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The Humorless Al Franken

By Alexandra Petri

The relationship between politics and humor lately has been, like that between pigs and sausage, somewhat one-sided. Politics and politicians provide grist for the mill of late-night talk shows, stand-up sets and parody news sources. Sure, Barack Obama had a good set at the White House Correspondents Dinner, but everyone would probably have laughed if he’d gotten up and read the collected works of Bertrand Russell.

That’s why Al Franken seemed like he had so much potential. For once, someone was going the other way. Fast forward through the Franken campaign -- variously described as “unfunny,” “serious,” and “dull” -- to his triumphant arrival in Washington. Al -- I guess we have to call him Senator Franken now -- used to be the sort of man who couldn’t write “The Truth” without adding “and Jokes.”

Now look at him. Here’s an excerpt from his first speech: “I'm going to fight hard to put people to work, improve education, make Minnesota the epicenter of a new renewable energy economy, and make quality health care accessible and affordable for all Minnesotans.” Maybe the punch line is the part where Minnesota is the epicenter of a new renewable energy economy, but that seems unlikely.

The last thing America needs is another politician who takes himself too seriously. We’ve had enough odysseys with regard to heart. Now that he’s in office, the author of “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot” and “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them” might as well take advantage of the quality that made his numerous books bestsellers: an ability to use humor to make a political statement. Some have expressed concerns that it will be hard for Franken to be taken seriously if he returns to his humorous roots. But given how pivotal he is to the Democratic majority, it will be hard to write him off. And it's worked before. Even Abraham Lincoln admitted that, "If I did not laugh, I should die," and more modern politicians such as Adlai Stevenson and Mo Udall are known for their humorous way with words. Quips such as Udall's "The ability to change one's views without losing one's seat is the mark of a great politician" still ring true today.

Otherwise, we’re going to be stuck with the same kind of political humor we had all throughout the Bush era: the unintentional kind. Granted, this traditional form of political humor has given us such gems as, “The biggest self of self is, indeed, self.” But our leaders could have done so much more.

By Alexandra Petri  | July 7, 2009; 5:57 PM ET
Categories:  Petri  | Tags:  Alexandra Petri  
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So, now everyone has pre-judged him as taking himself too seriously?! It seems DC pundits won't wait to see what he does. & you seem to forget that he campaigned for 2 years to make sure that MNs took him seriously. Now after 8 months GOP mfrd delay, he gets to join the Senate Club after winning w/ only a 312 vote margin & he gets razzed for fighting for his constituents! There are more than enough on the Hill who think they're smarter than their voters. Those are the ones who haven't been paying attention since last November. Just ask Pres. Hillary Rodham Clinton - oops - 1 for the voters, 0 for conventional wisdom.

Posted by: nyer11 | July 7, 2009 6:38 PM | Report abuse

No, the Senate doesn't need another joker. It needs a well-read, knowledgeable and dedicated senator who'll work hard for his state and his country. That is desperately needed to counter the influence of jokers -- or rather, jokes -- like DeMint, Graham, Inhofe, et al. Unfortunately, those jokes are at the expense of the American public (which is probably why Ms. Petri doesn't seem to mind it -- if it had been on the pundit class paying the price for them, she'd likely be screaming blue murder).

I would have thought somebody considered competent to write for the WaPo editorial page would be capable of serious discussion of issues rather than empty blather about how the Senate should have more jokes. (Well, I would have thought so up until the Hiatt era, at least.)

Posted by: sembtex | July 8, 2009 2:08 AM | Report abuse

At last, Al has learned to take himself too seriously.

Posted by: robertjames1 | July 8, 2009 2:36 AM | Report abuse

Franken is a moderately overweight idiot.

Posted by: hz9604 | July 8, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Numerous books best sellers???? Maybe when compaired to Nancy's book. Check the numbers on Amazon dot com or the NY Times list.I think the evil, right wing commentators you love to hate sell a great deal more.

Posted by: gfhoward258 | July 8, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

The reason Al Franken entered the political sphere is that for years he has been a keen observer. Though his critical eye produced cutting satire and bitterly ironic humor, it did little to alter the progress of cynical "conservative" big dogs nor most of their misguided following. Franken entered the run for public office, won a majority (albeit slim), and finally has arrived in Washington to work for his state.

No doubt, he'll still see the ironies and comedies of American and world political and social life, his role is changed. He didn't run to be elected comedian, he ran to be a representative of the people. He's sharp, out ahead of most of the pack, and will be an uncommonly good finder of ways to stitch together agreement. But in times when instant answers are sought, it seems to much to wait a week or two to find out how the guy might shake out.

Posted by: Jazzman7 | July 8, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

A California carpet bagger who will bring the same ruin to the Federal Government as his California Socialistic experiment has brought to California. I feel sorry for Minnesota who have inherited another failed politician/socialist.

Posted by: staterighter | July 8, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Too true! Humor is the skewer needed to deflate the right wing blowhards. Franken has already proven he can wield it, courageously and honestly. I am looking forward to more from him but hey, he only landed the job last week. Let's give him a chance.

BTW, your line:

"Otherwise, we’re going to be stuck with the same kind of political humor we had all throughout the Bush era: the unintentional kind."

Just brilliant!

Posted by: joebanks | July 8, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Minnesota, where the women are strong, the men good looking, and all the children are gay.

Posted by: johnson0572 | July 8, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse

He's humorless in politics because liberals are incapable of seeing beyond politics. {Correct) politics is religion and, therefore, nothing to laugh about. Franken only used humor to mock conservatism, which to him was (and is) a deadly serious task. We may see a joke here and there but I guarantee we will see no self-deprecation or any jokes at the donkey's expense.

Posted by: DCAtty | July 8, 2009 1:26 PM | Report abuse

God, Sembtex you illustrate my point very nicely with your first post.

Posted by: DCAtty | July 8, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Here's an idea: let him get his chair warm and see what he does.

Posted by: jckdoors | July 8, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

So you are judging someone who will be helping create the laws of this country by whether or not he is funny? I'm pretty sure he was elected to the Senate not to make jokes at a comedy club.

Posted by: mikeyfish | July 8, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

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