What I've Learned : 'Everyone's Liberal Until It Costs Them a Quarter'

MORT SAHL; Arguably America's No. 1 political satirist, he opens on Broadway this fall with his show, "Mort Sahl's America."

I don't know if life is really a learning experience for most people. I think what they want to do is take things selectively that reinforce their prejudices--document all their fears as a rationale for, probably, less than mature behavior. It's all tied up with people deluding themselves. What gets in the way of learning is basically a set of pet hatreds, fears and prejudices which we superimpose onto different people day by day--we're airtight, so to speak, against any new information, any enlightenment.

The most instructive thing (for me) is to listen to the audience--it's like dialogue--and they'll tell you what's OK. They'll like anything that makes them laugh and hate all the things that scare them to death. So you've got to tell them all the things that scare them to death in humorous form. You've got to have a point of view and then filter everything through it and the jokes will come.

What else did I learn? I learned that the Republicans believe in God and the Democrats believe in Santa Claus--which is more to the point. I learned that everybody's a liberal until it costs them a quarter. The audience won't accept Nixon as innocent and they won't accept Reagan as guilty. I learned that witnesses in court will look directly at the district attorney and continue to lie--indefinitely. What do they say? Three strikes and you're out. Unless you kill your parents. That's the notable exception.

I learned that the "new" women are just like the old men. I see women executives who have their own businesses because they've learned not to depend on men--and they're all chain smokers, taking Inderal for high blood pressure, and have incipient ulcers. They turned out to be better men than we are.

It's funny to go to a cocktail party in New York and have all those people in show business whose incomes are in the upper 3% saying they can't wait for the health plan because it will cover them from the cradle to the grave. And I always say to them, "Why don't you join the Army? You'll get your clothes, too."

The (Broadway) show is mostly about politics, women and movies. That really kind of boils down America to the essence. When I was in New York I used to read 11 papers every day. It's evident the papers are dying, which means that people are more and more dependent on television. So it's no wonder they don't know anything.

It's incredible, this fascination with trivia, stuff that not only doesn't amount to anything now, but never will. And it's funny to watch.

America is like a soap opera that (keeps getting renewed) every year. They won't change the script; they just keep changing the cast. They keep changing Presidents. You know the show needs somebody to go back to the hotel and rewrite it and instead they keep firing leading men and bringing in another guy. God bless Bill Clinton--long may he waver.

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