For, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a column from 12 years ago that might offer a brief respite from the rather nasty current election cycle, written back when Stephen Colbert was still on his Comedy Central program playing an obnoxious, ill-informed conservative’; David Letterman was still a nightly fixture, and Jon Stewart on ‘The Daily Show’ was skewering all things political. This one was published on Oct 23, 2008, in the Deseret News. (Here’s a YouTube link for one of Gracie’s Allen’s campaign radio shows, and this YouTube link is for a  faux documentary about Pat Paulsen’s campaign — narrated by Henry Fonda!)

Here is a pair of amusing political quotes, both spoken with deadpan irony:

“It is time to forget the petty bickering and settle down to an old-fashioned mudslinging, name-calling campaign.”

“A platform is something a candidate stands for and the voters fall for.”

Although these comic observations could be applied to the current presidential campaign, they aren’t from Jon Stewart or David Letterman — or Stephen Colbert, who took a satirical run at the presidency last year.

They’re from two other faux presidential campaigns that preceded Colbert by several decades.

The first comes from Pat Paulsen’s 1968 presidential bid for the Straight Talking American Government Party — the “Stag Party” for short.

The second is Gracie Allen, who campaigned as a presidential candidate in 1940 for the “Surprise Party.”


Tom Smothers, left, Dick Smothers, Pat Paulsen, circa 1968.

In their respective eras, Paulsen and Allen launched wildly popular comedy campaigns, stumping across the country and speaking at various gatherings — and Allen’s whistlestop tour came to Salt Lake City.

(The TV special “Pat Paulsen for President” is on the DVD “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best of Season 3.” Allen’s campaign is chronicled in the book “Gracie Allen for President” and the audio-CD set “Burns & Allen: Gracie For President.”)

Paulsen was a standup comic who hit his stride as a writer/performer for the “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” which ran from 1967-69. He gained popularity on the show with his stone-faced editorials that tackled issues of the day:

“We are not against censorship because we realize there’s always the danger of something being said.”

“We hear that (the military draft) is unfair, immoral, discourages young men from studying, ruins their careers and their lives. Picky, picky, picky.”

Allen was the latter half of George Burns & Gracie Allen, with Burns as straightman to Allen’s ditsy “illogical logic,” which they perfected in vaudeville in the 1920s, later achieving stardom on radio (in the 1930s and ’40s) and TV (in the ’50s).

A typical exchange has Allen answering the phone and Burns asking who called. “A reporter from Hawaii,” Allen says. Burns asks, “How do you know he was from Hawaii?” “Well he must be,” Allen replies. “He said he was Brown from the Morning Sun.”


In their presidential races, Paulsen and Allen offered similar views about their qualifications for the office:

Paulsen: “I did not want this support. I have not desired it. As I’ve said, I’d rather remain as I am today, a common, ordinary, simple savior of America’s destiny.”

Allen: “Now, I don’t pretend to know all the answers. I’m just a plain, ordinary, everyday genius who loves her fellow-men whenever possible.”

Paulsen: “I have conducted my campaign thus far in the true American political tradition. I lied about my intention to run. I’ve been consistently vague on all the issues. This has not been enough, apparently. Therefore I promise you all, my fellow Americans, that I will continue to make promises that I will be unable to fulfill.”

Allen: “We all realize that what this country needs is plenty, and even though it’s impossible I’ll be glad to do it.”

So with Allen in 1940, Paulsen in 1968 and Colbert in 2007, we should have another comedian running for president around 2030.

And since Allen and Paulsen actually did get write-in votes on some ballots, maybe by 2030 a comedian will actually win!

Tina Fey, perhaps?