By RICH FREEDMAN/Times-Herald staff writer
Pat Paulsen may have credited the Smothers Brothers with launching his career. But it was the late mock-presidential candidate who saved the popular Smothers Brothers Show, says the man who should know.
“Pat was probably the most recognizable and definable part of the show,” said Tommy Smothers. “If the show was a painting, he was the brightest color.”
It’s debatable who actually urged Paulsen to run for commander in chief of the free world starting in 1968 through 1996, Smothers said.
“It could have come from a whole bunch of people,” he said. “But his ’68 run was one of the best satirical things ever done in politics.”
Smothers first met Paulsen in 1959. The brothers were performing at the Purple Onion in San Francisco and the nondescript Paulsen was a stranger who approached Tommy and Dick after several performances.
“He’d say, ‘I enjoyed your show. If you want to put in my comedy, I think that would really help. But I like you guys a lot,’” recalled Smothers. “And he’d wander away.”
Paulsen repeated his encouragement that the Smothers “sing good, but the act needs comedy,” Tommy recalled, later realizing Paulsen was doing his show up the street.
“We became friends and took him on the road,” Tommy said.
Then came the popular TV show “and we’d put Pat on as much as we could,” Tommy said. “And every time we’d have a sketch that wasn’t working, we’d put in Pat or a midget.”
Looking back, Smothers said, “he was the best at deadpan comedy since Buster
Keaton. You could never break him” into smiling.
The best of Paulsen was often never seen, Smothers said.
“He had a ribald sense of humor. He’d be sitting in his car with my brother telling jokes that were just disgusting,” Tommy said. “He had this great, naughty sense of humor. He just never showed it on stage.”
When it came to physical comedy, “God, was he good,” Smothers said. “When he fell or stumbled over, he had all the moves.”
Paulsen has been missed since he died from cancer April 24, 1997.
“It was a great loss. He was the most important comedic talent I’ve met in my life,” Smothers said, grateful that Paulsen receives a Comedy Legends Award at Comedy Day in San Francisco on Sept. 28.
“I think he has been a little bit forgotten,” Smothers said. “People don’t realize how very, very smart Pat was. Though he wasn’t particularly wise in investments.”
This year’s Obama vs. McCain battle could have used Paulsen in the mix, Smothers said.
“Pat would have been great. He always had this powerful sense of commitment when he ran. There was no joke about it, though there was the joke underneath it. He never let on that it’s a joke, which is amazing. Not many could do that.”
There was nothing like strolling around with Paulsen, said Smothers.
“Whenever I’d walk around with him, people would yell, ‘Hey, Mr. President,’” Smothers said. “We miss him.”