Pat Paulsen for President ... Again: Way Before Stephen Colbert, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour Unleashed Its Own Political Jokester on America

With the election almost over, and coverage of the candidates blanketing the airwaves like volcanic ash, why in hell would you choose to pop in a DVD of another presidential campaign? Because included in the newly released The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best of Season 3 is the presciently funny television mockumentary “Pat Paulsen for President,” an account of the comedian’s legendary initial run for America’s top job, memorably narrated with grim sobriety by Henry Fonda. Airing a few weeks before the 1968 presidential election, its depiction of kissing-booth fund-raising, double-talk speechifying and the candidate at rest in pastoral surroundings (but getting his clothes snagged) remains a classic of call-to-duty lampooning. Before then, the thin, saggy-faced Paulsen had been a regular on the controversial sibling act’s often politically charged variety show, usually bringing a deadpan mealiness to satirical commentaries on issues of the day and deflating them handily. (“A good many people feel that our draft laws are unjust. These people are called soldiers.”) Long before Stephen Colbert’s right-wing caricature was brandishing a gun like a lover behind his desk pulpit, Paulsen was shakily holding a pistol oncamera during a pro-gun whine, rhetorically inquiring, “Do I look unstable?”

Aside from the joy in laughing at the original in-character standard-bearer for our own age of political jokesters, “Pat Paulsen for President” has eerily funny ties to what has become the most unintentionally funny comedy tour in ages: the McCain/Palin campaign. Another standard Paulsen line on gun control? “A gun is a necessity. Who knows if you’re walking down a street and you spot a moose?” It gets better. Paulsen’s party-affiliation gag? He was running under the Straight Talking American Government ticket, or the STAG party. And after the brouhaha over Palin’s sucking up to much-needed voters by calling them “the real America,” watching Paulsen get off at every stop and proclaim that wherever he’d just arrived is where he hoped to live someday, and wherever he’d just left was a terrible place, is a joke that never gets old. It’s nice to know that though Paulsen died in 1997, his campaign lives on.

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