Another Master Gone

Looking back on my life, I don’t exactly know what steered me towards a love of comedy. Actually, in watching my mom over the years, it made me realize that she was probably the one that handed down the comedy genes. She has always displayed a quick wit and if you know Fran, you know she absolutely loves to laugh.

As I grew up in our southern California home, I watched shows on TV like “The Time Tunnel”, “Lost in Space”, and others (I still remember when the school sent home a notice to our parents that we shouldn’t be allowed to watch “Combat” because it was “too violent”), the majority of what I tuned in those formulative years were comedies. “Get Smart”, “Bewitched”, “The Jack Benny Show”, “I Dream of Jeannie”, even “The Mother-in-Laws”. When a Bob Hope special or an Alan King “Friar’s Roast” was on, I’d never miss it. And then, of course, there was “Laugh In.”

As I confessed before, on Tuesday nights, my sisters went to their room, I went to mine and then, shortly after tuck-in, mom would come into my room where the TV lived (which is now “the den”) and she’d flip on “The Red Skelton Show.” I’d get to postpone my sleep until Red’s final “Good night and may God bless” at 9:30.

During my high school years, I bought many a comedy album from the likes of Cheech ‘n Chong (I think I bought every one that came out), Tim Conway, Monty Python and Don Rickles.

Somewhere along the line, I went from watching and enjoying comedy to creating it. In high school, I scratched out a rough comedy film script based on my high school experiences, called “T.H.S.” (which stood for Torrance High School, my alma mater). It’s somewhere in our basement. Also, during those high school days, I would get home from school and head straight to the TV to catch the syndicated “Steve Allen Show” because he was just so darn funny. (I was lucky enough to interview him twice during my days at KOMO radio)

But after college and wandering into radio as my chosen career, I began to seriously study short-form comedy. One or two setup lines, and then a punchline. I’d watch Carson do it every night in his monologue and in the newspaper (an ancient form of communication where everything that now shows up on your phone was printed on paper the day before), I’d always look for content from a guy named Mark Russell.

Mark did a lot of political comedy, but he also came up with some lines on topics regular folks could enjoy. The timing of his career was perfect because those were the last days when you can make fun of both sides and not be labeled as a sympathizer for the enemy side. He was just funny. A couple of examples:

“Sometimes you become so focused on protecting people from danger that you become the danger.”

“No offense, but it seems like the whole point of civilization is to get someone else to do your killing for you.”

“Of course, with any new technology, the question in the back of everyone’s mind is ‘Can I have sex with it or use it to kill people?'”

“The scientific theory I like best is that the rings of Saturn are composed entirely of lost airline luggage.”

“A Consultant is a guy who knows 125 different ways to make love, but who doesn’t know any women.”

But like I said, he would also get political:

“You’ve got the brain-washed, that’s the Democrats, and the brain-dead, that’s the Republicans!”

“I believe that Bill Clinton’s second term will be good for business… my business!”

“The Republicans have a new healthcare proposal: Just say NO to illness!”

Mr. Russell had his column in the newspapers (always on the editorial page) and did various comedy specials on PBS, as well as touring the country with lives performances. He did what he loved, all the way up to the end, which was last Thursday, when he passed at the age of 90.

He was witty and brilliant and talented. He played the piano at his performances and wrote some parody songs. I hope you were able to catch some of his comedy over the years. If not, here’s just a taste of his style and wit.

I think Mark Russell’s life illustrates what I like so much about comedy. We all hope to leave some kind of legacy behind, for our kids and for future generations. So, when you think about it, how precious is leaving behind ways to make people laugh? That’s gold and a treasure awaiting future generations to discover.

I never had the chance to catch him in concert or meet him in person, but if I had, the first think I would have said to him was, “Thanks Mark, for all you gave us.”

And with that, another Master is gone.

Tim Hunter


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