Last Man Standing: Mort Sahl and the Birth of Modern Comedy


Product Details

University Press of Mississippi
Publish Date
6.4 X 1.3 X 9.4 inches | 1.7 pounds

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About the Author

James Curtis, Brea, California, was a senior executive in the health care and computer industries before turning full-time to writing. He is the author of William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Films to Come; Spencer Tracy: A Biography; W. C. Fields: A Biography (winner of the 2004 Theatre Library Association Award, Special Jury Prize); James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters; and Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges.


"James Curtis has superbly chronicled the emergence and career of a comic genius who revolutionized standup comedy and changed it forever. If you weren't there at the time, it's hard to realize the enormity of the impact Mort Sahl had on America--both as writer and performer--and this book takes you through it in an exciting narrative that teems with examples of Mort's dazzling wit."

--Woody Allen

"Mort Sahl has never found a truth he wouldn't tell or a bridge he wouldn't torch. He's brilliant, he's insufferable, he's the living connection to Bill Hicks, Bill Maher, and all the other modern comics whose purpose goes deeper than extracting laughs. It's a life without compromise, almost fatally so, and James Curtis's Last Man Standing is as unflinching as its subject. It's a great book about a great comedian."

--Scott Eyman, author of John Wayne: The Life and Legend

"The book is a triumph. Of prose style, engrossing, lively story-telling, and emotionally moving incidents in that complex genius's strange and dramatic life. Also, once you put it down, you can pick it up--for re-reading. All books should be so good."

--Dick Cavett

"Last Man Standing is a magnificent, flawless, and perceptive biography of the great Mort Sahl. I loved the book and laughed out loud as I read it."

--Mark Russell

"In an entertaining, abundantly . . . detailed biography, Curtis, biographer of Spencer Tracy, Preston Sturges, and W. C. Fields, makes a strong case for Sahl's influence. For Woody Allen, Sahl opened up 'a whole new style of humor' that led him to become a performer rather than just a writer. Dick Cavett called Sahl's performances 'stunning.' Among early admirers were Jack Benny, Groucho Marx, and Milton Berle. . . . A sympathetic, evenhanded biography of a man notorious for his savage wit."

--Kirkus Reviews

"Mort Sahl was among the most astute and ingenious commentators of the Eisenยฌhower-Kennedy-Nixon era. He disguised his political criticism as stand-up comedy, but threw away the string-of-jokes format of the Borscht Belt. Instead, he offered the rhythms of a continuous non-confessional first-person monologue, a way of talking that Lenny Bruce, Shelley Berman, Woody Allen, and others would inherit. 'Right-wing social democracy' was his name for the spirit of truckling he loathed, the bargain that drove liberals to expand the welfare state even as they supported the Vietnam War. James Curtis's biography Last Man Standing: Mort Sahl and the Birth of Modern Comedy (University Press of Mississippi) makes a vivid reminder of Sahl's originality, including jokes and those one-liners, issued in medias res, that carried an unmistakable sting and signature. 'The Cold War--we're fighting fire with fire. When the Russians put an American in jail, we put an American in jail.'"
--David Bromwich, Times Literary Supplement 2017 Books of the Year