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Satire Reveals Truth During Past 'Quirky' And 'Comical' Presidential Runs

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The campaign button of Pat Paulsen, who was actually very successful in his farcical campaign for the presidency.

This year’s presidential election has provided comics with more than enough material for monologues and satirical pieces. From Pogo, to Snoopy, to Pat Paulsen, Maze Toons cartoonist and pop culture contributor Joe Wos says these comical candidates from the past continue to influence today’s perception of politics.

Wos explains the tradition of comical presidential candidates began in 1908, when Augustus Mutt from the famed newspaper comic strip “Mutt and Jeff” began his campaign.

“That’s sort of the first time you see people with campaign buttons for a fictional character,” Wos says.

In 1928, humorist and performer Will Rogers took comic presidential campaigns to a new level when he created radio ads, made tour stops and wrote campaign journals for LIFE Magazine.  Wos says the introduction of comical candidates was not only for laughs, but brought relevant political issues to the forefront.  Rogers even allegedly won the primary in Washington DC that year.

“He really was this great political commentary.  He was the first political stand-up comic,” Wos says.

Comedian Gracie Allen of “Burns and Allen” is credited as one of the first women to run for president when she announced her candidacy in 1940.  Endorsed by Harvard University, Allen drew in over 30,000 write-in votes, and excited the public with her no-nonsense campaign.

“She could really say things as they were without any sort of political undertones, and she could just say what was on her mind,” Wos says.

Not only did comical candidates spark interest politically in women, but in minorities as well.  Stand-up comedian Dick Gregory ran for president in 1968, generating nearly 200,000 votes.  While his career was to act funny, Gregory was serious about his campaign, especially pertaining to civil rights.   

The most successful comedic candidate, Wos says, is comedian and satirist Pat Paulsen, who was endorsed by Robert Kennedy.  Paulsen reportedly came in second to Bill Clinton and George Bush in two of the primaries.

So who will it be this year?  Will Mickey Mouse or Kermit the Frog be on the ballot come November?  Stay tuned.

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