Mark Russell is coming to Buffalo with a few ambitions.
One is to entertain an audience at the Central Library in Buffalo, when he performs there later this month.
But another is to offer a heartfelt message to the city where he grew up.
“This is part of my obligation to Buffalo,” said Russell, 81, a Buffalo native who lived in Kenmore as a boy. “I owe Buffalo big time.
“It’s a debt that will never be completely paid.”
Russell, who became famous for his political comedy and is known for his TV specials, will perform in the auditorium of the Central Library starting at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Proceeds from “An Afternoon with Mark Russell” – which is a ticketed event – will go to the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, which will use them to buy new materials for the system, according to a library spokeswoman.
Russell told The Buffalo News that despite his many years of residence in Washington, D.C. – where he once lived not far from Tim Russert – the Western New York region holds a special place in his heart.
“It’s just payback time to Buffalo,” said Russell, an alumnus of the Canisius High School Class of 1950. “They gave me life – and A Life.
“They gave me a professional life. They gave me a television show that ran for 30 years.”
Russell said that awhile back he tried retirement.
That was in 2010, when Russell retired following a show at the Chautauqua Institution.
But the switch to offstage life didn’t last long.
“I retired,” Russell said. “As it turns out, it was a two-year hiatus. I just got bored and came back.”
During those two years, Russell said, he turned into “an amusing dinner guest.”
But overall, this is an interesting time to be doing politically themed comedy, Russell said.
He drew a parallel to Mark Twain – another well-known former Buffalonian who used satire to comment upon society – to make his point.
“We’re right where we were in the late 1800s,” Russell said. “That was the Gilded Age. He coined that phrase – and it was a derogatory phrase.
“It was gilded, it was cheap, it was tinny.
“That’s where we are now.”
But, living in an age like this provides lots of material, Russell said.
“The Gilded Age was great for Twain,” he said, “and it’s great for me.”
Russell said that he still draws his material from reading daily newspapers – in print, mind you, not digitally.
“The fact that I’m computer illiterate has a lot to do with it,” he said.
Russell said he reads the Washington Post, the New York Times, and, when he is spending his annual nine weeks each summer in a house at Chautauqua, The Buffalo News.
As for subject matter, Russell said that anything seems to be fair game nowadays.
”Pretty much everything” is up for grabs, in his comedy, he said.
Russell grew up on Enola Avenue in Kenmore – “It was ‘alone’ spelled backwards,” he noted – and attended St. Paul’s Catholic grammar school in Kenmore and then Canisius High School.
“I graduated the same year Tim Russert was born,” said Russell, of the fellow Canisius alum.
Russell’s family moved away from Buffalo after he finished high school, he said.
But, Russell said, he still has many family members in the area.
As for the show at the Central Library, Russell said that he has an offer for his fans.
“The 5,000th person to come through,” he said, “gets a free car.”
Admission to “An Afternoon with Mark Russell” costs $30 for general admission and $25 for those with a library card. Students can get tickets for $10 with a student ID.
For $75, ticketholders can attend a reception with Russell after the performance.
More information about the event and tickets are available at: www.BuffaloLib.org or by calling 858-7197 or 858-7182.