Senator Al Franken Talks to David Remnick About Being Funny in Washington

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For most of his eight years as a senator representing the state of Minnesota, Al Franken has shied away from the national spotlight. His first Senate-race victory was one of the narrowest on record, and his opponents used his background as a comedian against him. Before getting into politics, he was a founding writer and performer on “Saturday Night Live,” a radio host for Air America, and the author of humorous books such as “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot.” Once in Washington, he directed his staff to “dehumorize” him at every turn. But, with eight years of Senate experience behind him, Franken is now unbound. His latest book is “Al Franken, Giant of the Senate,” and the cover is a portrait of Franken sitting in front of a roaring fireplace with his hand on a globe, a spoof on classic senatorial imagery.

Yet Franken really has become senatorial. For example, it was Franken’s question to Jeff Sessions in confirmation hearings that led to Sessions’s recusal from the Russia investigation. David Remnick asked Franken about the Republicans’ failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act and about the Russia investigation. Franken, the only elected official in Washington who has worked in show business longer than Donald Trump, says he is not impressed by Trump’s skills with an audience. “I’ve never seen him laugh,” he says. The President “is like some fairy tale, where if someone can get the king to laugh they’ll get half the fortune and the daughter.”