Review: Al Franken was good enough, smart enough as host of 'The Daily Show'

Neal Justin, Star Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

Al Franken's week behind the "Daily Show" desk won't inspire a campaign to make him the long-running program's permanent host. But it was a firm reminder that the former Minnesota senator's top priority these days is comedy.

The man who once lobbied, unsuccessfully, to be the "Weekend Update" anchor on "Saturday Night Live," started his four-night gig with a high-profile visit.

The guest was Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican senator who forged an unlikely friendship with Franken during their mutual time in Congress. Franken would resign in 2018 after accusations of sexual impropriety.

Their fondness for each other may have robbed viewers of any meaningful debate. The two each squeezed in their differing talking points on former President Donald Trump, but the chat felt a lot like a photo opportunity with both holding back any serious jabs. Franken even reiterated his belief that Graham was the funniest person he had met in Washington. The extended version of their conversation, available only online, had slightly more spark, but no fireworks.

Franken continued to toss softballs to his other guests, as well, which included "Succession" actor Alan Ruck, author Heather McGhee and drag queen BenDeLaCreme. But "TDS" has never been known for its penetrating interviews.

When the Comedy Central show debuted in 1996 with host Craig Kilborn and co-creator Lizz Winstead, both of whom hail from Minnesota, it was primarily a takedown of smug journalists. Under the leadership of Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah, it became much more political, reflecting — and occasionally influencing — the liberal agenda.


Franken upheld that tradition. His defense of increased funding for the IRS could have been a guest editorial on "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver." But his material wasn't nearly as inventive as anything on that Emmy-winning series. Going after Fox News and Trump may have gotten him lots of applause, but for a veteran comic who created a character as rich and complex as Stuart Smalley, it must have felt like easy target practice.

He had much better material to work with when he took over for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" last August.

As the guest host of "TDS," Franken didn't just read headlines.

In one sketch on Monday, he pretended to be a booking officer who turns on the wind machine seconds before snapping Trump's mug shot.


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