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Al Franken Goes Grim

Bears poop in the woods, the Pope is Catholic, and Republicans are beating up on Senate candidate Al Franken for his old comedy routines. No surprise there.

The weird thing in the Minnesota Senate race lately, though, has been Franken's way of defending himself: not by using humor but by turning deadly serious, even dour. If you'd just been dropped into Minneapolis from the deep Amazon, you'd think Coleman was the one with the sense of humor (a nauseatingly corny one, but still) and Franken was the uptight pol who couldn't take a joke. Check out Franken's latest television ad, a response to a clownish Norm Coleman spot deriding an old Franken porn parody: 

Franken has encountered the Great Dilemma for gimmick candidates: Do you play up your gimmick shamelessly or do you flee from it, insisting you're just a regular guy who got tapped to run thanks to your sudden, gripping urge to serve the nation rather than your Superbowl-winning pass or high-grossing big-screen turn as a lonely Wall Street exec who finds love with a sexy yoga instructor?

Maybe it's just my selfish, aesthetic desire to see politicians mincing around in NFL helmets or adopting outlandish pop-culture catchphrases (think Arnold co-opting SNL's "girlie men"), but I tend to think gimmick/celebrity candidates too often err on the safe side, leading them to inadvertently reject the very rationales for their candidacies. There's a reason, after all, their parties chose them over that vanilla state senator. Al Franken, moreover, is running in Minnesota, which elected as its governor a pro wrestler who ran ads featuring his own action figure, for God's sake. I don't mean Franken ought to make himself ridiculous. But where's the humor in his campaign? Comedy can be great on the trail -- it's incisive and humanizing at the same time. Franken comes off like he's embarrassed by the whole concept. 

-- Eve Fairbanks