‘Big Bang Theory’ Co-Creator Bill Prady Looks Back on His Run for California Governor in 2003’s Recall Election

Bill Prady California Governor Election 2003
Chelsea Lauren

Bill Prady is probably best known as the co-creator of “The Big Bang Theory.” But four years before the launch of that sitcom mega-smash, Prady — on a lark — was among the motley crew of candidates who ran in the 2003 California recall election circus. Now, as California faces another recall drama, this time an effort to remove Gov. Gavin Newsom, there isn’t nearly the same kind of bedlam that led to the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And this time out, Prady is less amused. “I think the Newsom thing is yet another example of politicians exploiting the ‘red team/blue team’ sports nature of politics for their own benefit,” he says. “The GOP so loathes the combination of the supermajority in Sacramento with a Democratic governor that they’re trying to use COVID to change that.”

Variety asked Prady to recall (pun intended) his extremely brief political career, and he shared this memory:

2003 was a significant year for me. It was the last year I synced my Mac calendar with my Palm Pilot. It was also the year I ran for governor of the State of California.

Early that year, there was some sort of kerfuffle about Gov. Gray Davis. As best I can remember, it had to do with an automobile tax, a belief by Republicans that Democrats were icky and something about electricity. You’d think an erstwhile politician would be more familiar with the issues. I am not.

I paid very little attention to the recall until a newspaper article pointed out that the requirements to appear on the ballot as a replacement candidate were the very low primary standard: $3,500 and sixty-five signatures. For $3,500 and sixty-five signatures, I could forever be “former gubernatorial candidate Bill Prady.”

As a college dropout, insecure because I lack a degree (and therefore a percentage of my mother’s potential love), I have endlessly pursued “credentials.” This has ranged from my online ordination as a minister to my quixotic pursuit of an honorary doctorate (an unending quest continued within this very parenthetical clause – if you’re a college or university with an honorary doctorate to hand out, I will pay my own travel and deliver an address with genuine heartfelt sentiment, priceless advice and primetime-quality jokes).

In addition to this neurotic drive, I had $3,500. I’d been in Las Vegas for a friend’s birthday and, fueled by peer pressure, dropped a hundred-dollar chip on a roulette number. It hit. Thirty-five to one: $3,500. Clearly this was a message from the Lord.

The easiest missing piece turned out to be the hardest. If you call the California Secretary of State’s office, they will mail you signature sheets. You need 65 registered voters to sign. The problem is, a lot of people aren’t certain whether they’re registered, so you really need 100 signatures in case some are invalidated. Surely, I had 100 friends – I’m a pleasant and gregarious fellow.

Five days into signature gathering, I discovered I had about 15 friends and 20 co-workers. I made a note to discuss my inflated sense of my own popularity with a therapist and set out from my office onto the CBS Radford lot. I went from writers’ room to writers’ room, enduring the well-crafted mocking, and slowly picked up signatures. One of the most wonderful encounters I had was with Harry Thomason, who had an office at Radford at the time. Harry couldn’t sign (he was registered in Arkansas), but he regaled me with stories of his work on Bill Clinton’s campaign.

It took two weeks to gather 100 signatures. I took them down to the Secretary of State’s office, along with the reams of paperwork (including financial disclosures) you have to file to run. Turns out there isn’t a short form for “running ironically.”

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One of the campaign buttons Bill Prady made during his 2003 run for Governor. Bill Prady

I’m always surprised when other people have the same great idea I had, but it turns out I wasn’t the only “non-traditional” candidate to file. Gallagher (of Sledge-O-Matic fame) was one of my rivals. Pornography luminaries Larry Flynt and Mary Carey would be on the ballot. So would Gary Coleman, the enigmatic Angelyne and bounty hunter Leonard Padilla. Oh, and Arnold Schwarzenegger (from the movies). All in all, 135 people were on the ballot. Two or three were legitimate candidates. The rest were loons. I was among the latter.

It wasn’t fully clear to me what company I was keeping until election night. KABC news invited the “lesser” candidates to the station to provide color commentary as the results came in. I found myself in a room with, frankly, crazy people (including a few famous crazy people). After the third rabid Ayn Rand novel-brandishing libertarian tried to explain objectivism to me, I quietly snuck out. I did not provide color commentary. I also did not get Gallagher’s autograph.

The next morning the results came in. Gray Davis was recalled. Arnold Schwarzenegger got 4,206,284 votes. Cruz Bustamante got 2,724,874. Gary Coleman got 14,242. Gallagher got 5,466.

I got 474. Four hundred and seventy-four people stood in a polling booth, looked at the ballot and said, “By golly, I think this Prady fellow has the moxie and gumption it takes to run this damn state.” Well, that’s what I said when I voted. Don’t know exactly what the other 473 people said.

In the end, I did not become governor of California (although, for the record, I never conceded). I have a box of campaign buttons somewhere (I didn’t make T-shirts because that would have put me over the non-disclosure spending limit).

But I am, forever and always, former gubernatorial candidate Bill Prady.

Former gubernatorial candidate Bill Prady has also done work in the field of television.