National Comedy Center hosts event honoring Mark Russell’s life, legacy

  • Lewis Black welcomes attendees to a celebration and remembrance event for his friend and fellow comedian Mark Russell, a longtime Chautauquan and staple of the Washington, D.C. political satire scene, on Thursday at the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, New York.
  • The National Comedy Center displays a photo of Mark Russell on the side of their building Thursday.
  • Mark Russell’s bow ties were displayed during his remembrance
  • Several audience members wore shirts with a pattern print of Mark Russell’s face to honor the comedian at his remembrance.
  • Russell’s wife, Ali, left, and Kelly Carlin, a founding member — with Russell — of the National Comedy Center Advisory Board, laugh and embrace during Thursday’s event.
  • Visitors watch a playlist of Russell’s greatest comedic moments at the National Comedy Center.
  • Bowtie-shaped cookies were available to pay homage to Mark Russell.
  • A recording of Mark Russell is displayed on the Page to Stage exhibit.
  • David and Lisa Walton react to a video of Russell at his piano in the “Page to Stage” exhibit.

Photos by Brett Phelps

Three Western New York institutions came together Thursday evening in Jamestown to honor a man who was an institution unto himself. In an event hosted by Lewis Black, the National Comedy Center, Chautauqua Institution and Buffalo Toronto Public Media, community members gathered to pay tribute to — and still laugh along with — Mark Russell, a celebrated comedian and beloved Chautauquan.

Russell, whose career archives will become part of the center’s permanent collection, was a longtime Chautauquan, a Buffalo native, and one of America’s foremost political satirists for more than 50 years. With monologues and song parodies performed on his star-spangled piano, his routines were a frequent presence on the Amphitheater stage.

Russell, who passed away this past March at the age of 90, is “often called a political satirist. It’s more appropriate to credit him as a key architect of that genre — not just one of its practitioners,” said Journey Gunderson, executive director of the National Comedy Center. “He re-invented political humor as we know it today, ushering in a moment when it is not only one of the most popular forms of entertainment, but one of the most powerful forces for change.”


The author Brett Phelps

Brett Phelps is a visual journalist from Bardstown, Kentucky. Entering his junior year, Brett studies photojournalism, marketing, data analytics and computer information systems at Western Kentucky University. In his first summer at Chautauqua, Brett looks forward to soaking in all of the culture and knowledge that the season has to bring. In his downtime, he enjoys taking long drives through the country backroads (with the windows down), going on hikes, traveling to new destinations, attending concerts and playing the piano. Brett’s life endeavor: Capturing the celebration of life!