PAT PAULSEN’S HALF A COMEDY HOUR (DVD) Image

In comedy, second bananas serve a valuable presence – they keep the fun rolling along and often steal the show, but they never take the spotlight away from the star of the production. It is very rare for a second banana to step away from the supporting level and attempt to take on the responsibilities of being the center of the comedy.

Pat Paulsen, the dour-faced, low-energy monologuist who enlivened the Smothers Brothers’ controversial variety show with his off-beat skits, tried to carry his own TV comedy program in 1970. The resulting “Pat Paulsen’s Half a Comedy Hour” only ran for 13 episodes on ABC before being pulled and filed away as a forgotten failure. For no clear reason, the show is back from obscurity in a DVD anthology.

What went wrong? For starters, Paulsen’s appeal was strictly acceptable in small doses – five minutes in the midst of a larger show was more than adequate. Being forced to carry his own program, however, his eccentric persona proved to be too enervated for the task. Not surprisingly, Paulsen repeatedly became upstaged by larger-than-life personalities who turned up as guests: attention was inevitably grabbed from Paulsen by glamour girls like Angie Dickinson and Debbie Reynolds, strident comics like Jo Ann Worley and Daffy Duck (via a clumsy animated segment), or even unexpected visitors like Henry Fonda (no great comic) and former presidential candidate Hubert H. Humphrey (a surprisingly funny man).

Paulsen’s recurring skits, including Comedy Man (a superhero who laughs at his own bad jokes) and a pair of black children doing a weak approximation of Flip Wilson’s shtick, were weirdly unfunny. Steve Martin was credited as a co-writer, but the show’s vain attempts at topical references and broad slapstick have little evidence of the funnyman’s style.

Considering the wealth of great material that is not on DVD, the appearance of this dismal collection is a true mystery.

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