Disgraced former U.S. Senator Al Franken is trying to make a public comeback. What better way to test the waters than as a featured speaker at a political gathering in Nashville?
The fifth annual Politicon brought together political junkies from all stripes for what is nicknamed “Comic-Con of politics.” Simon Sidi, a former rock concert producer, organizes the event as he would a festival – a mix of political celebrities, public figures, and media personalities for panel discussions, interviews, and speeches. The two-day event is a mix of politics and entertainment. Franken was a headliner Saturday night.
The event works to further obfuscate the already ambiguous line between politics and entertainment and to embrace the full-on spectacle of politics. Sidi encourages fans to come see their “heroes” and “villains” duke it out on stage.
“It’s exactly like a festival,” he told Fortune. “I don’t come from a political world, I come from live entertainment and have been a political nerd for years. What we’re doing is pleasing ourselves, there’s no agenda we don’t expect people to sing ‘Kumbaya’ at the end. It seemed pretty obvious, and yet no one was doing it.”
“We’re not the Aspen Ideas Festival,” said Sidi. “We’re here for people who want to enjoy politics, which can sometimes be a bit of a pill.”
Franken, who resigned from office after accusations of inappropriate touching and sexual misbehavior surfaced from several women, used the opportunity as a part of his “redemption tour”.
“The president is an entertainer who won by exploiting the divisions in our country and spent his presidency dividing us more day after day. Anxious Americans on both sides have turned to the news and become more invested in one side or the other,” Franken said. “This weekend, political junkies will get to see and listen to some of their favorite and least favorite politicos, looking for drama, laughs, and maybe, maybe, some spectacle.”
Franken told those in attendance that he’s out of office but he still plans to speak his mind or something.
“I know a lot of you might be wondering what I’ve been up to,” Franken said at the event, which some nickname the “Comic-Con of politics.” “Well, when I left the Senate, I said that I was giving up my seat, but I wasn’t going to give up my voice … and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to do that and how to best make a difference.”
“An Evening with Al Franken” allowed Franken to showcase his routine that was part stand-up comedy, impersonations of former Senate colleagues like Bernie Sanders and Chuck Grassley, a walk down memory lane, and the inevitable political hot takes of current events. As you would expect, he tore into President Trump.
“I’d like to turn now to the essential task before us, which assuming he’s in the White House a year from now, is defeating the sick, cruel, corrupt psychopath,” Franken said. “Now that’s just my opinion.”
“The thing about Donald Trump is in addition to being a compulsive liar, a serial conman, a white supremacist and just kind of a jerk, this guy … does not know what he is doing,” he added.
There is nothing new or fresh in any of that, is there? He checked all the usual boxes in criticism of the president – mentally unstable, liar, conman, white supremacist – it’s all there. I don’t know about you but I prefer comedians who are able to deliver some original material, not warmed-over talking points from every Democrat in office.
Franken didn’t exactly receive a lot of attention from attendees, if this photo on Twitter is any indication. There are a whole lot of empty seats in the Music City Center auditorium.
One person stood up and yelled at Franken before leaving the room.
There was one tense moment during the speech.
After Franken explained “that’s why I’m a Democrat,” one attendee yelled out “You’re also a liar, a fraud and a sexual predator.”Franken seemed unfazed. “Ah don’t go,” he joked as the man left the room. He paused and added, “I’m sorry it’s a serious accusation and i take it seriously,” before returning to his scripted remarks.
Franken’s appearance was featured prominently in advertising of the event.
The organizer was pleased to get Franken as a speaker.
The “Saturday Night Live” alum was part of a robust line-up of divisive speakers who headlined Politicon, including Sean Hannity, James Comey and Tomi Lahren.
The event, now in its fifth year, drew thousands of people ― Republicans, Democrats and everyone in between ― from across the country to its new location in Nashville. Politicon, previously held in Los Angeles, has become a forum for media pundits, current and former lawmakers and celebrities to discuss and debate politics in front of crowds of political junkies.
When asked why Franken was tapped as a keynote for the fifth annual event, co-organizer Simon Sidi said he’s wanted to book Franken as a panelist for years.
“I’ve always wanted to get Al here anyway just because you know he’s so great and people love him so much,” Sidi told HuffPost. “We’re happy to have him, very happy.”
From the empty chairs to the heckler interrupting his speech by pointing out that he is much of what he accuses President Trump of being, it looks like Al Franken has a lot of work to do. His road to a comeback may be longer than he thinks.