Political pundits analyzing the presidential race recently have overlooked probably the most concise evaluation of the Democratic field: Joe Biden's out, Pat Paulsen's in.
That's right. Comedian Paulsen, who first rose to national fame in the late 60s on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour"--and whose hangdog face you well could find pictured in the dictionary when you look up "deadpan"--is again running for President of the United States.
Although often referred to as "perennial presidential candidate," Paulsen actually has run only twice, in 1968 (representing the Straight Talking American Government, or STAG party) and in 1972 (as a Republican).
"Yeah, every four years, people always say to me, 'Hey, are you running again this year?' " Paulsen said in a recent interview. "I finally got tired of hearing it, so I decided to run again."
Paulsen--who performs Monday at the Improvisation in Irvine--said that some of this "perennial candidate" disinformation has been propagated by the media, which is one of the reasons he, in keeping with the candidates' code, has a few beefs with the press.
"The media has not been very fair to me," he complained. "They're constantly saying I'm just a joke. Also, they've been trying to catch me fooling around for the last three years; they've been stalking me, watching my hotel room. But I haven't been fooling around for three years--it's been almost 20."
In any case, he feels that his presidential prospects aren't too bright. "My chances are pretty close to nil, actually," he said. "I expect to be soundly trounced. But I happen to dig that sort of rejection."
Even if he ends up snubbed in the political arena, Paulsen has enjoyed acceptance and success in other areas. For starters, he already holds considerable political--or at least civic--responsibility. He's the mayor of Asti, Calif., a tiny (population 8) unincorporated city near Santa Rosa.
"I've been the mayor for a year now," said Paulsen, who probably had an easy time securing the post because he owns Asti. "And I allow no voting privileges."
"And the Asti people, whom I call the Asti-nistas, are bad news. They won't march; they won't train. There's only eight of 'em and it's hard to get 'em up in the morning to march. Plus, I have to be there myself. I'm not going to get out and march in the morning--it's up to them. If I'm going to have a fascist state, it has to run on its own."
Paulsen and his family have been landowners and grape growers in Sonoma County for the better part of two decades. And since 1980, the family has operated Pat Paulsen Vineyards--a surprisingly serious business. The label reportedly turns out upwards of 30,000 cases of wine annually and has produced some award-winning varietals.
And the holdings of this unlikely wheeler-dealer don't stop there. He owns a 700-seat summer stock theater in Traverse City, Mich., the Cherry County Playhouse. Over the years, a wide range of actors has played the Playhouse, from Meredith Baxter Birney to Zazu Pitts to Burt Reynolds. Oh, and some guy named Pat Paulsen.
"I do a different play every year," he said. "I have some acting ability, which people are unsure of. I mean, I've done (plays) from 'Harvey' to 'Greater Tuna' to 'Beyond Therapy.' " He also lands an occasional film role, though by his own admission, it's rarely in anything with quite the artistic merit of, say, "Beyond Therapy." He was quite frank, in fact, about his motives for accepting some cinematic gigs--and the attendant downsides.
"I did a movie in Texas--and this is one of those you do just for the money--called 'Bloodsuckers From Outer Space.' Swear to God, that's the name. I went to the premiere, and I'm watching this thing, sinking down in my seat. I didn't want anybody to see me. The film wasn't even good enough to be campy. If it's really campy, like 'I Was a Teenage Werewolf' or something, it's fine to be in a movie like that."
Speaking of camp: Considering that he gained enormous exposure--not to mention an Emmy--on that occasional camp-ground known as "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," it's somewhat ironic that he's almost never on television these days.
Which isn't to say that he's not working regularly. He's on the road constantly, mostly doing one-nighters at clubs but also doing longer engagements in comedy rooms and Vegas lounges.
On Monday, when he rolls onto the Orange County portion of his campaign trail (official slogan: "Pat Paulsen for President--He's Gotta Sleep Somewhere"), it will be a homecoming of sorts. Before he joined the Smothers Brothers' show, Paulsen was an Orange County resident for about two years. "Yeah, I lived in Orange on Handy Street," he said.
Then, acknowledging how long ago that was ("this would have been '65, '66) and that he's now 60, he noted that "I always say to kids in the audiences, 'I know why you're here: Your parents said to go down and see him before he dies.' "
Sounds a tad bit morbid, Pat.
"It gets a laugh, so I don't care if it's morbid," he replied, revealing a great deal about the commitment and integrity of this presidential candidate.
Opening for Paulsen at the Improv--and rounding out this former Orange County-ite bill--is Chris Verwiel, a sharp and promising young comedian.
In addition to working as a comic and actor, ex-Fullerton resident Verwiel is starting to make major inroads as a writer. The Geffen Co. bought a short story of his called "High Spirits," which is being adapted into a feature film entitled "Cloud 8."
Monday's show starts at 8:30 p.m. The Improv is at 4255 Campus Drive, Irvine. For more information, call the club at (714) 854-5455.