Political humorist Mark Russell dies

 March 31, 2023

Political comedy legend Mark Russell, who kept audiences entertained with his musical parodies at PBS for decades, has died. He was 90.

The bowtie wearing humorist succumbed to prostate cancer at his home in Washington D.C on Thursday.

Russell was known as a clean and friendly comedian who poked fun at both parties, Deadline reported. 

Asked about his writing process, Russell once joked, "I have 535 writers. One-hundred in the Senate and 435 in the House of Representatives."

Political comedian dies

Unlike some political comics of his own generation -- and today's -- Russell steered clear of obvious punchlines.

"The audience doesn't need me to make [Dan] Quayle sound dumb," he said, of George H.W. Bush's oft-mocked vice president.

Born in Buffalo, New York, Russell served in the Marines before building a reputation in the Washington, D.C. area as a lounge comedian.

"I had sort of a general musical act, but with typical Washington parochialism, the people who went there just wanted to hear about politics. Every night in there was like a little private party, lobbyists and Senate staff and so forth," he told the Washington Post.

Russell moved up to PBS in 1975, where he would remain until 2004. He continued to perform into old age, giving his last performance in 2016.

Comedic talent mourned

His death sent a shock through the political world, with liberal infotainer Jon Stewart calling him "a DC institution who did the hardest thing a comic can do…relentlessly and righteously mock his neighbors.”

The comedian Lewis Black called Russell "an extraordinarily talent satirist with a unique comic voice" and a "rapier wit," while Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) called Russell a “once-in-a-generation mind” who “had the ability to make us laugh when we needed it the most.”

With the rise of Donald Trump in 2017, Russell, then retired, admitted that parodying Trump would have been a challenge.

“Originally you had real news and satire,” Russell said. “Now we only have satire and fake news. The guy who hosted a reality show has rendered reality obsolete, which is too complicated for me. If I was starting out, I’d have to tackle it. But now, I really don’t care.”

Russell is survived by his wife, a brother, his children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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