For a moment, before he gets into the good stuff, Mark Russell might have been cloned from a Capitol Hill bureaucrat. The first impression is not show biz boffo. It is congressional. He might be the senator or congressman from Bad Axe, Mich., strolling out in a three-piece dark suit to introduce a bill in a resonant voice, a bill resolving that George Bush should be "retired to a home for the chronically preppy," or that the "Republican Party demand that John Anderson take a saliva test."
His delivery is bipartisan: He suggests that Teddy Kennedy went back to his alma mater, Harvard, to deliver a talk and "for old times sake he's going to read the speech from his sleeve."
President Carter, Mr. Russell snorts, says that "if it weren't for Kennedy, the hostages would be out by now." He pauses. "If it weren't for the hostages, Carterm would be out by now!"
The crowd at the Shoreham Hotel roars. They love it. This is what they've come to hear: Mark Russell, the star-spangled satirist.
He is wearing his Washington image: a sedate dark gray suit, paler gray vest, white shirt, black and white pin-dot tie. "I am dressed in the basic IBM leisure suit," he tells the audience.
Now that Mark Russell has gone national as a humorist, with his own shows on public television, a regular slot on NBC's "Real People," a syndicated column, a daily spot on NBC radio, and an autobiography to be published next fall, the Washington image is still part of his success. It began when he first started out nearly two decades ago, doing a gig at a Capitol Hill club known as the Carroll Arms. It was frequented by congressmen, senators, and their staffs. He says the look was unconscious at first.
"Every once in a while someone would ask me who I worked for on the Hill. They thought I was some guy who got up at the piano for a lark.They thought I looked like somebody's administrative assistant. I did when I was younger. Now I suppose I look like a senator or congressman."
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