In the nearly five years since Al Franken resigned from the Senate in disgrace following several allegations of groping and other inappropriate sexual behavior, he has slowly mounted a comeback. But instead of trying to work his way back into the political sphere, he has returned to his original love of comedy.
There have been late-night guest appearances with old friends like Conan O’Brien and Bill Maher, a weekly podcast where he interviews former colleagues like Senator Amy Klobuchar and former SNL cast member Chris Rock, and even a stand-up tour of theaters and comedy clubs across the country.
He introduced himself as “the only former U.S. senator to guest-host Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” before insisting, “Tonight is not about politics, it’s about comedy and having fun.”
Then came his first real joke: “So who’s here from out of state to get an abortion?”
Franken happened to be hosting on the same day that President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law, but instead of dwelling on good news, he instead decided to talk about some of the other existential threats facing our nation. No, not the “enormous gaps in wealth and income” or the “threats to our democracy,” but rather, he added, “I really think that one of the most serious issues facing our country today is just how big a dick Ted Cruz is.”
“Now I’ve said it before, but I probably like Ted Cruz more than most of my colleagues like Ted Cruz, and I hate Ted Cruz,” he added. “Ted Cruz is probably one of the most famous senators, because as I mentioned, he’s a huge dick.” It was the kind of line that Franken never would have uttered while representing the state of Minnesota, but has returned to every chance he gets now that he is free from those professional constraints.
“Ted Cruz is probably one of the most famous senators, because as I mentioned, he’s a huge dick.”
Later, he took some obligatory shots at Donald Trump, who he noted is “under investigation for potential violations of the Espionage Act and obstruction” following the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago. “It’s not looking good,” he said. “Trump has screwed himself so badly he’s gonna have to write himself a check for $130,000.”
“Now some are saying Trump could be a flight risk, which is crazy that the former president of the United States is a flight risk,” Franken said. “But the good news is that at least Donald Trump’s official presidential portrait is back up at every airport in the United States,” he added, as a photo of Trump with the words “No Fly List” above his head appeared on screen.
And finally, Franken joked, “There has never been a better time to visit Palm Beach because for the rest of the summer, Mar-a-Lago is running a special weekend getaway package that includes free breakfast, a room upgrade where available, and a nuclear secret of your choosing.”
Given that he has mostly avoided discussing the disturbing circumstances under which he left the Senate on his podcast, on stage or elsewhere over the past few years, there was no expectation for him to do so on late-night TV. But there would have been something refreshing about him at least acknowledging why he is no longer going toe-to-toe with Cruz as a senator but rather roasting him from afar as a comedian. Or even expressing some level of outrage that he was forced out while Republican predators are allowed to keep serving.
The closest Franken came to admitting that he wishes he was still in the Senate and not back to making jokes for a living came during the sketch that ended his monologue when he posed as a member of the Jan. 6 Committee grilling a fictional witness playing by his first guest of the night, Better Call Saul star and fellow SNL alum Bob Odenkirk.
Even while delivering increasingly absurd dialogue about just how close Donald Trump came to celebrating the hanging of his own vice president during the insurrection, you could tell that Franken still feels at home on C-SPAN.
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