Former U.S. Senator Al Franken is back in the comedy business with the launch of his new comedy tour, “The Only Former U.S. Senator Currently on Tour.” The standup show will be heading to 15-cities nationwide and the first stop will be right here in Western Massachusetts at Northampton’s Academy of Music.
Before Franken turned to politics, he served as one of the original writers on Saturday Night Live for 15 seasons. In addition to his SNL days, Franken has received 5 Emmys, 2 Grammys and authored 4 #1 New York Times bestsellers.
Zydalis Bauer spoke with Franken to learn more about the tour and why he decided to launch it.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer: Former U.S. Senator Al Franken is back in the comedy business with the launch of his new comedy tour, “The Only Former U.S. Senator Currently on Tour.” The standup show will be heading to 15 cities nationwide, and the first stop will be right here in western Massachusetts at Northampton’s Academy of Music.
Before Franken turned politics, he served as one of the original writers on Saturday Night Live for 15 seasons. In addition to his SNL days, Franken has received five Emmys, two Grammys and authored for #1 New York Times Best Sellers.
I spoke with Franken to learn more about the tour and why he decided to launch it.
Al Franken: I always did comedy. I was — starting in grade school — and you know, I’ve been talking to audiences over the last few months. I’ve been going down to the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village, and you know, I’ve thought about this, that every school has a stage. And every adult — teachers, the principal, the administrative staff, the custodial staff, the lunch lady — everybody wants encourages kids to get on the stage. And then once you’ve graduated school, no one wants you to get on stage.
But I just did it all throughout school, And I just it’s part of who I am. And yeah, I’ll be doing — talking about politics and satire, you know, doing it satirically. And so it’s all part and parcel of who I am, but it’s all one aspect of who I am.
Zydalis Bauer: Now, speaking of you doing comedy before, you spent 15 seasons on Saturday Night Live as an original writer and you won five Emmys for writing and producing, as well as two Grammys. You eventually went on to serve Minnesota in the Senate from 2009-20018.
How does one go from being a comedian to a politician?
Al Franken: For me, it made sense. I wrote a lot of the political satire on SNL with — a lot with Jim Downey, who is conservative — so, we didn’t really feel during that time that was our job to be — just to do well-observed satire. And now, it’s really hard, I think. The country is so divided.
And you know, it was odd. I mean, obviously, no comedian had been a senator before, and I had to convince the people of Minnesota that that made sense. And it was used against me by my opponents and stuff. But, I think ultimately, the people of Minnesota got it, obviously. And that in a way, that satirists kind of see through things, in a way.
And I think that when I, as I was serving, my reelection was a lot easier than my — won the first time by 312 votes, the second time I won by over two hundred thousand.
Zydalis Bauer: How different or how similar is life in Hollywood to life in Washington? Were there things that you learned as a comedian that helped you as a politician?
Al Franken: Well, I didn’t live in Hollywood, I was in New York, because I was doing SNL. And but I take take it you’re talking about show business.
You know, they’re both pretty, can be pretty tough worlds. They’re different. But yeah, you — there’s a lot of ego involved. You have to you have to be a performer.
I did find that having been a performer was very helpful in when you were questioning and hearings. Sometimes when you’re questioning, you need a lot of nuance and you have to listen.
And I found that my colleagues, even though, like on Judiciary Committee, most of my colleagues, I wasn’t a lawyer. Not obviously, but I wasn’t. And but I listened different, I think, than my colleagues did, many of whom were prosecutors.
But I think I had an advantage in the way I questioned, from both being a performer and being a writer. And so, I brought a lot of tools to the job that no one else had really had.
Zydalis Bauer: Now you were talking about how comedy and satire is a little different nowadays with the political atmosphere. Currently, you’re the host of the Al Franken Podcast, which touches on politics and public affairs.
Can comedy have a role in bridging the divide we are seeing between the political parties?
Al Franken: I think it certainly has a role — always has had a role, done right, which is a big thing you have to underscore. Done right, it can shed a lot of light, and it’s a different way of looking at things. But, I think it’s a very — it can be a very helpful way of looking things and cutting through stuff.
Right now, we’re so divided and it’s — I do talk in my show a little bit about, you know, there are really good Americans on both sides, and it’s hard to remember that.
I talk about Ted Cruz going to Cancun during that, that disaster. I learned a lot about Minnesotans during floods and tornadoes, and what you learn is how great people are to their neighbors. And it’s hard really to not see people as people, because you don’t — you see people do extraordinary things in terms.
You see — I remember I was in a flood south of Duluth and there was this couple about in their sixties who lost their home, because it was a flood and their foundation collapsed. And these teenage kids just came to help them haul out their stuff. And it was heavy stuff. And these kids — these older people couldn’t do it. And the the couple told me, “Well, you know, we didn’t know what we’re going to do. We have relatives in Missouri, we’re thinking of moving there, but you know what, these kids? They’re just amazing, and there are communities, so we’re staying here.” And I had no idea whether they’re Republican or Democrat, I had no idea.
You just see that they’re really good people, and I wish we could get back to that. There’s a lot of people profiting from dividing people.
Zydalis Bauer: In a recent interview with The Republican, you mentioned that you will not rule out a return to public office. What is it that drives you to want to keep that political door open still?
Al Franken: I loved the job, I really did. And I think I was good at it, and it’s a place where I could accomplish a lot. So, I’m keeping…I’m keeping the door open.
Zydalis Bauer: We lost your former Saturday Night Live colleague Norm MacDonald this week, who passed away at the age of sixty one from cancer.
What was it like working with Norm and what will you remember most about him?
Al Franken: Norm was a brilliant comedian who approached things differently than — all the great ones kind of approach things differently — but he approached him very differently. And was very brave in the way — and fearless, more more fearless than brave. I think there’s a difference.
He just had a way of telling a joke, and he had a perspective that was different than anybody else’s and he really valued standup comedy. That’s what he saw himself as, he didn’t see himself as a sitcom. You know, he wasn’t really he loved standup.
And that’s partly why I’m doing this tour, is I really love standup. And I’ve been, you know, sort of prepping for this at a club, which is very different, but I’m going to the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village. That’s a that’s a different thing than people coming to see me in Northampton.
So, it’ll be — I’ve been doing this club for months, and I’m going to see what it’s like when people are paying to come to see me.