Al Franken is the junior senator from Minnesota, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and author of the number-one bestseller, Al Franken: Giant of the Senate. The interview has been edited and condensed.
Jon Wiener: For a long time you were really funny. But around 2008, you stopped being funny. What happened?
Al Franken: I was running for office, and I had thought that comedy would be an asset. But Republicans, right away, started putting everything I’d ever written or said through this $15 million machine called “The DeHumorizer.” It had been built with advanced Israeli technology to take out all the irony and context and hyperbole, just suck it out and leave you with something offensive. So it became very clear, very early in that race, that humor wasn’t going to be the thing. I had to let people know that I was serious about serving the people of Minnesota in the Senate. And it worked—barely—but it worked.
JW: You beat the Republican incumbent, Norm Coleman. How’s he doing these days?
AF: He landed on his feet. He now continues to serve the people of Minnesota—as a paid lobbyist for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
JW: I got the impression from your book that you don’t like Ted Cruz very much.
AF: Ted’s kind of a toxic coworker. He’s the guy who microwaves fish in the lunchroom. One thing you should know about Ted Cruz is that I like Ted Cruz probably more than most of my colleagues like Ted Cruz, and I hate Ted Cruz.
JW: What do you think about a political party whose final two candidates for the nomination were Ted Cruz and Donald Trump?
AF: Neither of them were terribly popular with establishment Republicans, and I think that Trump voters liked that. They’re mad at government, big government, and think there’s no difference between Republicans and Democrats. They look at big government as a self-serving entity that has no interest in their lives. I understand how they feel, and I think they’re wrong, but there are aspects of the way things work in Washington that they’re right about. Very often, these big corporate interests capture regulatory agencies. Citizens United means that they’ve captured campaign finance in our election system. So that’s why, very often, people who voted for Bernie in the primaries voted for Trump.