“He was an original genius who revolutionized the medium. Sahl’s whole approach was different. It wasn’t that he did political comment as everyone keeps insisting. It was that he had genuine insights. Without him, we wouldn’t have Beyond the Fringe or Bob Newhart. He made the country receptive to a kind of comedy it wasn’t used to hearing.
“I’d always admired standup comics -- guys like Benny, Berle, Henny Youngman, Bob Hope. They were tremendous talents, well developed. I still believe that being a standup comic is the best education you can get. Mine came largely from watching Mort Sahl. He made the country listen to jokes that required them to think. Watching him made me want to be a standup comedian.
“He was the best thing I ever saw. He was like Charlie Parker in jazz. There was a need for a revolution, everybody was ready for a revolution, but some guy had to come along who could perform the revolution and be great. Mort was the one. He was like the tip of the iceberg. Underneath were all the other people who came along: Lenny Bruce, Nichols and May, all the Second City players. I'm not saying that these people wouldn't have happened anyway, but Mort was the vanguard of the group that had an enormous renaissance of nightclub comedy that ended not long after Bill Cosby and I came along. He totally restructured comedy. His jokes are laid down with such guile. He changed the rhythm of jokes. He had different content, surely, but the revolution was in the way he laid the jokes down."
©1975, from, On Being Funny: Woody Allen and Comedy by Eric Lax