Al Franken has a unique vantage point from which to evaluate President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine.
Both made the transition from comedy to political office, with Franken serving as a US Senator from Minnesota, where he grew up, from 2009 to 2018.
“Comedians, like any performers, talk, and that’s what politicians do, too,” Franken said. “I think Zelenskyy has been amazing, and you may call it performing, but he’s put his life on the line.
“Zelenskyy has been completely inspiring and noble, and he may be the thing that brings Putin down.”
Franken, who is bringing “The Only Former Senator Currently on Tour Tour” to Asbury Hall at Babeville at 8 pm April 15, experienced some surreal moments in the Senate.
After all, he went from lampooning politicians to being one.
“I had some perspective on it that other senators didn’t have from the standpoint that I had been on the outside looking in very intently, and making a lot of fun of it,” he said.
People are also reading…
Today, Franken readily acknowledges that he misses being a senator.
He was a solid supporter of liberal causes representing Minnesota after toppling incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman in 2009. Franken won by 309 votes after a lengthy recount, and then won re-election by more than 200,000 votes six years later.
But Franken never fulfilled that term. He resigned in January 2018 over multiple allegations of unwanted touching or groping. That occurred as the #Me Too movement was exerting pressure on men to be held accountable for their actions against women, with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand leading the charge to remove him.
Franken announced his resignation three weeks after the initial allegation was aired on a conservative radio program, and after denying the claims and calling for the Senate’s ethics committee to investigate them.
That allegation and some others were called into doubt in an investigative article two years later by the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, leaving several senators to say they regretted their rush to judgment in calling for his resignation.
Franken has said publicly that he sunk into a clinical-level depression following the accusations.
Comedian and liberal radio talk-show host Al Franken put Buffalo in the national spotlight Monday, while directing shards of humor at the Bush administration before a live audience of 700. Local guests included Mayor Byron W. Brown and Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. The noontime radio broadcast also was a coming-out party for WHLD-AM 1270, which recently introduced a new
“Oh yeah, I miss being a senator all the time,” Franken said. “I see things I wish I could affect if I was in the Senate right now.”
Franken got his start in comedy in high school, performing stand-up in a club in Minneapolis with lifelong friend and writing collaborator Tom Davis.
The Vietnam War was raging and youth culture was upending cultural norms.
“It was a time when a lot of things were changing in comedy,” Franken said.
Franken received a degree in social relations at Harvard College, where he met his future wife as a freshman. Two years after graduating, he and Davis went to Los Angeles looking to break into show business.
They knew their off-beat material wasn’t in step with the “Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and most other comedy shows of the day. The “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” which could have been compatible, Franken said, was canceled that year over their opposition to the war.
“The best comedy variety show was Carol Burnett, and we were like two generations too young for that one,” Franken said.
Their big break came when they got in on the ground floor at “Saturday Night Live.”
Franken came to prominence as a writer and fictional character Stuart Smalley on “Saturday Night Live” from 1975 to 1980 and again from 1985 to 1995, earning 13 Emmy nominations en route to winning four times.
“I wrote a lot of the political material on ‘SNL’ throughout my 15 seasons there with other people,” Franken said. “But I also wrote incredibly stupid, silly stuff.”
It wasn’t the show’s job to have a political point of view, he said.
“We tried to do very well-observed political satire that rewarded people for knowing stuff about what was going on, and didn’t punish them for not knowing,” Franken said.
After leaving “SNL,” Franken’s humor took a decidedly more progressive bent, regularly criticizing conservative personalities and institutions.
Franken wrote four books between 1999 and 2005, including “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations,” and “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.”
He was also host of the “Al Franken Show” from 2004 to 2007 on left-leaning Air America, an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to create a radio network that could challenge the radio dominance of right-wing commentators.
Franken announced his surprising candidacy for the US Senate in his last show. He returned to the airwaves a year after leaving the Senate on SiriusXM Satellite Radio, and now hosts a weekly podcast discussing topical issues with featured guests.
Franken said he started working on his stand-up chops a year ago at the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village.
“I was a senator speaking for a long time, but stand-up is its own discipline,” he said.
Looking back, Franken said it wasn’t unusual to him that he went into electoral politics.
“I always really cared about politics,” Franken said, noting his household routinely watched the news during dinner. “I ended up on the inside, but for me it was all part of one continuum in my life’s story.”
People attending his show in Buffalo can expect to hear things about that life story.
“It’s autobiographical, so they will hear a lot about my experience in the Senate and they’ll hear about stuff happening now,” he said. “And it’s stand-up comedy, so it will be about making people laugh.”
Just like Franken’s previous appearance in Asbury Hall.
A live broadcast of his Air America program was done from the stage in April 2006 before an audience of 700. Mayor Byron Brown was one of his guests. It was the first public event in the hall since the-then endangered building was purchased and renovated by musician Ani DiFranco and her manager, Scot Fisher.
“We’re in Buffalo today, one of the best cities of the 19th and 20th centuries,” Franken joked, purposely omitting the 21st.
When Franken asked Brown if he would receive a key to the city, the mayor surprised his host by declaring it “Al Franken Day.”
“That’s embarrassing,” Franken said.
Doors at 7 pm, show at 8 pm April 15 at Asbury Hall at Babeville, 341 Delaware Ave. Reserved seats are $55 to $85 (box office, Eventbrite.com).
Mark Sommer covers preservation, development, the waterfront, culture and more. He’s also a former arts editor at The News.