For Al Franken, a comeback effort goes through comedy clubs
It was a fairly typical night at the Comedy Cellar’s Village Underground with a procession of young comics telling jokes about couples, body issues, and unnatural sex. After Matteo Lane ended his set with a bedtime story with a porn star, came the curveball: The host introduced “the only performer on the lineup who was a United States senator”.
Then 70-year-old Al Franken, wearing glasses and a button-down shirt, slowly walked onto the stage. He looked back at the lane, took a thoughtful pause and said in sarcastic indignation: “He stole my act!”
Franken recently started with that joke as he’s refining material in basement rooms around town in preparation for a national stand-up tour. After a Senate career that ended with his resignation after several women accused him of sexual misconduct, including unwanted kissing, it’s his way of addressing how much he clings to a return to comedy. New York comics generally do not make impressions of Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, or do not honestly explain the reasons they remain a Democrat. And yet, four times in the past month I’ve seen Franken perform, he’s constantly laughing or even getting killed. The only time he really lost a crowd was after midnight when the fury of a rant about Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, (including a controversy about a ban on assault weapons) crowded the punch lines. . Franken’s set lasted a long time, about 50 minutes, and some of the comics that followed felt his need. “If it wasn’t for their gun law, I would have killed myself,” Nimesh Patel joked.
In Franken’s new material, he explains how, as a politician, he was often told by his staff not to be funny. It only leads to trouble. His work features a less censored Franken, one that includes a story of him inside the Senate cloakroom telling a joke about oral sex with Willie Nelson – Franken cleverly slammed by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Missouri. Former Senator Claire McCaskill, both Democrats, imitated. They crack jokes. Franken’s delivery is a Minnesota Mosie with a dashing energy alluding to untold emotions and futuristic ambition.
On the street after the cellar show, Franken and I discussed Norm MacDonald, who had died earlier that day. Franken noted that when he was on “Saturday Night Live” Macdonald beat him for the Weekend Update anchor job, then recalled how NBC executive Don Olmeyer joked about Olmeyer’s friend OJ Simpson. Macdonald was fired for doing so. Franken quipped: “Have to credit Ohmeyer for sticking by a friend.”
It’s a funny joke, but as is the case with Franken nowadays, it can’t help but uncover its own scandal. Eventually, many of Franken’s aides no longer stayed with him in the wake of the allegations. After a photo of Franken pantomiming a conservative talk radio host on a USO tour was released, several Democratic senators called for him to step down, and he denied the allegations in a tearful resignation speech. Since then, many (but not all) Democrats have seen that reaction as a flurry of calls for the decision, including seven senators who called on them to resign now and regret doing so. Some politicians who stood by his call for his resignation, such as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, have faced a backlash.
Franken recently began referring to the fallout on stage, explicitly, but clearly, including the dummy of a masked ventriloquist named Petty, who wants to talk about how her Democratic colleagues are being abused by her. How was he treated? The conversation goes astray without giving any twist.
At the Upper West Side dinner, Franken didn’t want to go into details, calling it a “no-win,” but he said it hasn’t changed his politics. “Part of the irony of all this is that I was the most active member of the Senate on sexual assault and sexual assault,” he said.
As far as his old coworkers are concerned: “I have forgiven those who have apologized to me,” he said, succinctly.
Outside the dinner, a man came up to her and told her that she looked more beautiful in person and then said in an edgy way that seems beyond politeness: “I’m in your camp.”
At some New York shows, there was a certain tension in the room before he took the stage, and a curiosity as to how warmly he would be received. Franken said he was never worried about it. “People like me,” he said, in a cadence that couldn’t help but flaunt his character Stuart Smalley, the 12-step aficionado he portrayed on “Saturday Night Live.” After I pointed it out, Franken burst into the cheer cardigan character’s impression: “I’m enjoying being together.”
Franken — who moves effortlessly from inside-showbiz yarn to political ones — punctuates several sentences with a loud voice, with a slightly sharp delivery, that sounds like a baritone quack.
Long before being a politician, Franken, who moved from Washington to New York in January to be with his grandchildren, was a comedy prodigy—a double act with Tom Davis at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles. While still in college, and would go on to work as a writer for the original cast of “Saturday Night Live”. He then pioneered the no-holds-barred style of eclectic comedy with best-selling books such as “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations”. Franken is still happy to skewer the right-wing media entertainment complex amid public policy dissection, which he regularly does on a new podcast that welcomes a star list of politicians, journalists and entertainers. In his show, he says, “Tucker Carlson is the leading cause of death in this country.”
Franken says he’s returning to comedy because it’s “part of him,” and his conversations are filled with references to friends in business. He said that he went to the cellar after talking with Chris Rock and Louis CK but it is hard to escape the notion that politics animates Franken more than comedy. He said he loves campaigning and being a senator, and for a well-known person like him, his work includes a lot of résumé highlights (like casting the deciding vote for the Affordable Care Act) coded in a layer of irony. Who knows you can laugh playing Jerk. “You’re welcome” is a recurring punchline.
There are moments on stage that have elements of stump speech, and it makes you wonder if all this is just the prelude to another run. When asked, Franken shifted from casual comic to pre-programmed politician: “I’m keeping my options open.”
What about running for senator of New York? “I am keeping my options open,” he reiterated.
After laughing at this diplomatic reply, I pointed out that I am not used to interviewing politicians. Franken cracked another cheeky laugh and acted out a scene in which a question about a joke was answered by imagining the ridiculousness of the comic “I’m keeping my options open.”
It’s worth noting that even in his telling, Franken ran for senator in Minnesota for the first time, his original impulse to include a measure of payback. After the death of Senator Paul Wellstone in a plane crash, his successor Norm Coleman called himself a “99 percent improvement” over Wellstone. In his book “Al Franken, Giant of the Senate”, he described his reaction with a flash of anger, stating that he knew someone had to defeat Coleman, before adding that his reasons expanded to that. Another one from the “small space” is about helping. the people of his kingdom.
After his scandal, which Franken described as “painful” for himself and his family, he is trying to work through it and rise up, he said. “I think we need more. It’s a struggle but I’m getting there. That’s my goal.”
In a sympathetic New Yorker article from 2019, Franken said that after losing his job, he began taking medication for depression; Mental health is an issue he has worked on for a long time, he said. When I asked about this, Niti won, not the comedian, replied. He brought the first law he passed, calling for a study of the impact on giving support dogs to veterans suffering from PTSD. The conversation went to gymnast Simone Biles and how she prioritized her mental health at the Olympics. Franken brought on those who criticized her, appearing to seriously address Biles’ position before making a sarcastic pivot that it gave me a beat to appreciate the subtext. “So strange – people ignorantly criticize other people,” he said, indicating a smile on his face. “I had never seen anything like this before. I was just shocked.”
Asked what he would say to someone who thought this return to comedy was a way to rehabilitate his political career, Franken said: “I’m not sure that’s the best way to do it. ” He offered another big laugh before getting serious. “I’m doing it because I love doing it.”
On Sunday, while running his full show at Union Hall in preparation for Friday’s performance in Milwaukee (the stuff you don’t often hear about Republican Senator Ron Johnson in Brooklyn), Franken talks about leaving him for his dummy. earned a roaring response to. Senate. At one point, a member of the audience shouted: “Run again!”
As the crowd cheered, Franken was momentarily nervous and flattered. He was contemplating his next move or maybe just joking. But instead, she glanced at the man she liked and said: “I’ll need your help.”
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