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9 Comedians Who Ran for Office (Including Some Who Won)

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Stephen Colbert's satirical campaign for "President of the United States of South Carolina" made headlines Friday, as he appeared with Herman Cain at the "Rock Me Like a Herman Cain South Cain-olina Primary Rally." Colbert, who's not actually on the ballot on South Carolina, is using his pseudo candidacy to shed light on campaign finance reform and the Citizens United ruling. For his part, according to ABC News, Cain recited a few lines from the Pokemon movie.

Election seasons are great for comedians, but the following people did more than make fun of the candidates. They actually campaigned. And some ended up winning.

1. Jón Gnarr

Everything about Icelandic comedian Jón Gnarr’s 2010 mayoral campaign was a joke. That is, until he was actually elected mayor of Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik.

With the help of his comedian and musician friends, Gnarr had formed the Besti Flokkurin, or Best Party. To join the party, one must have seen all five seasons of The Wire. They promised to halt corruption by participating in it, but transparently. Construction has yet to begin on the airport Disneyland he promised a kindergarten class.

2. Pat Paulsen

It was on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour where Pat Paulsen rose to fame, first as a songwriter and then as their “editorialist.” It was also the Smothers Brothers who suggested he run for president in 1968. According to Paulsen's biography, his main motivation was that he couldn’t think of a good reason not to. His campaign was run on “outright lies, double talk and unfounded attacks on his challengers.” For his satirical work, he won both an Emmy in 1968 and later the Mark Twain Prize for Humor. He never formally ended his presidential campaign — Paulsen’s name was still showing up on primary ballots as recently as 1996.

3. Will Rogers

Will Rogers was Colbert before Colbert. This cowboy-turned-vaudeville comedian openly referred to politics as the “best show on earth” and Congress the “national joke factory.” Americans took a real shine to his style. During the 1920s, appreciation turned into nominations. Though he didn’t campaign, nor were there formal elections, Rogers was named honorary mayor of Beverly Hills in 1925. He turned down a nomination for Oklahoma governor, but in 1928 he accepted the presidential nod for Life’s newly created Anti-Bunk party. The campaign never went much further than the pages of Life, but it cemented Rogers as America’s favorite political satirist of the times.

4. Al Franken

After years of skewering politics in books and on the radio, Franken believed he was good enough, smart enough, and gosh-darnit, people liked him enough to make a real run for Minnesota’s junior Senate seat in 2008. The long-time Saturday Night Live writer/performer was right, though he won by only a little over 300 votes.

5. Dick Gregory

Pat Paulsen wasn’t the only comedian running for president in 1968. Civil rights activist and legendary stand-up comedian Dick Gregory did not let an unsuccessful bid for Chicago mayor deter him from running for president that year, as the Peace and Freedom Party’s write-in candidate. It didn’t lead to a victory, but it did lead to a book about the experience called Write Me In.

6. Howard Stern

The self-described “King of All Media” attempted to extend his reign to the political arena in 1994. He announced on his radio show his intention to run for Governor of New York as a Libertarian. He had only three tenets to his platform: pass the death penalty, restrict road crew work to the nighttime, and stagger highway tolls. Once he achieved these, he promised he’d quit office. It was never clear whether this was all a big hoax, but after refusing to disclose his finances, Stern was forced to withdraw.

7. Drew Hastings

In 2005, stand-up comedian Drew Hastings left Hollywood for Hillsboro, Ohio, population: 6600. He continued his comedy career, taping a Comedy Central special in 2008, but began investing in the upkeep of his new town. By 2011, he made a sincere run for mayor on the Republican ticket, and defeated his Democrat opponent 773 votes to 440. Unless this was all one big joke, he assumes office this year.

8. Hideo Higashikokubaru

Japanese comedian Hideo Higashikokubaru, known also by his stage name Sonomanma Higashi, appeared in several films and television shows before entering politics. He was best known for his role on the game show Takeshi’s Castle, known in America as Most Extreme Elimination Challenge. In 2007, he decided to run a serious campaign for governor of the Miyazaki Prefecture. He won. The media speculated his election signified the youth culture’s disillusionment with government, and the enduring appeal of celebrity.

9. Tião the Chimp

To be fair, Brazilian ape Tião might have been less of a comedian and more of a chimpanzee with a notoriously nasty attitude. Nonetheless, he was the nominee of choice for a spoof political party running in the 1988 mayoral election of Rio de Janeiro. The Brazilian Banana Party chose Tião to symbolize how terrible all of the candidates were for this position, but they underestimated the power of the monkey’s appeal. The BB Party candidate ended up getting almost 10% of the votes, forcing the Electoral Tribunal to publicly address the election of a monkey. Tião was ultimately disqualified.

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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