Long before Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, there was Mark Russell, daring to joke and sing of the often absurd political process. He started in a little piano bar on Capitol Hill right across from the lawmakers themselves. As he puts it, “I started at the bottom and managed to work my way down.” He began knowing little about politics, but was an immediate hit because he could find humor in anything.
Mark continues to play off the day’s headlines, performing stand-up comedy while accompanying himself on the piano. With impeccable timing, twinkling eyes and shock-of-recognition insights into American politics, he draws merriment from the pomposity of public life. Reading three or four newspapers a day allows him to constantly update his material. The result is that no two shows are ever identical. “I thrive on newspapers.‚” as he frequently states‚” And it looks like I’ll be thriving longer than them.”
A native of Buffalo, NY, Mark Russell’s first heroes were entertainers. Radio comedians like Fred Allen and Jack Benny had audiences screaming for satire. It seems that everyone was making fun of self-important people. Groucho Marx was Dr. Quackenbush. Bugs Bunny was Toscanini. Charlie Chaplin was Hitler.
Comic anarchy. Making fun of authority figures. Mark was inspired. He went out and earned the reputation of class clown, beginning in the fourth grade and maintained right through high school. What the faculty thought can only be imagined.
Then, like a lot of guys in those days, Mark Russell readily admits that he dodged the draft. He did it by joining the Marine Corps.
Returning home Mark Russell moved uptown — invaded the Shoreham Hotel for a risky two-week gig. It lasted for twenty years. The Marquee Lounge became “the place” where politicians would come to hear Mark’s jokes about what they had done that day.
Mark Russell spent 30 years on public television as host of the “Mark Russell Comedy Specials,” where it was consistently among the top-rated shows on that network. Today his syndicated column is enjoyed all over America, as are his CDs, tapes and videos. Mark Russell is on the road most of the year performing at colleges, conventions and in theaters.
He also has become a writer of music and song for children’s’ theatre. “Teddy Roosevelt and the Ghostly Mistletoe.” premiered in December 2009 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. This is the second children’s musical, for which he has written the music and Tom Isbell the book, and is a follow up to “Teddy Roosevelt and the Treasure of Ursa Major”, which also premiered at the Kennedy Center.
Mark Russell still lives in Washington, DC with his wife. He is the father of three and the grandfather of seven.
And his answer to the frequently asked question, “Do you have any writers?” is “Oh, yes…I have 535 writers. One hundred in the Senate and 435 in the House of Representatives.