Hollywood on the Potomac
BY JANET DONOVAN
One man's FOLLY is another man's FODDER
Mark Russell has been making audiences laugh, and squirm, for more than three decades. As he prepares for a run of shows at Ford's Theatre, he talks about the news, his pre-show routine and the fine line between being funny and bad taste. It's Monday morning and Mark Russell, master of political satire and musical mischief, knows he is opening at Ford's Theatre that evening for a three-night engagement. What he doesn't know is what and who will be lampooned. In a city where a political scandal moves faster than the Acela, yesterday's news is just that-and he knows it.
So, what's left for the performances if everything is old news? "Lately the mother load has been Jack Abramoff," Russell says. "He's wonderful. My lobbyist friends are very upset though because everyone's calling him a superlobbyist. If he were, he wouldn't have gotten caught."
Like many writers Russell works better on deadline. Five minutes before he goes on the adrenaline is pumping. "When I was doing public television shows, I would write stuff right up to the last minute and would have the words scotch taped to the bottom of the camera lens-PBS couldn't afford Teleprompters then. So yeah, the imminence really helps." Russell has been doing the Mark Russell Comedy Series–the vehicle that made him a household name-for PBS since 1975. But it was the sultry and smoked-filled rooms of Washington's lounges and bars that launched him into the world of political fodder. Now he spends most of his time on the road, improving his material by reading local headlines and picking up on the town's latest funny business–like a mayor seen coming out of a Motel 6 at four in the morning. "It shows the audience that I've done my homework. A lot of performers have no idea what town they are in but with me that's very important." How does a satirist who draws on controversial material separate passable from bad taste? "Every satirist takes that risk. If you're not going over the line a little bit from time to time, you're going to run into the reverse situation where people criticize you because you're not being tough enough. It's a balancing act."
Save the Date
When: March 16 to 26
Prepared by Chef Fabrizio Aielli, a Venetian himself, the five-course extravaganza was a tribute to Berendt, whose latest book takes readers inside the mystifying and guarded traditions of Venice–no easy task. With a guest list that included Italian Amb. Giovanni Castellaneta and his wife, Lucky Roosevelt, Rep. Mark Foley, Polly Kraft, Rita Braver, Septime Webre, Roxanne Roberts, Kevin Chaffee, Bill and Dorothy McSweeny, and best-selling authors David Baldacci and Sally Bedell Smith.
Award-winning producer and writer of "The West Wing" Lawrence O'Donnella, Jr. moderated a fireside chat with Joey "Pants" following the premiere, asking: "I know these things are made with five bucks, it's hard to get people like Jeff Bridges and you into these movies, but without you, know one would ever see them. How did you get everyone involved?" "I worked Jeff at a pre-Oscar pool party", quipped Pants. As for the film, there's a "Full Monty" quality to it, and the end definitely justifies the means…