The Franken Factor | THE POLITICUS

The Franken Factor

The Funny Warrior
Franken and Davis
I have been an admirer of Al Franken for going on forty years - first as a comedian, then as a political commentator, and, finally, as one of the finest senators to come down the pike in my lifetime. Teddy Kennedy, for all of his reputation as "the Lion of the Senate" was somewhat of a late-bloomer and didn't begin to live up to his potential until he had been in office for almost two decades. It wasn't until he lost the primary challenge to incumbent president Jimmy Carter in 1980 that he began to show some real moxie as a statesman. Up to that point he had been somewhat of a lightweight, resting on the laurels of being a member of America's golden political family. Al Franken, by contrast, was the heavyweight champion of the poor and middleclass at the starting gate.

Like most of the members of my generation, my first exposure to Al was as a member of the original lineup of the cast of Saturday Night Live. He was not only a writer on that program, but a performer as well. The weekly bits he would perform with his partner, the late Tom Davis, were so wonderfully bent, they could only be described as comedic Zen. Although not to everyone's liking, the delightful, low-key lunacy of Franken and Davis was the part of the program I looked forward to the most. To the best of my knowledge, they were the last comedy team.

Over the years I've followed Al Franken's career closely and admiringly. That's why I greeted the photograph of him with his hands on the breasts of a fellow performer during a 2006 USO tour with a sigh of exasperation. My reaction was: What the hell were you thinking, Al? I wouldn't have pulled a stunt that crude in my early twenties - let alone my late forties. According to the person who took the photo, it was a gag shot, and the woman in question (who appears to be asleep) was in on the joke. She also said that during the rehearsal for a routine they were to do in front of the troops, Al got a tad too physical. Both of these incidents took place in public and, to the best of anyone's knowledge, there was never any private confrontation.

What are we to make of this? Does Al Franken have a history of this kind of boorish behavior? If that is the case, we can expect a tsunami of women coming forward with their own recollections of their own gross encounters of the weird kind with Al down through the years. My suspicion - my prayer - is that this will not be the case. Stressful situations are known to bring on bizarre behavior - and touring a war zone is the most stressful situation people in show business can possibly find themselves in. Bob Hope toured many-a-war zone in his day, and although many view him today as comedy's secular saint, his behavior on-and-off the lines of battle was not always saintly. This is an established fact.

In an effort to distract our attention from the Roy Moore scandal, the right wing SCREAM machine is calling on Al to resign his senate seat.  Moore, you will recall, is running for the senate in Alabama amid accusations of the groping and outright assault of several underage girls back in the swinging seventies. To compare this to the scandal that Senator Franken now finds himself in is akin to comparing running a red light to mass murder. If Al does indeed have a history as a sexual predator, we will know soon enough. My opinion is that, until that time comes, we need to cut the man as much slack as possible. He has publicly apologized for his indiscretion. She has publicly forgiven him. And although his actions may have been terribly immature, they do not constitute sexual assault. Harvey Weinstein he ain't. I have made a few unwanted passes at a few women in my time. That doesn't define me as a sexual predator. When I was told "no thank you", I desisted. We need to put things in their proper context, folks.

The troubled water that he now finds himself treading is not quite as hot as some would have us believe. Although he is by no means ideologically perfect for my purposes (Who is?) Al Franken is one of the consistently finest statesmen to come along in my lifetime. I'm standing by him.

Tom Degan 
Goshen, NY 


Look back in laughter. Here are Al Franken and Tom Davis in their not-ready-for-prime, October 1980:

The glory days of SNL