Satire and wit marked the presidential efforts of Norwegian American comedian Pat Paulsen. He — like Gracie Allen in 1940, running on the Surprise Party ticket — mounted supposed presidential crusades in 1968, 1972, 1992, 1996, with comedic rather than political objectives.
He purportedly ran on the STAG (Straight Talking American Government) ticket. His campaign, like that of Gracie Allen, was a resounding success. He garnered publicity and evoked laughs...and also slipped in some serious commentary.
Paulsen was born July 6, 1927 in a small fishing town in Washington State. When he was 10, the whole family moved to California.
After graduating from high school, Paulsen immediately joined the U.S. Marines during World War II. Honorably discharged, Paulsen returned home, and worked as a posting clerk, truck driver, hod carrier, sold Fuller brushes, toiled in a gypsum mine and later was employed as a photostat operator for several years. After attending San Francisco City College, Paulsen joined an acting group called "The Ric-y-tic Players" and formed a comedy trio which included his brother Lorin. After the trio broke up, Paulsen became a single act and something of a staple during the folk club craze. He appeared as a comedic guitarist at such places as The Ice House in Pasadena, The Troubadour in Los Angeles, The Gaslight in New York, and The Purple Onion in San Francisco.
It was at The Purple Onion that Paulsen met the Smothers Brothers. Impressed with their talent, he thought he could make a "pile of money" if he sold them some of his songs. The Smothers Brothers took two of his songs and gave him $40.
In 1967, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour premiered. Paulsen was hired because he sold them cheap songs and would run errands. At first he was cast as their editorialist, and his double talk comments on the issues of the day propelled him into the national consciousness.
His work on The Smothers Brothers' Comedy Hour earned Paulsen an Emmy in 1968.
The comedian was approached by the Smothers Brothers with the idea of running for president in 1968. His reply, he was later to recount, was: "Why not? I can't dance — besides, the job has a good pension plan and I'll get a lot of money when I retire."
Paulsen's campaign that year, and in succeeding years, was grounded in comedy, while not bereft of serious commentary. He ran the supposed campaigns using obvious lies, double talk, and tongue-in-cheek attacks on the major candidates.
During later years, Paulsen appeared in nightclubs, theaters, and conventions throughout the country. He also appeared each summer in Muskegon, Michigan, at the Cherry County Playhouse where he produced and starred in some 25 different plays, including "The Fantastics," "The Odd Couple," "Harvey," and "The Sunshine Boys."
He received the International Platform Association's prestigious "Mark Twain Award" for his outstanding work in the field of comedy, joining the likes of Art Buchwald, Mark Russell and Steve Allen.
In 1997, he died from pneumonia after a year-and-a-half bout with colon cancer.
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