much rather be sitting next to a drunk reporter coming out with a stream of nasty comments about the president than hear that. I mean, that's what gives you the willies.

KING: ...Joan, do you agree that for this comedy to be effective it must have guts?

RIVERS: Oh, it's got to have guts and you can never do it when the person's in the room. Everything they're saying is right. You know, suddenly you go, oh, well, I don't really mean it. Of course, it's got to have guts, and you've got to be an outsider. You can't be dancing at the ball, and then go out and do jokes about the president. It can't be both.

BOOMS: But the Dean Martin roasts -- you remember those in the '70s -- they roasted Reagan and a lot of people, and they were in the room, and they were vicious attacks...

RIVERS: Oh, they weren't vicious.

BOOMS: But it was all in fun.

RIVERS: It was silly.

KING: A Dean Martin roast -- it was silly -- would not have -- Bill Clinton -- there would have been no Monica jokes at a Dean Martin roast today.

BOOMS: You don't think. I...

RIVERS: No. They -- no...

KING: Mort.

SAHL: You know, I was just going to say, Larry, Tucker, are you suggesting that if the press can be seduced on a sentimental or fraternal level they won't go for the story? Is that what you're talking about a moment ago? CARLSON: No, I'm not sure -- I guess -- I mean, look, there's nothing wrong with noticing or admiring even the strengths of someone you cover. But there is something unsettling about identifying too much with the person. You ought to be standing back and outside, sort of peering in at the person you're writing about. I mean, that's your job.

KING: Let me get a break and we'll come back with our remaining moments with this panel. Don't go away.

KING: Tucker, how come Clinton's rating is higher than Reagan's, Eisenhower's, Kennedy's?

CARLSON: You know, that is one of those cosmic mysteries. I don't have room for that in my mind, so I can't actually answer that question, to be honest with you.

BOOMS: Maybe that's what Greenspan does. I mean, we finally figured it out. That's his gig, to make those numbers go up.

SAHL: His, -- Greenspan's gig is, if you see a panhandler and you take pity on him, you try to put 5 bucks in his Dixie Cup, Greenspan stops you because it might heat up the economy. That's his gig.

KING: Joan, do you think the right-wing is going to miss Clinton?

RIVERS: Oh, never mind the right-wing. I'm going to miss Clinton. It's going -- it was so fabulous. I mean, he was always doing something. He was a great figure, he was a colorful figure. There was always a joke to be written. Of course, we're going to miss him.

KING: Drove his enemies nuts.

RIVERS: I just hope Hillary makes a fool of herself.

BOOMS: I only have one request to the Clintons, when they leave on January 20th, take the sheets with you.

KING: Oh, on that note, we thank Joan Rivers, Mort Sahl, Chuck Booms, and Tucker Carlson for being our guests....


Copyright 1996 Oldsmobile; licensed to America Online, Inc.

OnlineHost: Your host this evening is JoEllenMN (AOLiveMC7).

OnlineHost: MORT SAHL stood up 40 years ago and told people what was on his mind. They laughed. They're still laughing. At the "hungry I" in San Francisco, where everyone else wore a tuxedo and talked about their mother-in-law, Sahl wore a sweater and talked about presidents. Ladies and
gentlemen, Mort Sahl!

AOLiveMC7: Welcome, Mr. Mort Sahl!

Sahl: Hi, everybody...

AOLiveMC7: Are you ready for some audience questions this fine evening?

Sahl: Absolutely!

AOLiveMC7: Great! Our first question is from RUSmart:

Question: Hi Mort! How on earth did you get Gene McCarthy to appear on-stage
with you?

Sahl: Gene McCarthy actually appeared with me when I did the show in New
York 2 years ago, and we just did it as inspiration then, and we are doing it
as inspiration now. It's always funny. For instance, we were in New York when
Nixon passed away and all the liberal papers eulogized him, and I said to McCarthy, "How do you explain that?" And McCarthy said, "They buried the wrong guy."

AOLiveMC7: Our next question is from PeterLW:

Question: What do you think of this year's campaign?

Sahl: Well it's very good for me, but it's not so good for the country. Well, in other words, there is great opportunity for humor. So when Colin Powell says, "I want to restore the American Dream," then I can add, "without awakening the American people if possible."

AOLiveMC7: The next question is from AtlTuneMan:

Question: Is McCarthy funny? Or does he play the straight man?

Sahl: No, McCarthy is past funny ... he is brilliant and his humor is like none other. Example: when a reporter asked him how he could run, because he had no followers, he said, "Jesus only had 12, and one of them turned out to be unreliable." I think people have forgotten when candidates had a sense of humor because they are looking at these two guys ... especially Clinton.

OnlineHost: Stillake has this question:

Question: Who's gonna win the election?

Sahl: I don't think either one of them can win. If Clinton ran unopposed, he would lose.

OnlineHost: GoofBall has sent this question:

Question: Any late night talk show in store for you, Mort?

Sahl: Yeah, on the burner now, and this is a direct result of the network people coming into the Tiffany Theater to see my show in Hollywood. The show goes to September 21st, and on October 4th we open at the Alcazar Theater in San Francisco.

OnlineHost: CLawson47 wants to know:

Question: What's the best political joke of the current presidential campaign, other than the two candidates being the best joke?

Sahl: Well, let's see ... the best joke ... President Clinton told Dick Morris that he could continue to see Sherry Rowlands but not to have a cigarette afterwards.

OnlineHost: KeritTop has sent this question:

Question: Give your honest opinion on Bill/Hillary/Al Gore

Sahl: LOL... Read "Compromise" by Terry Reed ... That's about the president and his wife. And as for Gore ... I conversed with him once, and he asked me what I was doing spiritually, and I told him I was trying to talk to God but I have not gotten through. And Gore said to me, "Well, do you have Windows 95?" So I guess God is online, too!

OnlineHost: JumpJamMa wants to know:

Question: What is the funniest thing you have heard about Bob Dole?

Sahl: That the Secret Service has to use jumper cables to start him in the morning.

OnlineHost: This also from JumpJamMa:

Question: Mr. Sahl, what do you think of Jesse Helms staying in office for another term?

Sahl: LOL ... Well, you know Mark Russell says that when the president heard that Morris was with a prostitute, the president said, "I know, he worked for Jesse Helms!"

OnlineHost: RA1NBOWE sends this inquiry:

Question: Is President Clinton liberal enough for you?

Sahl: In Clinton's own words, I am a new kind of Democrat -- a Republican.

OnlineHost: MICKMAC wants to know:

Question: Any thought on the present mayor of Chicago, especially in light of his political pedigree?

Sahl: LOL ... Well, he belongs to a musical group called The Sons of the Pioneers ... a western band.

OnlineHost: JudiNorth sends this inquiry:

Question: Has there ever been a politician that you liked? (Other than McCarthy, of course.)

Sahl: Adlai Stevenson, Jack Kennedy, Justice William O. Douglas ... and I have had many friends in that field ... Alexander Haig.

OnlineHost: GERRETJM asks:

Question: Do you think if President Clinton has another scandal or two he can extend his lead over Bob Dole to 20%?

Sahl: LOL ... Well, I think Dole needs a scandal because it would "humanize" his administration.

OnlineHost: LaDeeDah asks:

Question: Do you still do speech writing?

Sahl: Occasionally, I helped a couple of district attorneys, and a governor, and some of my friends in political life. But I make all my speeches now at the Tiffany Theater in Los Angeles.

OnlineHost: CURSE2525 asks:

Question: What do you think of some of these people like Al Franken and Dennis Miller?

Sahl: I don't know. They have all said very nice things about me ... Al on CSPAN and Dennis in various places. And I appreciate it and return the compliment.

OnlineHost: ARINWULF asks:

Question: Do you think a viable third party has a chance to exist?

Sahl: Yes, I do ... and I believe as Perot does.

Question: Don't you think Perot is the funniest of the candidates since Lyndon LaRouche?

Sahl: No, I think he is the brightest of the candidates, and he is a good friend of mine. I am surprised that the person asking this question has been fooled by the media to believe this. That job was done by professionals who are drawing public money to discredit him from the White House and the Dole campaign. He is the most capable man to run for President.

Sahl: Clinton does not know anything about giving people jobs. He is surrounded by people who are poets, philosophers, and bee-keepers. Ralph Nader is another able man who points out that the pursuit of happiness is the
pursuit of justice.

OnlineHost: GatoBud asks this:

Question: What do you think of Howard Stern.

Sahl: Nothing. I accept him on the air the way he presents himself, just the way I accept Don Imus. But I have been working with Imus for the last three weeks reporting the conventions.

OnlineHost: TCymet has sent this question:

Question: Is Saddam Hussein funny, or is he too dangerous to be funny?

Sahl: No one is above humor. There is always a joke. The bad news is: we might go to war. The good news is: all the oil companies' stocks went up today!

OnlineHost: RA1NBOWE asks:

Question: Will you bring your show to the east coast? We love you.

Sahl: Well, yes, I will probably be at Hasty Pudding in Cambridge, Mass. in November. And love you back!

OnlineHost: Algebra31 comments:

Comment: Is it true you are going to San Francisco this fall?

Sahl: Yes, on October 4th at the Alcazar, and it will be wonderful to be home again. That's where I started it all.

OnlineHost: LEWDIS sends this inquiry:

Question: What's the funniest story you've ever told ... who'd you tell it to ... and please repeat it.

Sahl: Well ... I'll tell you the latest story I have ever told ... I told it to the audience at the Tiffany last night. I was having dinner at the Reagan White House. Bush was the heir apparent, but Dole was ambitious. Liddy Dole got up at the end of dinner and said, "I am calling it an early night. I am going to have a bubble bath," and put her hand on Dole's shoulder, "and then I am going to bed with the next President of the United States." And Barbara Bush said to Mrs. Dole, "Are you having an affair with George?"

OnlineHost: Donald312 asks this:

Question: I worked with Mort in San Francisco TV in late 60's, early 70s. Has he mellowed yet?

Sahl: LOL ... I am exhausted, but I am not mellow. I hope this is from Don Sherwood!

OnlineHost: HowA2 has sent this question:

Question: Any thoughts regarding Hillary's influence upon the presidency?

Sahl: Oh sure. She just made a tour of 11 countries, none of which have extradition treaties with the US.

OnlineHost: Ihatemath wants another story about Al Gore:

Question: Tell a funny joke about Al Gore. Are you really here, is this like pre-recorded?

Sahl: His favorite dinner companion is Yoda!

OnlineHost: Rschmoo asks:

Question: What do you think of the Clinton military action?

Sahl: It's making up for his lack of service in Vietnam. In a great big way!

OnlineHost: Dahawk1 sends this our way:

Question: Finding you online tonight is very strange. I was thinking about you this morning. I had no idea that I would sign on and here you would be. The reason I was thinking about you was, I was wondering if you ever worked with Jim Garrison directly?

Sahl: Jim Garrison's book, "On the Trail of the Assassins," the book is dedicated to me. We were personal friends for 20 years. I worked for him in the police department in New Orleans, and 2/3 of the material out of Oliver Stone's movie is out of my files at the police station, which leads me to believe that he didn't read the book, he only bought it. When people scoff at that investigation or make movies about, they tend to overlook that many good people got hurt out there, and some of my friends got killed down there.

OnlineHost: MBalk6797 asks:

Question: Have you ever worked with Marty Garbus, the lawyer who represented Lenny Bruce?

Sahl: No, I never did meet him,, but I was a good friend of Lenny's.

OnlineHost: BAssfrk asks:

Question: We were just wondering how many government agencies it would take to change a light bulb and how long would it take?

Sahl: LOL ... Well Clinton does have the money, so it doesn't matter.

OnlineHost: NMCLOU would like to chat about a Perot presidency:

Question: Back to Perot, if elected how effective could he be with the present Congress?

Sahl: Well, the president we have now was total ineffective, so Perot could only do better. That's the only direction he can go in. Perot said, "when I was growing up in Texas, every kid had a gun, he just didn't bring it
to school."

OnlineHost: A comment from TwoHogan:

Comment: TwoHogan: Man, the hungry I, that was when things were cool---it was a great place to see you.

Sahl: LOL ... I did 15 years there, and the greatest man I ever met was the boss, Enrico Banducci.

OnlineHost: A comment from Blzbubb:

Comment: The Republicans keep getting more specific. First a Bush, then a pineapple ... hopefully in 2000 they'll run a pina colada.

Sahl: Well, that's promising, isn't it? The difference between the parties is largely about abortion. The Democrats don't want anyone to be born, but if you are, they will take care of you from the cradle to the
grave. The Republicans don't mind if you are born if you assure them that you don't plan to live long enough to collect your social security.

AOLiveMC7: Our time with Mr. Mort Sahl has drawn to a close this evening, unfortunately. Any closing comments for our audience, Mort?

Sahl: Yes, I want to say if you are really wondering how on earth this can be funny ... what I just said... come to the Tiffany Theater in Los Angeles. And the phone number for tickets is (310) 289-2999. And that goes to the 21st of September. And we open at the Alcazar Theater in San Francisco on October 4th.

AOLiveMC7: Thank you, Mort Sahl, for spending some time with us tonight online!

Sahl: Remember, think about America but don't reach any conclusions. Good night, all.

OnlineHost: Thanks for joining us in the Oldsmobile Celebrity Circle this evening. Remember, Oldsmobile brings an exciting guest online every Monday through Friday, and transcripts from the events can be downloaded using
keywords: "Oldsmobile" or "AOL Live" within 24 hours after the event has ended.

OnlineHost: Copyright 1996 Oldsmobile; licensed to America Online, Inc.


by STEVEN WINN, Chronicle Staff Critic

The signature V-neck sweater and folded newspaper date back more than 40 years, to Mort Sahl's origins as the thinking man's stand-up at the hungry i in North Beach. But at Monday's opening of ``Mort Sahl's America'' at the Alcazar Theatre, the resilient 69-year-old satirist quickly put to rest any notion that he'd be trading on old material in his comically ripe homecoming.

One night after the Clinton-Dole debate, Sahl came out of the chute peppering ``the old geezer from Kansas'' and ``the sociopath from Arkansas'' with deflating instant analysis. ``Dole was in good taste,'' Sahl said, commending the Republican candidate for ``not bringing anything up. It
probably didn't occur to him.''

Clinton inspires no passion, Sahl observed, ``including Paula Jones'.'' Even debate moderator Jim Lehrer -- and, while Sahl was at it, public television in general -- got whacked. ``With great respect, Dr. Mengele,'' was Sahl's
telegraphic parody of a judicious PBS interviewer. That's the way Sahl works, apologizing for digressing, with his self-deprecating little wrinkle of a smile, and delighting in it all the while. In a little over two hours, he digresses his way across a great swath of American life, perfectly at ease on an empty stage and knowing exactly where he's headed every step of the way.

His announced topics are politics, women and the movies, all cunningly linked in the show's final moments. But if a jab occurs to him at any moment -- aimed at Pat Buchanan, Larry King (``I read parts of your book all the way through''), Labor Secretary Robert Reich's size or Barbra
Streisand's fatuities -- he works it into the flow. His scripted show, which has played in New York and Los Angeles, has a buoyantly spontaneous feel, as if Sahl were free-associating.

Sahl hides his devastating critiques behind a genially rumpled manner, faultless timing, evenhanded skewering of the left and right and a share-the-wealth comic spirit. He credits his ex-wife, Dole and others for some of his best material, cites Adlai Stevenson's definition of a liberal as ``someone who will lynch you from a lower branch'' and reveals the comic side of a Havana cigar-puffing Al Haig.

Relating his visits to the hilariously sober Perot and Nader conventions, Sahl admits to a fondness for populist movements. But at heart he's the innocent skeptic with a ringside seat at White House dinners and high-roller
Hollywood parties, faithfully recording the hypocritical bombast and showbiz-as-substance of the American body politic.

The richest and most sustained material in the show comes in his bite-the-hand-that-feeds- him rebukes of Hollywood tinsel liberals. Sahl, who has been working as a scriptwriter since the early 1980s, delivers one perfectly etched caricature of his directors -- and the absurdities of moviemaking -- after another. We muse on why Robert Redford must be Jewish, eavesdrop on a couple of intense Polo Lounge breakfasts with ``Regarding Henry'' director Mike Nichols and ride through Beverly Hills in a luxury convertible with Sydney Pollock. Asked why he ``envies'' the street people sleeping in doorways, Pollack ingenuously replies, ``Well, they don't have to come up with a hit.''

Oliver Stone gets a walk-on and promptly describes himself not as a director but as ``a social historian.'' Sahl supplies a definition: ``A social historian,'' he says, ``is someone who reports accidents to eyewitnesses.''

Sahl's picaresque tour of the Hollywood funhouse concludes with two surreal Clinton fund- raisers, 3 1/2 years apart, at Streisand's Malibu compound. The laughter is unbroken in these expert set pieces, but Sahl makes them count for something more. His recounting of his own brief
exchanges with Clinton strike a lingering note of sadness, an echo of the endless striving and futility of politics.

Sahl is like a veteran prizefighter who thoroughly knows his craft and never seems to break a sweat. In a delivery that makes it look easy, his humor seems to lack the indignant passion of Jackie Mason, another veteran comic
who has crossed over to theatrical venues. And there are times when Sahl does seems to be shadowboxing and marking time. The Warren Commission is old business, and Sahl's remarks about the ``new woman'' he's encountered on his post-divorce dates seem generic.

But he has a way of fitting even the most well-worked material to his own sensibility. Sahl uses his inscrutable logic to conflate the arguments surrounding abortion and entitlements. ``The Democrats don't want anyone to be born,'' he reckons, while ``the Republicans don't mind if you're born. They just don't want you to live long enough to collect Social Security.''

``Mort Sahl's America'' makes even the most absurd speculation -- a corporate downsizing of the Crips and the Bloods gangs -- seem plausible. From beginning to end he's got his feet planted firmly on the ground. ``We'll live. We always do,'' Sahl concludes of next month's election. Living through the campaign is a whole lot more fun with a lift from Sahl.