He was topical and biting to the end. Mark Russell, in his farewell from the Shoreham Hotel Saturday night after 20 years as resident political wit, fired volleys of fresh material at a delighted overflow audience of close friends, longtime regulars and stray tourists:
"Begin moved faster and quieter annexing the Golan Heights than Congress did on the last day, giving itself a pay increase . . ."
"When it was announced that the oil personnel were being sent home from Libya, I was surprised . . . and didn't even get a chance to put out my yellow ribbon . . ."
"The only reason Richard Allen put the money in the safe was because a Toyota couldn't fit."
The 250 seats in the Palladian Ballroom were filled for his early show, and several standing ovations brought the comedian back for 45 extra minutes. After a quick change of sweat in his cramped dressing room, Russell was back again at 11 to perform before another packed room that simply would not let him leave.
"Really, this time I got as far as the front seat of my car," he told the standing and applauding crowd as he returned one more time.
He began his show by peering around the room and picking out such old friends as Dominique D'Ermo, immediately seizing on the restaurateur's fondness for a "wildlife" menu by describing one of the meals as "bald eagle bouillabaisse."
One curtain call prompted Russell to recall the late '50s when he first appeared at the Carroll Arms Hotel on Capitol Hill.
"Truman lived there, Lyndon Johnson and Bobby Baker used to drink at the bar," he told the now-hushed audience. "I was up there the other day -- the hotel has been torn down and a new Senate office building is on the site. I was showing a television crew around and suddenly, in the new building, I remembered the location of the old bar where Johnson and Baker hung out.
"It is now, and get this gang, it is now the location for the offices for the Senate Ethics Committee."
Russell asked the crowd if anyone remembered his first night at the Shoreham on April 13, 1961, and the jokes he was telling then.
A few raised hands but they weren't quite sure of the answer when Russell said, "CIA, what did it stand for? . . . Caught In the Act."
He poked his tongue deeply into his cheek in an exaggerated move and continued, "And do you remember the Democratic wine called Hyannis Port? . . . Made from sour grapes."
He sang an old parody, "We Belong to a Group Called the John Birch Society," with a closeout line, "Good Americans we are, we double date with the DAR." He sang another of his oldies, "The Industrial and Military Complex Blues," that had lyrics about an atomic bomb threat from China.
A second curtain call brought back the early '70s and the fun Russell had with Watergate, a few of the lines making Pat Buchanan, sitting close by, appear a little uncomfortable.
But as Russell said, "No one escapes," and for 1977 he sang his parody about Tongsun Park to the tune of "You're Welcome As the Flowers in May to Dear Old Donegal":
"Six or seven years ago, he landed on our shores, just a young Korean boy assigned to certain chores.
"His mother said, 'Tongsun my boy when you get to work take this money and spread it around and show them lots of fun.'
"Wherever he went this friendly lad was greeted with applause.
"To many important people he was the Korean Santa Claus."
Russell called Connecticut the preppy capital of the world: "I met the first black preppy. He was the great grandson of a slave -- his name was Courtney Kinte."
Spotting an old friend in a dark corner by the kitchen, he said, "There's Gus. He's been running an elevator at the Shoreham for 25 years and in my estimation he has been to the moon and back four times."
Chuck Barren, managing director of the Shoreham, made a presentation and said kind words about Russell, who cut in to say, "Hold the mike higher, they can't hear you."
About 2 a.m. he was given a plaque with a key on it and was told that the Shoreham was naming a suite for him. "The Mark Russell Suite. A sign will go above the entrance and part of the furniture will be your piano," said Barren.
"This might be the sincerest I will ever get, but I love you all," Russell said. "I'll be coming around with my jams and jellies." He asked everyone to join him in singing "God Bless America" and a rousing "Auld Lang Syne."
Russell handled the long handshaking farewell reception that followed in typical style, going out with gags and laughter.