Minnesota Senator Al Franken was in Los Angeles last weekend to promote his new book, “Al Franken, Giant of the Senate.” Taking advantage of his visit, Andrea Grossman, founder of the popular discussion forum The Writers Bloc, teamed up with The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Arts to sponsor two hilarious discussions between Franken and fellow comedian Marc Maron.
Maron and Franken were evenly matched. Both are intelligent, insightful, hilarious, and Jewish. They spent much of the evening cracking each other up. The audience, which apparently included a large assemblage of the Los Angeles community’s Jewish Democrats, laughed uproariously at the quips and erupted in riotous applause whenever Franken said something they agreed with (which was often).
Maron’s opening question to Franken was “How are you going to save us?” which instigated a lively discussion about the Affordable Care Act, the pharmaceutical companies, and Medicare. “Our system of Medicare is similar to the Canadian system,” Franken noted. “If you have no insurance at all, that’s the Cambodian system.”
He talked about his friend Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican Senator from South Carolina, who shares his sense of humor. Before the 2016 primaries Franken told him “If you run for President, I will support you,” to which Graham replied, “That’s my problem.”
In contrast, he mentioned Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who apparently didn’t “get” him at all. Because they were almost always on opposite sides of an issue, Franken invited him to lunch so they could get to know each other and “have some fun.” So, knowing that Coburn had had a successful career as a medical doctor before he turned to politics, Franken opened their conversation with “To be a doctor in Oklahoma, do you have to have any formal education?” Coburn was incensed by the question and it took quite some time for Franken to calm him down.
Later, when he was writing “Al Franken, Giant of the Senate,” Franken called Coburn to get his permission to include their luncheon conversation in his book. Coburn’s response was “We have a First Amendment—-you can write anything you want.”
While speaking of the current Administration, Franken said, “You have to refrain from calling them monsters,” and Maron responded, begrudgingly, “I know, they’re human.”
Franken acknowledged that one of his projects is “looking into having this (Trump experience) not happen again.” He also wants to find out “What did the president know, and when did his son-in-law tell him?”
Elaborating on the anecdotes in his book, he noted that he “had been doing comedy since the second grade” and with his comedy partner Tom Davis he did stand-up at such venues as The Comedy Store in Hollywood. They were so good that Lorne Michaels hired them for Saturday Night Live without even having met them. He spent 15 years writing and performing for SNL and later, when he ran for the Senate his opponent used his comedy career against him.
“It was a vicious campaign,” he says, “and I had reason to run—-I hated the guy.” Franken also wanted to continue the legacy of his friend and mentor, Senator Paul Wellstone, who died, with his wife and two daughters, in a plane crash.
Franken took for his mantra “Be As Good As The People You Represent” and as he traveled all over MINNESOTA he earned their respect. “I show up,” he says, “and I listen.” But because he only beat the incumbent, Norm Colman, by a few hundred votes, Colman demanded a recount and tied up the results in court challenges so that Franken was forced to wait eight months before he could take the oath of office. In his reelection in 2014, however, he beat his opponent by more than 10%.
He ended his remarks with an urgent plea to his audience to “advocate for something” and to “give money to Democrats.”
And then in a brief question and answer session the audience waited with bated breath for someone to ask The Big Question. And it was the very first question asked by a lady down front who worded it coyly. “What kind of a First Lady would your wife Franni be?” she asked. “A very surprised one,” Franken answered.
The lady persisted, explaining that her question was just her way of asking if he would run for president. Whereupon Franken delivered a long list of reasons why he wouldn’t want to be president. To which, in conclusion, Maron brought the audience to its feet in a standing ovation by slyly commenting, “You notice he didn’t say ‘No’.”
Al Franken and Marc Maron appeared in the beautiful 500-seat theater of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Arts on Friday evening, July 7. Because the tickets were sold out within minutes, Franken and Maron graciously agreed to provide a second performance on Saturday afternoon, July 8. That performance was sold out as well.