Welcome to Laughing with Longreads! Here you’ll find an essay by a famous comedian, or an interview, or a piece of fiction. Sometimes there will be philosophy or history or satire. There may be discussions about the intersection among comedy, race, queer identity, feminism, poverty and more. You’ve been warned.
There’s not much point in the editor-in-chief of a humor magazine tak- ing a diplomatic trip to Washington D.C. The Constitution already protects parody, and “The Aristocrats” is covered by the first amendment. We live in a country where humor goes relatively unregulated, where the greatest threat are those working standards and practices—something this humor maga- zine doesn’t have to worry about.
So why go to Washington, Mr. Cole? The obvious target would be a visit to the President an attempt to gain national recognition as a small business built by a conglomeration of people—The Annual would be nothing without its writers and those who helped to Kickstart us—but the election season has ended, mercifully, so that tired old rhetoric is nothing more than tired and old.
The target: former Saturday Night Live Head Writer Al Franken. The same man whom Lorne Michaels chose as the heir to SNL when he left, had NBC not stepped in and selected a different producer. Any comedy nerd with a keen eye has seen Franken on the floor of the Senate in the past few years. Why is Stuart Smalley hanging around the Senate? Because he works there
now.Months ago, when hoping to get in touch with Senator Franken to sched- ule lunch with the sole purpose of discussing comedy (y’know, give the man a break from politics) I discovered that every Wednesday, Franken and his staff host a breakfast for his constituents (and apparently anyone else who signs up). Knowing that I had 400 copies of The Annual lying around and an open invitation to breakfast, I filled out an online form and was on my way to some complimentary Mahnomin Porridge and Orange Juice.
Senator Franken’s office is on the third floor of the Hart building. Un- fortunately the Hart building is listed as “Staff only” from 8 to 10 a.m., and breakfast began at 8:30 a.m.. I went through the visitor entrance at Dirksen and told a security guard about the staff-only dilemma standing between me and some delicious porridge. I was then told that the signs didn’t matter, and I could walk right past them. Such rampant disregard for the rules at this Sen- ate! Those reading this would be best to keep such information under wraps, lest it fall into the wrong hands.
The Hart building is really quite incredible to walk through, visually. Imagine a seven-story mall comprised of only Sharper Image and Apple stores. Yeah it’s that nice, and carpeted, and clean.
I arrived at Senator Franken’s office around 8:25, sat down, and enjoyed some Mahnomin Porridge. Now, I had never had porridge before. To me, it was a fictional offshoot of oatmeal consumed by bears and blonde trespass- ers. Suddenly, I achieved total clarity—why would anyone steal porridge? Be- cause it is INCREDIBLE!
The room was filled with native Minnesotans, and myself, a Marylander. I entered the environment with the usual neurosis—would I be shunned as an outsider, met with scowls, called out as a man with little stake in Minnesota’s political field only to see a former-SNL-writer-turned-politician? It was a fear ever-present in the back of my mind, a senseless fear immediately put at ease by welcoming Minnesotan smiles.
The Minnesotans and I sat and ate our Porridge for ten minutes before the Senator entered the room.
This was an odd moment for me; I was near the start of the room which Al would circle. Senator Franken was serious; as a Senator this is expected, but from the point of view of a man who had watched “Stuart Saves His Fam- ily” the night before, it was a little jarring. “How are you? Are you enjoying your porridge? Where are you from?” Al asked as he made his way around the room. I said I was from Maryland. Al responded in a very low-key tone, “I’ve heard of that place,” and then continued to make his way around the room.
Of course he had heard of that place—this man can draw a perfect map of the states FROM MEMORY! But I digress.
In my over-analysis of the introductions this was the most proper way to go about it. Get a feel for the room; get a feel for the crowd. Every comedian does it, and I’m sure it’s infinitely more important in the role of a politician.
We soon learned that five of the constituents in the room were Minne- sotan orthodontists in town for some sort of orthodontry convention. Al re- flected on the “David Letterman gap” he had corrected and found a nice tran- sition into discussing his upcoming colonoscopy; did I mention how good the porridge was?
He joked about how good his first one was and how he was worried that this next one may conflict with his tickets to see Louis C.K. Being unsure of how much of an interest Franken still had in the comedy world, this was a huge relief (also a huge source of jealousy, because I would’ve loved tickets to that show).
He didn’t really discuss Minnesotan politics, which wasn’t so bad, though I was content to let his constituents do the talking. One thing was wonderful- ly clear: Franken is still funny. I remember Conan O’Brien noting that Franken has had to hold back since becoming a serious public figure. Frankly, Franken“holding back” as he joked about colonoscopies while eating breakfast in the Senate was downright hilarious.
After about 20 minutes we moved out into the hallway for photo ops. I presented Al with a copy of The Annual. He looked at and smiled. I don’t re- member much of his initial reaction; it was mostly me, fumbling for words to explain how I had started a humor magazine and thought he would enjoy it. He held the magazine at his side and we posed for a picture.
I thought that was the end, I hand him the magazine, we snap a picture and he would send me on my way, back to the foreign land of Maryland. But Franken brought his copy of The Annual back up and began to thumb through it. He asked where we were from, and I explained that we ran out of Fred- erick, but how spread out the writing staff was. He seemed sincerely inter- ested in it. There were others behind me waiting for their own photo ops so he couldn’t hold on to the magazine throughout those shots (I mean, he could’ve; the publicity wouldn’t have hurt) but he turned to an aide, handed her a copy, and, just quietly enough for me to hear, Senator and Former SNL writer Al Franken said “a sick child,” then turned back to me and laughed.
Despite the fact that I am 22, I graciously accepted the honor. After all, I picked a profession where I can remain a sick child for a long as I please.
If you’re somehow reading this, Mr. Franken, that means I’ve hand delivered another issue to your office and that we are surely best friends. See ya around the Capitol, pal!