30 Mar Comedian/Satirist and National Comedy Center Advisory Board Member Mark Russell Dies
Comedian and political satirist Mark Russell passed away today, March 30, 2023, at the age of 90, which was confirmed by his wife Ali Russell earlier today.
Born August 23, 1932 in Buffalo, NY, Mark Russell was one of the nation’s foremost political satirists for over 50 years, skewering Democrats, Republicans and Independents with stand-up monologues and song parodies beloved by audiences nationwide. Perhaps best known for his acclaimed comedy specials on PBS, which he taped six times a year for nearly 30 years (1975 – 2004), 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.
Russell continued to write and perform new song parodies well after his official retirement in 2016, posting new songs on social media throughout the pandemic and as recently last October, with songs taking on recent events including the January 6th insurrection.
Mark Russell was a founding Advisory Board member of the National Comedy Center, the nation’s official cultural institution dedicated to the art of comedy based in Jamestown, NY. His work is preserved in the National Comedy Center’s archives with selections of his hand-written lyrics currently on display in its museum.
Quotes about Mark Russell from fellow comedians and National Comedy Center Advisory Board Members and Executive Director
“Mark Russell was a DC institution who did the hardest thing a comic can do…relentlessly and righteously mock his neighbors.” – Jon Stewart, comedian, actor and director
“While it’s sad that Mark has left us, it’s wonderful that he brought us so much joy for so long. His view of the world enlightened, entertained and amused us all. He and his voice will be forever missed.” – George Schlatter, producer, director, writer, Laugh-In creator and fellow National Comedy Center founding Advisory Board member
National Comedy Center Interview with Mark Russell, Hosted by Lewis Black
“Mark Russell was an extraordinarily talented satirist with a unique comic voice. He had a rapier wit. Which are words I rarely use to describe a comedian. I first saw him at the Shoreham Hotel in D.C. With a mischievous grin, his signature bowtie and a happy go lucky piano style Mark would skewer the 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. And as I got to know him and his work my admiration grew. I was lucky to have spent time with him. His comedy as he grew older never lost a beat He lit up any room he was in, with a heart full of love and a lightening sense of humor. Those of us who knew him are deeply saddened by his loss which can’t be filled. Hopefully people now will realize how important he was in the pantheon of Comedy.” – Comedian Lewis Black
“When I was 18, I really enjoyed working with Mark Russell as a co-host on REAL PEOPLE. Mark was a brilliant man, and an American treasure.” – Byron Allen, Founder/Chairman/CEO of Allen Media Group.
“When I met Mark Russell, I surprised myself with how excited I was to meet him. As a kid who grew up with a mom who made sure that PBS was on our TV as much as any other channel, Mark’s comedy clearly got in my brain and rewired it. He taught me that comedy could be more than just funny and disposable. He showed that comedy could maybe even be more effective at speaking truth to power, if you made sure people walked out humming along to truth speaking. And he never stopped working, because the point is to keep writing the jokes until the jokes fix the problems. In his honor, I will keep writing the jokes.” – W. Kamau Bell, comedian, producer, writer, host and fellow National Comedy Center Advisory Board Member
“It’s one thing to have a great comedian mind and another to be able to craft a song at the drop of a hat, but to combine them to reveal the endless bullshit of our nation’s politics makes one an American treasure. Mark will be dearly missed by his friends and family, and warmly remembered as a truth teller who made us laugh and want to sing along.” – Kelly Carlin, producer, author and fellow founding National Comedy Center Advisory Board Member (daughter of George Carlin)
“Mark Russell transformed the landscape of political humor in America and, in doing so, influenced a generation of comedic artists. His musical satires, beloved for decades by those inside and outside of Washington, made him comedy’s greatest lyricist, and the artist most responsible for elevating the White House Correspondents’ Dinner as a premiere platform for comedy when he performed at the dinner 40 years ago. His comedy legacy is unique and incomparable.” – National Comedy Center Executive Director Journey Gunderson
WGRZ-TV Buffalo on the passing of comedian Mark Russell