AUSTIN, Texas—Political commentator and humorist Mark Russell, who has been making mirth at the expense of politicians since the Eisenhower administration, will highlight the 11th Liz Carpenter Lectureship April 26 at The University of Texas at Austin. The theme of the lectureship this year is “Humor! A National Necessity.”
Russell will join Former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, columnist Molly Ivins and Austin humorist and broadcaster Richard “Cactus” Pryor for a panel discussion of humor and the humanities. Carpenter, a journalist who has held appointments during the administrations of three U.S. presidents, also will participate.
The event begins at 2 p.m. in the Bass Concert Hall of the Performing Arts Center and is open to the public. Free tickets will be available beginning April 21 through campus UTTM outlets.
“All of our panelists had their careers shaped by the common denominator of laughter,” Carpenter said. “God knows we need laughter. It can lift our spirits and provide perspective.
“And, given the events of the last year in Washington D.C., there is certainly enough material for our topic.”
Carpenter, whose lectureship has brought to UT Austin such luminaries as President Bill Clinton, First Lady Hillary Clinton, Former President Gerald Ford, Madam Jehan el-Sadat, anthropologist Jane Goodall and poet Maya Angelou, said all politicians have used humor “to survive their own flaws as well as face civilization’s shortcomings.
“Presidents from Abe Lincoln to Bill Clinton have believed that laughter is vital — not only in the best of times but during the rough times, as well. Franklin Roosevelt used humor during World War II, as did Kennedy during the Bay of Pigs episode. President Clinton still wows his Gridiron Dinner audiences by kidding himself.”
The Liz Sutherland Carpenter Distinguished Visiting Lectureship in the Humanities and Sciences was established by the UT System regents using funds raised at a benefit honoring Carpenter in 1983, the University’s centennial year. Russell was one of the performers at the benefit.
According to his biography, Russell was born in the 1930s or 1940s in Buffalo, N. Y. He started out as a piano player at a hotel bar on Capitol Hill, where he made up songs about his customers, many of whom happened to be politicians. He was resident comedian at Washington’s Shoreham Hotel from 1961 to 1981. The Mark Russell Comedy Specials, now in their 23rd season on public television, have consistently placed among the five top-rated shows on that network. He also has been a weekly commentator on CNN’s Inside Politics Weekend.
Russell says he lives in Washington for the same reason a coal miner lives near the shaft.
Richards was first elected to public office in 1976, serving as a Travis County commissioner. Six years later, she was elected Texas state treasurer and became the first woman elected to statewide office in Texas in 50 years. She was elected governor in 1990. Today, Richards continues her advocacy for the causes and concerns that are dear to her. Since 1995, she has been a senior adviser with Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand, a Washington-based law firm with offices in Austin and Houston.
Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where she writes about Texas politics. She also has worked as a reporter for The New York Times, the Houston Chronicle and the Minneapolis Tribune. Her career also includes a stint at The Texas Observer, where she was co-editor and reported on the Texas Legislature.
Ivins counts as her two greatest honors that the Minneapolis police force named its mascot pig after her and that she was once banned from the campus of Texas A&M University.
Pryor, who calls himself a born storyteller, has entertained five U.S. presidents with his “tail-telling.” He is the author of Dobie, a one-man stage play in which he plays J. Frank Dobie, the Austin folklorist and professor. Pryor also has appeared in two John Wayne movies, The Green Berets and Hellfighters.
Carpenter was named a Distinguished Alumna of UT Austin in 1975, and in 1990 was named a distinguished alumna of the College of Communication. In addition to working as a Washington correspondent, she was press secretary to First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, and also contributed to the speeches of President Lyndon Johnson. Carpenter is the author of three books, Ruffles and Flourishes,Getting Better All the Time and Unplanned Parenthood, the story of three teen-age nieces and nephews who came to live with her when she was 71 years old.
The lecture is sponsored by the Liz Carpenter Lectureship in the College of Liberal Arts and the Texas Union Distinguished Speakers Committee. For more information, call (512) 475-6645.