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Ross Perot’s pop culture ubiquity remains hilarious and weird

Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who twice ran for president as a third-party candidate, has died, the Dallas News reports. The verbose, aphorism-spewing 89-year old died after a five-year struggle with leukemia, leaving behind a legacy that includes one of the best showings for an independent candidate in the past century. In 1992, Perot gobbled up a staggering 19% of the vote.

Credit that to his folksy, charismatic charm and fearless critiques of the Reagan administration, the likes of which were memorably lampooned by comedians old and young. And it’s there that we’ll focus, beginning, of course, with Dana Carvey’s unforgettable depiction on Saturday Night Live. Though his harried cry of “Can I finish?!” is the impression’s oft-quoted soundbite, to revisit it now is to marvel at the character’s frenzied, relentless gaslighting, which is perhaps best utilized in the below sketch opposite Phil Hartman’s weary Larry King.

Carvey’s impression of George H.W. Bush was surprisingly beloved by the man who became president that year, so much so that he invited Carvey to the White House, where he also took a moment to honor Perot.

Perot was also a frequent target of The Simpsons, though less for his manic energy than for his oddness as a ubiquitous figure within pop culture. As was noted by the great Ireland Simpsons Fans Twitter account, Perot popped up in crowds alongside the likes of Spike Lee and, when Bart enjoyed his catchphrase-based fame, his rushed biography was “mostly about Ross Perot.”)

It’s true, though. Before social media and viral culture could make sensations of seemingly anyone (see: retired senator Mike Gravel and the Gravel Teens), Perot’s personality spread its tendrils far beyond the realm of political satire. Just look at Nickelodeon’s All That, a sketch show for kids that counted a pint-sized Perot as one of its most reliably funny characters. Katrina Johnson’s Perot routinely popped up as a social mentor for Josh Server’s hapless Earboy—he also had large ears—flaunting his “four billion dollars!” as a means of securing pals and power. A quick glance through Twitter reveals no shortage of millennials who only know Perot via Johnson’s impression.

It makes sense, though, why the character caught on. Perot’s Texas accent had a cartoonish quality that was easy to lampoon, and his manner of speaking was a far cry from the political word salad favored by most politicians. Just look at how he summed up the trials of General Motors in 1988.

Or enjoy this deep dive into the bizarre informercials he pumped out in the early ‘90s, one of which found him using a “voodoo stick” as his “pointer.” See that clip below.

Impressions aside, Perot himself was a fascinating watch. If you want to see more, you’re in luck. C-SPAN’s got 147 appearances from the man in its digital archives.

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