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An Interview with Former U.S. Senator, Al Franken

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“I probably like Ted Cruz more than most of my colleagues like Ted Cruz, but I hate Ted Cruz.” – Al Franken

I sat down and talked comedy & politics with Al Franken about his upcoming show Saturday May 14 at The Wilbur Theatre in Boston, a part of his “The Only Former U.S. Senator Currently on Tour Tour”

Al Franken is the only U.S. Senator who was also one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live, and served Minnesota in the U.S, Senate from 2009-2018.

He has won five Emmy’s for writing and producing, as well as two Grammys. Al is the author of four #1 New York Times bestsellers, including Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other ObservationsLies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them – A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, and Al Franken, Giant of the Senate.

The Al Franken Podcast is one of the nation’s top-ten politics and public affairs podcasts with guests like Malcolm Nance, Sarah Silverman, Paul Krugman, Chris Rock, and Michelle Obama. Well, not Michelle Obama, but guests like her.

Topics discussed in this episode include:

  • How Jimmy and Al met on the show of Indecision 92 for Comedy Central (02:30)
  • Al’s time at Harvard, where he met his wife, Franni (06:19)
  • Al’s show at The Wilbur Theater in Boston (08:50)
  • Al’s views on Ted Cruz, and who the funniest Senator is (10:20)
  • Al’s personal experiences with Joe Biden during his time as a Senator. (14:00)
  • His thoughts on the Biden Administration (16:57)
  • Some glimpses at his comedy act, his love of stand up comedy as an art form including the Counterintuitive Hotel (23:00)

Connect with Al Franken

For more information on all things Jimmy Tingle

Transcript – Please note, this Transcript is AI Generated. It has not had the discerning ears of a real human to edit it, as such, there are bound to be a few errors

Jimmy Tingle 0:00
Hey everybody, this is Jimmy, thank you so much for joining us today. Today’s episode has been brought to you by our sponsor humor for humanity, a social enterprise that I found that a few years ago that raises spirits, funds and awareness for nonprofits, charities and social causes. Our mission is your mission humor for humanity. You can find out more information at Jimmy Thank you so much and enjoy today’s show.

Hello, everybody, this is Jimmy, welcome to another episode of our show. I am so excited for our guest today. Ladies and gentlemen. Al Franken is the only US senator who was also one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live during his 15 seasons with SNL, Franken one five Emmys but writing and producing is also the author of four number one New York Times best sellers including rush limbaugh was a big fat idiot and other observations, liars and the lying liars who tell them a fair and balanced look at the right. I love that one. And Al Franken giant of the Senate and I was encouraged to read that before I ran for office, which I did and it was very, very helpful. Al Franken represented the fine state of Minnesota and the US Senate from 2009 to 2018 Al Franken podcast and you gotta check this out, folks. It’s fabulous. He’s got so many guests from entertainment, politics, all sorts of walks of life. Always good, always insightful, really on target. As podcast is one of the nation’s top 10 Politics and Public Affairs podcasts with guests like Malcom Nance Sarah Silverman, Paul Krugman, Chris Rock, David Letterman, Jim Gaffigan, and many, many more. Well, you can get it at Al But most importantly, folks this Saturday night at the Wilbur theater in downtown Boston, May 14, our will be in town and the checkout the title of this show, the only former US Senator currently on Tor. Tor. Is that it l that is it. And that’s as far as we know. Anyway.

Please welcome the one and only Mr. Al Franken. Hey, Al, how are you?

Al Franken 2:18
I’m good. How you doing?

Jimmy Tingle 2:19
I’m doing great here. Thanks so much for doing the show today. And thanks so much for all your contributions, and comedy and politics and values. Everything you’ve been doing over your your whole career. So we really appreciate seeing you today. We we first met in 1992 and Comedy Central you were the hosts of the show. But what we did was we covered all four nights of each convention. Right and did it for four hours. Because you know, the network’s stopped doing that. And so it was very loose.

Al Franken 2:53
It was really loose. It was called indecision. 92, I believe was the name of it. Yeah, it was the first indecision again, it was on Comedy Central. So it was a four runner in a way of The Daily Show. And of all those, you know, of that family of shows. It was before Bill did politically incorrect. And so it’s Yeah, but proud of of that. It was a lot of fun. That’s the first time we met and then we’ve met several times over the years at New Hampshire primary. And you were actually in my film when we were at the Democratic convention here in Boston in 2004. My film Jimmy tingles American dream, I interviewed you and Robert rice. That was the day after Barack Obama’s speech. I’ll never forget. I don’t remember that. Yeah, we’ll

Jimmy Tingle 3:43
send you the film.

Al Franken 3:46
No, that was that was stunning. And yeah, that everybody went oh, oh, yeah, girl. Yes.

Jimmy Tingle 3:54
And I remember because I didn’t see it. Because I was doing the shows at the theater. We were doing a series of shows called the unconventional comedy convention at my theater in Davis square, Somerville. So every night we were performing, and I had all I had more Saul in there, and Marc Maron and Barry Crimmins and just a touch in in Garoppolo. Some of your friends from Oh, wow. Yeah, era marinara. Jim Morris was there. It was, it was a was a lot of fun. But anyway, every night during that convention we were performing. So we heard rumblings about this guy, you know who made this killer speech there. And on camera. I’m saying our What was the name of the person you were saying? Barack Obama. Barack Obama.

Al Franken 4:39
I know a lot of Americans are going like that can’t possibly be the name right? Followed Right, right in America.

Jimmy Tingle 4:47
And one of the things stands out that lot. One of the times we met was that we did a fundraiser at stand up New York, and it was the cast aside Night Live at the time Nora Dunn was there, a Whitney Brown and yourself And we did this fundraising I forget what it was for. But anyway, after what you were socially

Al Franken 5:04
it was for Pol Pot. And we just, every once in a while I screw up. Yeah. If people

need money, you know, whatever wildlife people got to help him. I learned

that that night to start betting

Jimmy Tingle 5:23
Well, after the show you were so gracious. I said out, you know, that was a blast doing it. I go, you know, I’d love to say I’ve never been over the side nightlife. I’d love to come and go, you want to come this? You want to come to the show? I said, I’d love to come to the show. And so I was so excited. I’m going okay, I’ll go alright. Oh, one one last thing. When is it? It’s Saturday Night Live this Saturday night. So you always had that great sense of humor. So thanks, again for being here. And I want to ask you something about coming to Boston, having spent some time at Harvard. So having spent some time in Cambridge in the Boston area, you’re coming to the Wilbur theater this Saturday night. Yeah, I’m gonna be there. My wife’s gonna be there and about 1000 Other people are. So we’re excited to see you on Saturday night. But just tell me coming back to Boston. What was your experience here when you were at Harvard? Well,

Al Franken 6:17
I met my wife the first week of school. So and and that was I went to a mixer in Copley Square. I saw her across the room, and she was gathering up some girls believe. And so I liked the way she was taking charge. And I asked her to dance. I got her ginger ale and escorted back to her dorm at seventh. And we told that to my daughter when she was six years old as she wrote a thing in first grade, which was they asked how your parents met. And he said my dad asked my mom to dance, bought her drink and took her home was, but I had great roommates and I have a great number of classmates who are still really good friends. And I enjoyed it a lot. I mean, I just probably could have worked harder and kind of regret that. And I But early on, I had gone there really studies physics, and chemistry and stuff like that. In 1957. My parents sat me and my brother Downes after Sputnik said, You boys are going to study math and science so we can beat the Soviets. And there was a lot of pressure to put on a six year old. Wow. But we did that. And we were really both very good at it. My brother went to MIT is the first in her family to go to college, and he became a photographer. And I went to Harvard and became a comedian. And but we beat the Soviets. So So I was I focused a lot on doing comedy. And in my last year, Tom Davis who remembered Franklin Davis, yep. Tom came lived with me in my dorm. And on weekends, we go down to the improv. We drive down there, Lando did that too. And well, there were no clubs in Boston at that time. No, there weren’t really and so yeah, we do that. But I, you know, I really enjoyed it. But I didn’t I didn’t get as much out of it as I probably could have, in a lot of different ways, including exploring Boston. It was I just was spent a lot of time in at school like, yeah, it was very centric to the college experience. But I had I go to Boston. I also my wife’s family’s from Portland, Maine. So I have a big New England bent. And but I love Boston. I love the Wilbur. Yeah. What I love about the Wilbur and you’ve played the Wilbraham Yeah, yep. What I love about the Wilbur is the balconies are so steep. And so the audience is very close. Yep. Everybody, and I love I love that place. It’s a beautiful, beautiful theater and comedians love that theater.

Jimmy Tingle 9:12
Yeah, it’s a great theater. We’re excited about Saturday night, folks. Goodwill. Al You can get tickets to the show this Saturday night, May 14 at the Wilbur theater. And you can also get all the information about his podcast which is phenomenal at Al So check that out. So our Okay, stop plugging stuff. No, no, no, no, I plug in. I love plug in because I want I want that place to be jammed and I want people to see you. You are the Mark Twain of our generation, man. No, I’m not kidding. I don’t know of any other people who have gone from, you know, entertainment and written several books, New York Times bestsellers. They’re all satire. They’re all political. They make great points, but with humor, and then go on to actually turn your Turn your passion into legislation and actually run for office and accomplish what you were able to accomplish. In the US Senate. It’s really a phenomenal story. So I just want people to see you here. And in Boston, this is

Al Franken 10:13
stand up. But there is a political dimension to it. Of course, as as you always have. But I do talk a lot about my time in the Senate. Oh, good. There’s a whole Ted Cruz section of the show. Tell me about it. Well, I explain why say I probably liked Ted Cruz more than most of my colleagues like the crews, but I hate that group. And I just tell some stories that just explain like who the hell what, it’s amazing who this guy is. Yeah, it’s, it’s amazing. He’s an amazing, they’re different amazing figures in the Senate. We saw that during the Catan G. Jackson hearing of Foley and cotton. And I didn’t think Lindsay was oh, that’s another thing I talked about, which is people asked me alive who the funniest senator was, and I always it was Lindsay, everyone always goes No. But Lindsay, so is funny. I mean, Lindsey is all his all his humor was just about cynically was, so I’ll tell you a story. So we’re going to Christmas break. And so we’re leaving the chamber after some boats. And that says we’re going on vacation. He says, I taking your family anywhere for son. I said, Yeah, I’m we’re going to Vegas in Puerto Rico. And without a hesitancy, any hesitation goes like do two fundraisers, one for the people who are for statehood, one for the people who are against statehood. They never talked to each other. And that was basically every one of his jokes was I’m the most cynical politician. There is.

Jimmy Tingle 12:03
Wow. That’s pretty funny. And I there’s a story I think that you told listening to the senator from Alabama, the first one to endorse Trump was his name of sessions. Yeah. Jeff Sessions, but you came in it. He

Al Franken 12:18
said meteoric rise. That’s right. Oh, yeah, that was like, but I sort of somewhat famously kind of asked a couple of questions of sessions in his confirmation hearings that undermine him. Because he lied, and about whether he had contacts with Russians. So it appeared from that, that he and I were bitter enemies, but we actually kind of were friends. You know, to the extent I didn’t like anything he did. But so I was on judiciary and member I was not, you know, I’m not a lawyer, but I played one in a sketch. Right? And so I’m on Sherry, and I would go to every damn, you know, confirmation hearing on district court judges, I just go because I wanted to, I want to learn. And so sessions is the ranking Republican, so he’d always go, so he’d always see me. And then one day, he was the chairman had to go to a budget committee hearing. And so it made me Chairman. Because no other Democrat was gonna come to this because it was in

Jimmy Tingle 13:32
your first weeks of all, yeah, I was there. I’d been

Al Franken 13:35
three weeks or something like that. And so I just sit there and I’m in the chairman’s chair, and he’s, well, a meteoric rise. I said and well deserved.

Jimmy Tingle 13:49
Well, let me ask you, when you were in the Senate, did you get to what was your relationship with Joe Biden at that time? I know he was vice president. Yeah, I’m but did you have a lot of interaction with him?

Al Franken 14:02
What I did was what I had was very good. He, he paid attention. He had been chair of judiciary committee. So he paid quite a bit of attention to highprofile hearings in judiciary. And I was really good if I do say so myself in judiciary, and part of it was and I think this has to do with a lot of people asked me about what what is it about this Alinsky? Why is he so good? And I said, Well, he was he was a comedian, and which means he was a performer, which means he knows how to perform like Reagan was an effective communicator. Exactly. And so there is something to having been a performer when you’re asking questions. And so gel is very complimentary of my work and judiciary and said so publicly a lot, and we went to a lot of different events. Now Joe had this thing where he really did would talk to all very well I and I remember one event, which was honoring Mondale and of course, Biden was vice president at this time. And Carter, there was, it was this dinner. I remember the hosted dinner saying a successful dinner in Washington is one that is when you get out at nine 9pm. That’s a successful dinner. What happened was there was a dialogue that was moderated between Carter and Mondale that went up went a long, but it was right. Okay. And then. And then there were a lot of speakers. You know, senator from Minnesota, so I spoke, but I spoke very late. But Biden spoke and went on way too long, like 45 minutes. So we didn’t get out of there till like, I started my speech like, Well, look, the reason, you know, the host said that a successful dinner in Washington is one where you get out at nine, it’s almost 11. So that’s not the fact that we’re getting out past nine isn’t Biden’s fault. The fact that we’re getting out past 11 is Biden’s

Jimmy Tingle 16:13
Oh, that’s great. Did he like it?

Al Franken 16:15
While he was gone by then? He gets, he would give the long long speech and then leave. And

that gives everybody else permission to laugh, doesn’t it? Oh, yeah. And

and I saw him at Mondale’s actually Mondale’s Memorial last week, 10 days ago. And he we had a silent exchange, he was sitting about 15 feet from me. And when he was introduced the farming, but he Yeah, we’re friends.

Jimmy Tingle 16:46
Yeah. Good. Well, tell me. What is your take on how the Biden administration is doing? And how do you think they’re doing in terms of the domestic policies and also the foreign policy?

Al Franken 16:57
Well, I think this is a long, complicated discussion, but just touch a few bases. The legislation, they pass at the top of the administration, the reconciliation bill, they passed the 50 votes, which was a pretty huge package, I think was a good thing. And it kept people kept people afloat. Yeah, at a time where they needed to be and included a child tax credit, which it’s a terrible shame that that’s expired. And that, that brings us to the elements of build back better. Now they tell you just Oh, don’t even mention back better, because it has such a brand name, a bad brand name. But the thing is, the elements of race are and we’re really good. And I have been saying on my podcast since like, last October, that we should just have put those things out individually on the floor. Yeah, because you’re talking about universal pre K, you’re talking about sub help helping us subsidize childcare, which every other civilized country does. And like generously in Europe, they, each child, each child, on average in the European country gets $14,000 subsidy for childcare. There’s so much in this package is just negotiating Medicare, being able to negotiate with pharmaceuticals, we pay about two to three times as much as every other country, European countries do for the same pharmaceutical, these are pharmaceuticals that we that we develop, right? Many of them. And so there were so many elements of this, and instead the press, which tends to do horse race and bait inside baseball will just be going like is it first it was 3 trillion now is 1.5 is 1.75. What’s mentioned doing with them are doing and you know, I’m not there. I don’t want to be critical of anybody. But I don’t understand how we didn’t take these get these elements of them out there, that people could see what they were. Put them on the floor, let the Republicans vote them down and let Americans go like, Oh, my God, these things make absolute perfect sense. You know, Americans, Republicans want to raise taxes on rich people. Right. Maybe as much as Democrats do if you’re talking about their base, their base resents the elites and they they aren’t a large large majority of people are for tax increases on very upper income people. And of course, we and the gaps in wealth and income in this country are a source of tremendous resentment that’s felt on by everybody, but especially by the Trump people. So But don’t get me

Jimmy Tingle 19:54
started. No, no, no,

Al Franken 19:56
that said, that said on I think on Ukraine, I think Biden has been masterful. I think what he did early on, he made some decisions early on were key. One of the things he did was released our intelligence, and which was that the Russians really were going to invade. And when even Zelinsky thought they weren’t going to date. But we by doing this, we were taking a risk, because they could have been bullying us. But we were actually preparing for sanctions, which take a while to prepare. Yeah. And so we were able to trigger those out. They weren’t strong enough at the beginning, but you need, you need your allies doing it. And they’re ramping up. And it was very interesting. You know, yesterday was Victory Day for World War Two for the Russians. And there was a lot of conjecture about what Putin speech was going to be he was going to escalate. And he very notably said, No, I didn’t say it. Yeah. Yeah. He basically said he doesn’t want the Russian people’s suffer. So I think he’s feeling I think he’s, you know, if we win, here’s a good way for us to win the midterms. Someone kills and they won’t be us, but someone kills Putin. I mean, that would be a good October surprise. Now. I don’t want Putin mad at me. But

Jimmy Tingle 21:31
I don’t want to matter me, though. Yeah. Do you think there is any chance of getting any legislation significant legislation passed before the midterms? To your point about breaking up build back better to one or two or three things specifically?

Al Franken 21:48
I actually think that what the discussions are, that they’ve been having with mansion suggests to me that he is for some kind of tax hike. And I’m for that, again, I’m for that, and I think the American people are for that. I think that we can do that. And reconciliation, I hope and I hope we can do something on climate.

Great. Well, that’s very hopeful. I want to say tell people that if you want even more hope, this Saturday night, May 14, the woman in

the hope business? No, not I’m in the laughs business.

It’s a funny show. How long has it been traveling and performing? Do you like it?

I love it. I will. I love the the experience as you know, the best part is the part where you’re actually on stage performing. Right? And there’s so much to that. That’s great. And part of it is just laugh. I mean, right?

Jimmy Tingle 22:45
Yeah, absolutely the reinforcement of your ideas.

Al Franken 22:48
So there’s that and then there’s just That’s mainly what would I love is you know I don’t love the travel right?

I you know, I’m working on a routine about hotel counterintuitive hotels. Where, where you go to the room and they have the music on and you don’t know how to turn it off.

And the phone light is blinking and you don’t have to turn that off. You fall down and they go counterintuitive. How’s your counterintuitive mistake, Mr. Branca? Yeah, I got a I got my phone’s blinking. And I just I don’t know how to get rid of the message. Well, yeah, everybody has that problem. Okay, but tell you what, the only I have one message and that’s from our manager, saying We hope you have a great counterintuitive stay. I can turn that off for you. Okay. So the travel is not it’s not my favorite.

Jimmy Tingle 23:56
Right? Right. But being on stage just delivering, you know, having your ideas validated. Having the sense of humor just come through again, it must be on a certain level having had to be dead serious because one of the things the biggest takeaway of your book, Al Franken giant of the Senate was going from making that transition from comedian to serious candidate. The first thing you had to do was never mentioned the fact that you on Saturday live again, don’t ever mention Comedy Central. Don’t ever mention said Night Live. Don’t ever mention the fact that you are a comedian. Don’t try to be funny on the stump. And that’s a big transition. Yeah, my

Al Franken 24:33
team. Yeah, my team put everything through this machine called the memorizer. And then, when I got to the Senate, that team said, Don’t be funny, do not be funny, and I went okay, I’ll put my head down. I didn’t totally internalize it, though.

Jimmy Tingle 24:54
Right. So getting back out there and going after laughs and just trying to be funny, liberating. Using the imagination,

Al Franken 25:01
it’s also it’s an art form. I mean, I admire fandoms. And there’s a lot of great ones out there. And I’m, I used to do with, you know, remember Tom Davis or Tom, I used to do an act, but it was very, not a single guy going out there and doing stand up. We used to do very Bob and Ray kind of stuff. I know Bob and Ray. Yep. So this is new. You know, I started working a little over a year ago, I started going down to the comedy cellar. And I had some I had material. Yeah, and but I worked it up and it’s really fun to do. It’s just really good. And it’s also kind of, like, fun to write. And it’s fun to think about. Yeah, you know, and fun to comment on. You know, so I got I’m working on my abortion hunk. Okay.

Jimmy Tingle 25:57
Good. I look forward to hearing it on Saturday now. Okay. Thanks so much for being here today. Great to see you. Congratulations to all your success. And we really, really appreciate all the work.

Al Franken 26:09
Welcome backstage. Before After both of the I’d love to always

Jimmy Tingle 26:14
bring my wife I you’re going to be signing any books or anything after the show or

Al Franken 26:18
I don’t I don’t think so. We didn’t, okay, that was stupid. We didn’t get that together.

Jimmy Tingle 26:24
I have five books of yours. I can bring you can sign that

Al Franken 26:27
people bring those books. You can bring the books over. I have

Jimmy Tingle 26:31
to tell you this, you’ll love this. And then we’ll leave. I did a show. You know, I went to the Kennedy school a few years ago. And I started, I got on the board there the Alumni Association Board, and we helped with some events over at the Harvard Club. And we had these you know, every year we would have a fun event there. And we would auction off things. So I had your book, Al Franken giant of the Senate, we will auction it off with your signature because I bought it here at the Harvard bookstore, you had signed it. And then we had Ban Ki Moon, the head of the UN in the audience as well. And he signed your book. So we have an Al Franken giant of the Senate book with your signature and Ban Ki Moon. The Secretary General of the UN the only book probably ended in circulation that some lucky person got with a $2 raffle.

Al Franken 27:29
Well, I got to track down banky moon in the sign a few more to dilute the value of

Jimmy Tingle 27:41
it’s great to see our al for the podcast al for tickets for Saturday show. Thank you so much for your great service. I look forward to seeing you Saturday night.

Al Franken 27:51
I’ll see you Saturday. All right. Bye. Bye. Bye.

Jimmy Tingle 27:54
Thank you for joining us today. This has been a humor for humanity production. I am the founder of humor for humanity, a social enterprise that raises spirits, funds and awareness for nonprofits, charities, and social causes. You can find out how we can help you or your organization, raise spirits, funds and awareness for you and yours. Our mission is your mission humor for humanity. Jimmy Thank you

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