Al Franken is finally letting himself be funny again. After years of playing it straight to make sure his Senate colleagues knew he was more than just former Saturday Night Live writer, the Minnesota Democrat has been reminding the country about his sense of humor. There it was on display once more on Tuesday night’s Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
“What you’re doing here is so important,” Franken began, sincerely, when he sat down with Stephen Colbert. “You know, I just don’t want you for a moment, now that I’m a senator, I don’t want you for a moment to think that what you do here every night is any less important than what I do. Even though it is less important.”
Moving on to some of the “important” business he’s been up to lately in the Senate, Franken said he “suspected” that Sen. John McCain would vote “no” on the the GOP’s so-called skinny repeal of the Affordable Care Act but “didn’t know for sure” until he saw Vice President Mike Pence leave the Senate chamber.
When McCain gave his dramatic thumbs down, Franken noted that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer quickly shut down any applause from the Democratic side. “We didn’t want to gloat,” Franken explained. “And we shouldn’t gloat. This is serious, serious stuff.”
Lately, the senator has been making the media rounds to promote his new memoir, Al Franken: Giant of the Senate. But before that, he was known for his humor best-sellers with titles like Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them that called out right-wing politicians on their hypocrisy. “You poked a lot of fun at politicians and Washington, D.C.,” Colbert noted. “Now that you’re one of them, do you think that you were being unfair to them?”
“No, no, no,” Franken replied. “If you look at it, go back, I make fun of the people who deserved it.” He named Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O’Reilly—“Who is that? I have no memory of that man,” joked Colbert—as examples. O’Reilly, who, along with Fox News, actually sued Franken, “didn’t understand that satire is protected speech in the United States, even if the object of the satire doesn’t get it,” as the senator put it.
"Thank God," Colbert said in response while crossing himself. "Good to know."
Later, Franken told Colbert that some of his Republican colleagues, like Lindsey Graham, have a real sense of humor. Others, like Tom Coburn, to whom he had to explain what a joke is, don’t. Franken also jokingly demonstrated his newly acquired skill of “pivoting” for the host, who asked tough questions about North Korea and his 2020 prospects and received only answers about Franken’s new book.
So while Franken still knows how to be a comedian, he has also officially mastered the skills of a seasoned politician.