On Stage: Mort Sahl is still looking for trouble | Calendar | Chicago Reader

On Stage: Mort Sahl is still looking for trouble 

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Nearly 50 years after Mort Sahl revolutionized stand-up comedy, his brand of irreverent social satire is all around us, from Bill Maher, Al Franken, and Dennis Miller to The Daily Show and the Onion. Among his early admirers were Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, and George Carlin, each of whom struck out in his own direction after Sahl's canny, looping monologues proved that a comedian could mine modern life for material instead of tossing off gags from a joke file. Yet Sahl remains in a class by himself--with his erudition, his biting political assessments, and his abiding patriotism, he has less in common with today's sitcom-friendly stand-up than with the 19th-century lecture circuit worked by Mark Twain and Artemus Ward. In the 60s and 70s Sahl's crusade against the CIA won him a reputation as a left-wing wacko; in the 80s and 90s his friendships with the Reagans and Alexander Haig pigeonholed him as a right-wing sellout. In fact he's never been anything but a professional troublemaker: at a pair of New York club dates last December he gleefully lit into President Bush (who had "given the world 24 hours to get out"), Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice ("black people made in the lab by white people"), Henry Kissinger ("when they arrested Pinochet, it's because he wasn't home"), and the frantically backpedaling Trent Lott ("he has an office in Harlem near Clinton now"). "Laugh for Life," a benefit for Israel's equivalent to the Red Cross, Magan David Adam, brings Sahl back to Chicago for the first time in more than a decade. David Kupcinet and Aaron Freeman open the show, which starts at 7 PM on Monday, September 15, at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd. in Skokie. Tickets range from $50 to $100; call 847-673-6300.

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