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.
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