On Tuesday night on the Upper East Side’s 92nd Street Y, David Letterman hosted Al Franken for a conversation I can only describe as “a treat.” I wasn’t there for work. This was a birthday present paid for well in advance that I wasn’t going to write about, but now I feel compelled because it was just so darn entertaining. (92nd Street Y seems to eventually archive these talks on their Periscope account, but it’s not there as of right now.) This talk was mostly about Franken – who is promoting a new book, Al Franken: Giant of the Senate – but the whole time I couldn’t stop thinking about Letterman and what his role is in today’s culture, because he sure doesn’t seem to be retired to me.
First, as mentioned, this was quite a treat. Al Franken, for anyone who has followed his career doesn’t, let’s say, “suffer fools.” He’s the type of interviewee who can easily throw off the most seasoned of interviewer: When you expect him to joke around, he’s dead serious; when he’s asked a serious question he thinks is dumb, he’s likely to take a shot at the person who asked the question. This is why Letterman is the perfect interviewer because he can’t be fazed at this point and there’s a real mutual respect, which led to a great discussion.
Letterman began by stating, “I’m starting to lose confidence in the Trump administration,” which got a big laugh. Letterman also asked Franken about Jared “Back Channel” Kushner and tried to get Franken to say Kushner’s actions were treason. (Franken gave a slightly more diplomatic answer, but jokingly chided Letterman for the way the question was asked.)
Franken spent the nearly 90-minute talk telling stories about his Senate colleagues, with particular ire toward Ted Cruz. (Franken’s line, “I think I like Ted Cruz more than most of my colleagues, and I hate Ted Cruz,” plays really well in front of a crowd.) Franken explained that there’s an unwritten rule about sharing private stories about conversations with other senators, but doesn’t adhere to that rule for Ted Cruz because Cruz himself breaks this rule all the time. Franken called Cruz, “The toxic guy at your office.” Going even further, “He’s the guy who microwaves fish.” (Honestly, I don’t think there’s a bigger insult that can be said about a coworker.)
Franken told story after story after story – and all the while David Letterman just looked so delighted.