Al Franken hits the comedy campaign trail with City Winery show

Matt Wilson / @pbsthephotographer

From his time writing in the earliest days of ‘Saturday Night Live’ through to his work serving on the U.S. Senate, representing Minnesota from 2009 to 2018, Al Franken has always kept his sense of humor. An Emmy-award winning writer, Franken’s sarcastic brand of quick-witted comedy has thrilled audiences over the years in all mediums, including his best-selling nonfiction books (‘Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot’ and ‘Other Observations’), an NPR radio program and podcast.

This week, Philadelphians can hear it for themselves. Franken jumps on the comedy campaign trail with a stand-up tour, which makes a stop at City Winery on May 17 and 18.

Metro caught up with Franken to discuss candidacy and comedy.

Many think of you as a writer first — whether it’s your 15 years at SNL, your books, even your provisions for the Affordable Care Act. How would you say your language has evolved since the start of your career?

There has been an evolution in my writing as my first iteration – of being part of an act – came when I was with Ton Davis, a fellow comedian with whom I went to high school. We did stand-up together on stage in Minneapolis growing up. We patterned ourselves after (classic radio comic team) Bob & Ray, which was a very written-out kind-of comedy. Tom was hilarious, and we brought our humor to SNL, not only as writers, but as a performing team. I didn’t actually do stand-up on my own until after SNL. When I left the Senate, I started doing speeches around the country and realized that 80% of those talks were comedy. So, I just did that – turned it into stand-up.

Politics in the United States, right now, are tense. Is it hard to maintain a sense of humor through this?

No. But if that’s your bent in life, so be it.

One presidential candidate is discussing a worm eating his brain, while at the same time, another candidate is on trial for allegedly using hush money to pay a porn star. Thoughts?

It’s funny and it’s not funny. It’s certainly not funny if you’re the man whose brain is being eaten by a parasite. He (Robert F. Kennedy Jr.) was a river-keeper and an environmentalist. I liked him during that time. I don’t like him now… not since Kennedy’s vaccine denier and anti-vax (rhetoric). He’s going to be taking more votes from Biden that he is from Trump, and I don’t think that we need that right now. This is a very scary election. I would encourage all Pennsylvanians to vote for Joe Biden, AND go out and knock on doors. The stakes are very high in this election.

Beyond politics, what topics does your new stand-up routine embrace?

I talk a lot about SNL with stories about my time on the show. And yes, there is a lot of politics, much of it centering on Trump’s tendencies to lie. The Washington Post kept track of all of his falsehoods, and it was 30,000 during his presidency. Now that he’s on trial, that should come back to haunt him – his credibility with the jury should be pretty low.

For the sake of balance, would you say that you have a wealth of good feeling about Joe Biden?

It’s complicated. I think that he’s done a good job as president. A lot of the stuff that he’s done with infrastructure – I remember Trump calling out ‘Infrastructure Week’ and never getting things done. Then Biden came in and got the biggest infrastructure bill since the Eisenhower administration and the interstate highway system was built. The Inflation Adjustment Act has so many good things in it, including what it does for energy, for renewable energy and conservation. That is something that all Pennsylvanians can see in regards to the climate. I think Biden’s done a good job. Now, I may have differences with him on Gaza, but then again, they stopped sending those big bombs to Israel. Blinken just went to the Middle East, and there might be a cease-fire, which is just what we need.

Do you think stand-up comedy and live tale-telling is the last bastion of where comedians are safe? Where comedy is safe?

I think that comedians do feel as if we are in tricky areas, sometimes. There are a lot of comedians who won’t do colleges anymore, and colleges used to be a very good market for comedy. Now, college campuses are very politically correct. I don’t know if I would do them anymore. But I haven’t been asked.

Is there any comic voice, past or present, that is your favorite at this point?

There are so many great comedians – many of them are my friends – that I don’t think I can answer that. But there is so much great comedy out there.

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