Sahl Jokes, Offers Criticism

Humorist Speaks At Adams House

In the days of the colonies, the U.S. had a population of four million and the minds of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine.

Today, in a country of 250 million, it enjoys the intellects of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole.

Thus, Darwin was wrong, or so political humorist Mort Sahl would have you believe.

In a mixture of jokes and anecdotes, Sahl--a humorist, satirist, screen writer and speech writer--entertained a standing-room-only crowd in Adams House yesterday afternoon.

Sahl, a speech writer for John F. Kennedy '40, Ronald Reagan and Alexander Haig, performed as part of the "Learning From Performers" series sponsored by the Office for the Arts.

Sahl offered his opinion on a broad range of topics ranging from the film "Quiz Show" (an unrealistic topic) to Bosnia (empty threats) to consumer activist Ralph Nader (asexual).

His anecdotes and jokes often centered around politics and political cynicism.

"Clinton says he's creating jobs, but he has no businessmen around him," Sahl said. "No one but poets, philosophers and beekeepers, as the saying goes."

He also tersely analyzed the stances of both political parties on abortion.

"The Democrats don't want you to be born at all. They're pro-choice," Sahl said, "But if you do happen to be born, they will take care of you from cradle to grave. Republicans don't mind if you're born if you promise not to live too long because of entitlements."

Between anecdotes and political jokes, he did make several more serious points.

The humorist--a celebrity since the 1950s currently performing his one-man show at the Hasty Pudding Theater--expressed strong confidence that the majority of American people still want to hear the truth.

"The American people are pretty honest," Sahl said. "You can tell them the truth--they can handle the truth."

But the media and politicians, Sahl said, do not recognize the contributions of "the majority."

"They want to ignore those people in the heartland who also happen to be their parents," he said.

That comment drew applause from the audience of more than 50 people, a mix of senior citizens who have followed Sahl for decades and Harvard students who had just recently heard about him.

"I came because I heard Sahl when I was [in college]," said Bill Kirtz, a 55 year-old journalism instructor from California. "It was a nice opportunity to hear him in an informal setting."

But John Mitchell '97, not a longtime Sahl fan, said humor was only one part of the presentation.

"He seemed more knowledgeable than funny," Mitchell said.