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.”