A tongue-in-jowl approach to American politics made Pat Paulsen one of the most influential comedians of the 1960s and '70s. Best known for his zany editorializing on the humorous late-'60s television variety show, [RoviLink="VW"]The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Paulsen was a five-time candidate for the presidency on the Straight Talkin' American Government (STAG) party.
Born in a small fishing village in South Bend, WA, Paulsen moved, at the age of ten, with his family to Point Bonita, CA, a rocky promontory across the bay from San Francisco. After graduating from Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, Paulsen spent three years in the Marine Corps. Although World War Two ended before he was shipped overseas, he guarded Japanese prisoners of war in China. Following his discharge in 1946, he worked a variety of jobs including driving a truck, operating a photostat machine, selling Fuller brushes door to door, and working in a gypsum mine.
Enrolling in San Francisco City College, Paulsen planned to study forestry. His plans changed after attending a rehearsal for a school play; he transferred to the drama department. In addition to performing in college productions of The Man Who Came to Dinner, The Vagabond King, and Twelfth Night, Paulsen became involved with a comic acting troupe, the Ric-Y-Tic Players, in Santa Rosa, CA.
Although he worked for a while in a comedy act with his brother, Lorin, he made his greatest strides after going solo and performing at folk clubs as a humorous guitar player. While performing at the Purple Onion in San Francisco, Paulsen met the Smothers Brothers, selling them two original songs for forty dollars.
When the Smothers Brothers launched their comedy show, in 1967, Paulsen was hired as a cast member. His off-the-wall political commentaries quickly became an important part of the show. At the suggestion of Tom Smothers, Paulsen announced his candidacy for the presidency in late 1967, explaining that he was motivated to seek the office because "it has a good pension plan." Paulsen's campaign, which inspired 200,000 write-in votes, resulted in his winning an Emmy award in 1968. Following the show's cancellation, in 1970, Paulsen hosted his own comedy show on ABC. The same year, he and his wife moved to Cloverdale, CA and opened a winery. They continued to operate the business until their divorce in 1992.
Paulsen spent most of his summers producing and starring in more than 25 plays at the Cherry County Playhouse in Traverse City, MI.
Diagnosed with colon and brain cancer in 1995, Paulsen underwent alternative therapy in Tijuana, Mexico. He died there of pneumonia and kidney failure in 1997. An album of Paulsen's comic routines and songs was released the following year. ~ Craig Harris
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