Posthumous award show will feature 30 stand-ups
By RICH FREEDMAN/Times-Herald staff writer
Before Will Durst, there was Pat Paulsen.
And Durst, arguably the most well-known Bay Area political comic, would be the first to support the posthumous (post-humorous?) Comedy Legends Award bestowed upon Paulsen at Comedy Day in San Francisco on Sept. 28.
“I remember Pat when he first announced he was running for president on ‘The Smothers Brothers Show’ in 1968. He did these double-talk speeches that were so hysterical because he had that look of a ’60s-era politician,” Durst said. “It was hysterical. That was satire.”
Durst, one of the 30 stand-ups performing at the annual free comedy show at Sharon Meadows, believes Paulsen’s plaudits – the late comic’s son, Monty Paulsen, accepts the award – are long overdue.
“Pat Paulsen was so familiar that he became part of the landscape and nobody noticed until he wasn’t there,” Durst said. “He was like a landmark that nobody realizes was a landmark until they’re about to tear it down.”
Paulsen, a Sonoma County resident, died April 24, 1997, from cancer, ending what had become a comedic tradition of running for the presidency every election since taking on Richard Nixon 40 years ago.
There was nobody around like Paulsen, said Durst, who can’t forget his first meeting with the man whose legacy of campaign slogans included “I’ve upped my standard, now up yours” and “If elected, I will win.”
“What impressed me most was his courtliness,” Durst said. “The term ‘gentle man’ must have been coined specifically for him.”
From Paulsen, Durst said, he learned “how to not worry about how a crowd was reacting.”
“He was funny and if they didn’t get it, he didn’t care,” Durst recalled. “He just did what he did.”
Ronnie Schell, the Richmond-raised comic best known for his role as Jim Nabors’ best friend, Duke Slater, in the TV show, “Gomer Pyle, USMC,” and more recently for his vocal work in numerous animated programs, appeared with Paulsen on “The Smothers Brothers Show” in 1970.
Few are as deserving of Comedy Day’s Legends Award as Paulsen, said Schell, who was the first Comedy Legend Award winner in 2002.
“We started (comedy) around the same time and he moved vastly ahead of me,” Schell said. “He waved at me, but without a smile.”
Even when Paulsen became successful, “he never flaunted it,” Schell said. “He treated me like one of the guys I knew when we worked the Purple Onion.”
Berkeley comic Johnny Steele, another comic who sprinkles his routines with political material, said he’ll always remember watching Paulsen on the Smothers Brothers’ TV show even though he was only a kid.
“I didn’t understand the humor, especially the political stuff, but the sad face and deadpan delivery were seared into my brain forever,” Steele said. “Decades later, I saw him at Tommy T’s Comedy House and I was fully aware that I was seeing an American comedy icon.”
Paulsen’s snail-like delivery took discipline, said Steele, “and it revealed that he was confident in his skills and believed in his jokes. He had this wonderful subtlety about him. He used his humor to challenge that status quo or at least to get people to stop and look at the issues. And he made it look so easy.”
San Leandro’ s Brian Copeland, comic and author of the book and one-man show, “Not a Genuine Black Man,” knew Paulsen for more than 20 years.
“What a great commentator he was on the state of affairs in America,” Copeland said. “He had this brilliant way of making the absurd logical.”
Copeland’s relationship with Paulsen went beyond comic-to-comic.
“I loved him. He was like a father to me and I was his third son,” Copeland said. “I even called him ‘Dad.’ I’ll be driving along today when something reminds me of one of his lines and I’ll laugh out loud.”
IF YOU GO:
What: Comedy Day
Who: 30 comics, including Rick Overton, Mike Pritchard, Diane Amos, Will Durst, Hal Sparks, Tom Rhodes, Mike E. Winfield and Brian Copeland
When: Sunday, Sept. 28, noon to 5 p.m.
Where: Sharon Meadows, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
Story originally published here: