Mark Russell De@th: The Political Humorist and Buffalo Native Has Passed Away
On Thursday, Buffalo-born comedian Mark Russell, who gained notoriety in the late 20th century by joyfully mocking political leaders of both parties in public television programs, died suddenly (30 March).
Russell died of prostate cancer-related complications at his home in Washington, D.C., according to Alison Russell, his wife. Even after his TV specials stopped being shown, Russell continued creating material online, extending his career from the 1950s to the 2000s.
Pop culture and celebrities weren’t off limits, but politicians were his favorite targets of ridicule. Russell played the piano, sang parodies, and made funny quips throughout his appearances. For a long time, they aired as specials on public television stations like WNED-TV in Buffalo, New York, a PBS station.
The Comedy Center, which houses some of Russell’s hand-written song lyrics, published a message from comedian and former Daily Show host Jon Stewart (According to Yahoo)
“Mark Russell was a D.C. institution who did the hardest thing a comic can do: relentlessly and righteously mock his neighbors.”
Comedian, author, and comedy center advisory board member W. Kamau Bell said as much (as per reports)
“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.”
In an interview with The Buffalo News from 2004, Russell recalled his early fascination with radio. He stated that he improvised a microphone out of wood and mimicked the radio hosts he’d been listening to. Russell said, “I was about 12 years old, and I would spend hours talking into that microphone pretending I was on the radio.”
After finishing high school at Canisius in 1950, he enrolled in the Marines and served for three years. When stationed in Virginia, Russell began his performance career at local venues. When he finally sought to earn a job as a performer, the political undertones in his comedic act—mostly of singing and piano playing—became increasingly apparent.
He first performed in a downtown Washington strip joint before relocating to the Shoreham Hotel, where he stayed for 20 years and became a local celebrity. When he was a guest at the Shoreham, he met with representatives from WNED, and after viewing his show, they decided to cast Russell in his own PBS special.
Russell’s first special, “Politics Can Be Fun,” was recorded at WNED in 1974 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his broadcasts. The following year, he had his first live special. Each year, Russell filmed at least three episodes for PBS and frequently as many as six.
He commonly sported a bow tie and goggles. During several visits back to his hometown, Russell recorded multiple times at WNED.
You can read more about the deἀths of the following prominent people by clicking on the links below:
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The president, members of Congress, and other political figures were frequent targets of his acerbic wit. When Richard Nixon’s comedy career ended, he found enough material in his Watergate administration. Russell’s 1989 reminiscence to a News reporter was reflective.
Russell was worried about the aftermath of Monica Lewinsky, and the other players, such as Ken Starr (Russell recalled in his parody “When You Wish Upon Ken Starr”), were no longer around. Russell continued to delight audiences long after PBS ceased showing his programs, and he was inducted into the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers’ Hall of Fame in the same year.