A comedian might become the next president of Ukraine. Volodymyr Zelenskiy is one of the 39 candidates to throw their name into a crowded presidential race, which will most likely culminate in a runoff election on April 21. Zelenskiy is in the lead with an estimated 30.6 percent of the vote according to exit polls in contrast to the incumbent’s Petro Poroshenko estimated 17.8 percent.
Zelenskiy is well known in his native Ukraine for his role on the hit TV show Servant of the People where he plays a high school teacher…who becomes the president of Ukraine. Zelenskiy is running on more than just his celebrity, he has taken a strong anti-corruption stance that has hit home with Ukrainian voters.
The comedian is far from the only funny person to run for office. Here are 10 comedians who have tried to run for public office—and a few that even succeeded!
Al Franken was a comedian before he was a United States senator representing Minnesota from 2009 to 2018. Franken was a writer and performer on SNL in the 1980s, In the early 2000s, he became a liberal commentator with The Al Franken Show on Air America. Air America was a hotspot for political comedy with shows hosted by Janeane Garofalo, Marc Maron, and Lizz Winstead. Franken resigned from his Senate seat amidst a sexual misconduct scandal that came to light in 2018.
Americans might not be familiar with Jón Gnarr, but this Icelandic comedian was the mayor of the capital city of Reykjavík from 2010 to 2014. While most comedians who get elected do so in earnest, Gnarr ran as a joke. He ran as an act of satire which was designed to lampoon the political class and their connection to the Icelandic financial crisis. “Unfortunately” for him, he won. While some of the goals of the party such as free access to swimming pools for everyone and free towels were obvious jokes, other promises like complete equality of the sexes and stopping corruption struck a chord with the voters of Reykjavík.
Two comedians ran for president in 1968: Pat Paulsen and Dick Gregory. Gregory is the better-known comedian now, but he was merely a write-in candidate back when he ran. Paulsen actually managed to get his name on the Democratic primary ballot in at least New Hampshire. Gregory originally ran for mayor of Chicago in 1967. While Gregory never won an elective office, he was heavily involved in social justice and politics up until his death in 2017.
The 1994 New York gubernatorial race is remembered as a major upset with George Pataki defeating Mario Cuomo, but Howard Stern won the Libertarian Party nomination. He did not appear on the state ballot after refusing to file financial disclosures, but he announced a full platform on his radio show which included reinstating the death penalty, having road crews work at night, staggering highway tolls, and a promise to resign from office as soon as these goals were accomplished. Stern didn’t win. Instead, he founded the Howard Stern Production Company and E! started to run highlights of his popular radio show on their network.
In 2012, Roseanne Barr announced on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno that she would run for president on the “Green Tea Party” ticket, a party that technically did not exist. She would go on to file with the Green Party. She came in second in the primary, losing to the now-infamous Jill Stein.
Stephen Colbert was not serious about his 2008 presidential run. For one, he only wanted to only put his name on the ballot in South Carolina and originally want to be listed on both the Republican and Democratic tickets. Similar to Paulsen, who ran as a joke for a comedy show, Colbert’s presidential bid was mostly seen as a stunt for his former Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report. However, many fondly remember his campaign to “bring truthiness to the ’08 race.”
Hideo Higashikokubaru started his career as a comedian under the stage name Sonomanma Higashi. He served as the Governor of Miyazaki Prefecture from 2007 to 2011. He ran for Governor of Tokyo but came in second. He also served for a year on House of Representatives after winning the general election of 2012. While he is now remembered as a politician, he was also on the cult TV game show Takeshi’s Castle.
Jimmy Morales is the President of Guatemala, but he also acted on the TV comedy Moralejas. The weekly sketch program ran for 15 years. While he got his start as a comic actor, there is nothing funny about multiple scandals that have rocked his presidency. From sexual abuse to illegal donations, Morales has been at the center of many serious accusations.
Leo Anthony Gallagher Jr., popularly known as just Gallagher, ran for governor of California in 2003. The 2003 election saw a lot of independent candidates, given that it was a recall election. While he lost to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gallagher finished 16th out of 135 candidates with 5,466 votes. SNL alum Don Novello also tried his luck in the runoff.