Bookers for Tuesday’s late night comedy shows seemingly followed a similar “old white guys with baggage who would still be far better presidents than Donald Trump” strategy. The Jim Jefferies Show saw the garrulous Jefferies sitting down with his first-ever in-studio guest, 2016 independent presidential candidate and former CIA operative Evan McMullin who, while a noted social conservative on many issues, has built up some bipartisan respect for his ability to call Trump out on his authoritarian bullshit and general incompetence. Meanwhile, Trevor Noah and The Daily Show had former Vice President and guy who knows a hell of a lot about both climate change and being on the sort-of losing end of a disputed presidential election, Al Gore. There to promote his new documentary, the aptly titled An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power, the endearingly stiff and affable Gore made his usual persuasive case that even Donald Trump’s incoherent hissy fit in pulling the United States out of the Paris climate agreement will be irrelevant if individuals, state and local governments, and corporations adhere to the common sense standard of making sure Miami stays above water for a while longer. (We’re still in big, big trouble, however.)
But Stephen Colbert’s guest, Minnesota Senator and former Saturday Night Live legend Al Franken, stole all the various shows with his two-segment appearance. Like Gore, Franken was selling something, namely his newest political memoir, the humbly titled Al Franken: Giant Of The Senate. Indeed, both he and Colbert winkingly kept dropping the title into conversation, echoing Franken’s most famous riff on the subject of ironic self-promotion. Franken, as his book will attest no doubt, not only doesn’t suffer fools or political hypocrites, but makes such public figures themselves suffer, his 40-plus years of satirical practice in mocking those he sees as betraying the public trust a template for much of what Colbert and his late-night colleagues are doing. Still armed with a peerlessly self-possessed deadpan, Franken first pumps up Colbert, then sticks the needle in, pronouncing, “I don’t want you for a moment to think that what you do here every night is less important than what I do… even though it is less important.”
While Franken may have surprised people at first with his effectiveness in office, he’s become a trenchant and high-profile force in the Senate since his 2009 election. (Just ask Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos, or any number of other Trump minions who’ve been exposed by Franken in front of the unforgiving C-SPAN cameras this year.) Taking on the Republicans’ recent failure to repeal Obamacare (“Every plan they came up with was terrible.”), old nemesis Bill O’Reilly (“He didn’t understand that satire is protected speech even if the object of the satire doesn’t get it.”), the Trump nightmare, and his unlikely friendships with his more conservative senate cohorts, Franken also showed off his much improved “pivoting” skills, as he expertly dodged Colbert’s inevitable question about a rumored 2020 presidential run. As far as former TV personalities turned unlikely political figures go, the prospect of President Al Franken, in Franken’s eminently sensible and amusing appearance here, came off much preferable to, say, Senator Kid Rock, at any rate. Or something truly insane, like the host of a reality show having the nuclear codes, a premise SNL-era Al Franken would no doubt have rejected for being too fruitlessly silly for even the ten-to-one graveyard spot.