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Pat Paulsen: Still in the Running : Comedy: The former Orange resident had his performance heyday during the Smothers Brothers' show of the late '60s, but he's never looked stronger as a presidential candidate.

August 24, 1993|RICK VANDERKNYFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

STUDIO CITY — Pat Paulsen knows as well as anyone about the capriciousness of fame.

He was living in Orange, doing his comedy bit at a few local folk clubs and cleaning windows to make ends meet, when he got a call that not only put him in a featured spot on what was to become a top-rated TV series, but also led to a much-publicized (if facetious) run for the White House.

Although he hasn't had to return to window cleaning, Paulsen's career has never quite returned to the peak it hit with that first version of the "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour." The comedy/variety show debuted in February, 1967, and was suddenly yanked from the air in June of 1969 after recurring skirmishes with network censors (historical footnote: It was replaced by "Hee Haw").

The Smothers Brothers tried several comebacks, each with Paulsen as a featured performer, but none of them quite stuck. There was a summer series on ABC in 1970, a five-month run on NBC in 1975, and an all-is-forgiven reunion with CBS in 1988.

Paulsen even got his own series, "Pat Paulsen's Half a Comedy Hour," in 1970, a variety show that borrowed much of the cast of the original Smothers Brothers show.

"It was a huge . . . " Paulsen began, pausing for effect, "flop." Talking about his career during an interview at a restaurant here, Paulsen said he accepts the ups and downs of show-biz philosophically: "I've gotten to the point where I don't expect anything, not in this business. If something happens, that's great. At least I'm in there plugging away."

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Paulsen continues to perform a live stage show in theaters and comedy clubs (he plays the Coach House on Wednesday) and he keeps running for President.

"You know something, in 1992 I did better than I ever did," he said. "I went into New Hampshire, I campaigned there and kind of followed Bush around, (and) I got about 800 votes. So that made me eligible to be on the ballot in Louisiana, where I got 1,500 votes. I never campaigned there.

"I went into Kansas for two days and got 5,000 votes, almost twice as many as David Duke, then went to North Dakota, campaigned there for a week and got 10% of the vote."

The strong showing has him looking forward to the next election. "I did so well in '92, I may go for real," he said. After all, if you win, "You get the pension, you know, and the guard and everything--what more could a person ask for? I wouldn't hang around (Washington). Presidents tend to tinker, you know, and mess everything up."

Does he feel Ross Perot stole some of his thunder?

"You have to understand, I can't do any jokes about Ross Perot, because the last thing I need right now is another credit check."

Paulsen has had the occasion to review his TV career in detail in recent months, because he has been assembling a retrospective video for marketing on television (a la the highly successful Ray Stevens video, promoted via commercials that are ubiquitous on late-night cable).

The video will include clips from his own series and from his stints on the various Smothers Brothers shows. "We went through over 100 shows and picked out what we thought was the best. . . . "

On the other hand, admits Paulsen, some of it is "boorrrrring." Some of the humor on the '60s show, which was groundbreaking at the time for its topicality and irreverence, seems pretty tame by today's standards, he said. "That's 25 years old, you know. You have to understand the times to appreciate the show."

Paulsen believes some of the 1975 programs stand up better the '67-69 shows. As for the 1988 program, which grew out of a 20th anniversary special: "They very conveniently put us up against Bill Cosby, then the World Series. It kind of floated in limbo there. It was a great show, actually."

Comedy hasn't been the only vocation Paulsen has engaged in. He was a truck driver for a time, and once worked in a gypsum mine. More recently, like the Smothers Brothers, he owned a winery. But Paulsen lost it several years ago in the aftermath of a messy divorce and tax problems ("Our slogan was 'We will sell no wine . . . ' ").

The ups and downs of an entertainment career started for Paulsen not long after he left the Marine Corps in 1946. He enrolled in drama classes at San Francisco City College, briefly joined an acting troupe that performed near Santa Rosa and later performed in a comedy trio that included his brother Lorin.

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He eventually went solo, performing his comedy material in folk clubs that included the Ice House in Pasadena, the Troubadour in Los Angeles, the Gaslight in New York and the Purple Onion in San Francisco. Paulsen was living in San Francisco when he first met Tom and Dick Smothers--which led indirectly to his move to Orange County in the mid-'60s.

"I came down to Orange because I sold the Smothers Brothers a song called 'Chocolate,' and that gave me enough money to move down here. I was washing windows down in Orange County when they called me up and said they wanted me to do their TV show."

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