Former US Sen. Al Franken talks political downfall, return to comedy before Northampton show
By George Lenker
The past few years have been unsettling for many — and Al Franken is no exception.
After a successful career in comedy, including a lengthy stint on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” Franken was twice elected to the U.S. Senate, only to be forced out in 2018 amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Franken, 70, has returned to his comedic roots and will bring his standup show, “The Only Former U.S. Senator Currently on Tour” to the Academy of Music in Northampton on Saturday, Sept. 18.
Still, politics remains on his mind. Franken told The Republican he has a political action committee and not ruled out a return to public office.
When Franken resigned his Senate seat, he disappointed some supporters who had urged the Minnesota Democrat to stay and fight.
Franken noted there have been nine public apologies from former colleagues who now feel he got the bum’s rush.
“Well, I wanted due process, but I had 36 colleagues and a majority leader who wouldn’t give it to me, so it was impossible. But you do have some regrets. It was a very weird, tough situation at that moment,” Franken said. “I love the Senate. I love the work that I did.”
And that Senate work recently had a big win. Franken’s first bill, to study the effects of providing veterans with service dogs, came back with overwhelmingly positive results and Congress passed the bill to provide service dogs to veterans with PTSD.
“Twenty vets a day kill themselves, so this will not only save lives, it will really improve people’s lives,” Franken said. “It was very gratifying. It was the first thing I did, and 11 years later it’s come to fruition and will help a whole bunch of people.”
Prior his two terms in the Senate, Franken performed for 10 years on “Saturday Night Live.” Later, he gained attention for his political activism, writing several books and hosting the flagship talk show for the progressive Air America Radio.
In the fall of 2019, he returned to standup. He was on tour when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live shows.
“I only did about six of them, like in Portland, Seattle, Boston – and the last one I did was in South Orange, New Jersey,” said of his March 8, 2020 show at the Orange Performing Arts Center. “I came out and said, ‘Well, looks like we’re all going to be quarantined for a while’.”
But Franken decided to resume touring after performing some unannounced sets at the famed Comedy Cellar in New York.
“On any given night, someone like John Mulaney will show up trying new stuff, or Chris Rock may show up, but they’re certainly not expecting me,” he said. “But I’ve been doing that for a few months, and it’s been a lot of fun, and I’ve been developing a lot of stuff for this tour and it’s going really well.”
But beyond going for the laughs, Franken also has a more serious reason for going on tour.
“The reason I’m doing it is because with my history at ‘SNL’ and my books,” Franken said. “I’ve always tried to make a difference satirically. Because I believe comedy and satire is a very valid way — and sometimes almost a more productive way — of affecting public opinion.”
He added, “Northampton is actually my first stop, so I’m excited about that, and sometimes the first one is the most (pauses) um, interesting.”
And what about those who wonder if he will he ever run again?
“I’m keeping my options open,” Franken said. “Right now my focus is on doing this (tour) and doing other stuff that is more politically blatant.”