Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken


I listened to this 12-hour audiobook in record time, because after all, what could be more fun that having a funny, smart, good-hearted Democratic Senator chatting away in your ears. 

Al Franken began his life in comedy as a partner with his high school friend Tom Davis; they were among the original writers on Saturday Night Live. He writes about working with those greats: John Beloushi, Gilda Radner, Dan Ackroyd. In those wild and crazy times, he was certainly a participant, but avoided the consequences of excessive drug use. He is married to his college sweetheart and they stayed together through the tough times of her alcoholism. With his turn toward political comedy, he left SNL and wrote several books, notably Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.

Eventually he decided to run for the Senate from his home state of Minnesota and was told that he must curb his humor, a challenging proposition. To get him to understand this he was to write a five-minute speech with no humor in it and he thought that itself was a joke and an impossible task. Having managed to get elected (by 312 votes, the smallest margin in a Senate race ever), he still was tempted by quips that present themselves regularly. At a committee hearing in 2009 in one of those moments of temptation, he knew the joke that occurred to him would undermine his work. The devil showed up on his right shoulder and egged him on, "C'mon, tell the joke, it will kill!." "Now, Al," the angel appearing on his left shoulder said calmly, if sanctimoniously. The devil and angel made a deal between themselves and agreed it was ok for Franken to be mildly funny in spots. As Franken said, "And as for the deal the devil and the angel made, well, the angel got what he wanted. I behaved myself and resisted the self-destructive impulse to tell a joke regardless of consequences and the devil got what he wanted:  this book."

Franken says that the funniest Senator (besides himself, I'm guessing) is Lindsay Graham. "In 2016 Lindsay ran for president and found himself somewhere around 15 in a field of 17. Running into him in the Senators' bathroom, I told him, 'Lindsay, if I were voting in the Republican primaries, I'd vote for you.' Without hesitation, he replied, 'That's my problem.'"

His ability to work successfully with his colleagues in the Senate is impressive. He and Pat Roberts, Senator from Kansas, greet each other playing characters from the old Jack Benny radio program, mystifying anyone who hears them. Though their politics couldn't be more different, they jump at the chance to work on projects together. In the case of drug compounding, after 800 people contracted fungal menengitis and 64 people died in 2012, they worked together to close the loopholes so that unsafe practices would not continue.

 Al Franken, Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken, Hachette Audio, 12 hours, 2017. Print version publisher: Twelve, 416 pages. Available at the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.




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