F. Scott Fitzgerald may be enjoying yet another resurgence thanks to Leo DiCaprio, but his oft-quoted clunker that “there are no second acts in American life” seems more wrongheaded than ever. Fitzgerald, of course, didn’t live to see modern American electoral politics–where yesterday is as distant as the Stone Age and name recognition (for any reason whatsoever) is the ultimate currency. The former SNL comedian Al Franken rode his peculiar pony of fame to a highly disputed seat in the US Senate in 2009. He looked at the time to be precariously seated (he won a recount by a mere 312 votes). Now he seems poised to be a beltway fixture; the GOP can’t find anyone formidable to run against him.
As comedians go, Franken is no Jonathan Winters (oh, what a Senator he would have made!). Franken has Harvard pedigree (B.A., Government) and a long career in network TV, which if you believe anybody’s memoir includes more backstabbing and less consensus than a typical Senate confirmation hearing. But is a career in comedy legitimate preparation for a legislator? Even putting aside polls that say a vast majority of Americans think Congress is filled with clowns? Both jobs require a cavernous desire to be appreciated, endless ingratiating and importuning, and the ability to command attention. Plus some skill with hecklers helps. Now why would a successful comedian want to be a Senator is another question entirely. Power? That’s something a comedian invariably surrenders to the audience. Senators, not so much. Franken will tell Minnesotans just what his character Stuart Smalley used to repeat as a daily affirmation: “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.” (There is always a little bit of the first act in the second.) Right now they seem ready to agree.