Dennis Miller, Bill Maher, Al Franken - we need a word to describe these comedians who turn to political punditry. Comediticians? I realized, while watching Al Franken: God Spoke, Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus' verité-ish documentary, that I haven't laughed out loud at anything Franken's done since Stuart Smalley was handing out free advice. Don't get me wrong, I admire the former "Saturday Night Live" cast member, current author/radio host and possible future U.S. senator from the state of Minnesota for fighting the good fight. In purely polemical terms, nobody's been a bigger thorn in President Bush's side. I just haven't found the fight all that amusing.
Humor may not be the point anymore. In God Spoke, we follow Franken around during the two years leading up to the 2004 presidential election. This was the time when Air America, the liberal answer to conservative talk-radio, was getting off the ground, with Franken in the catbird seat. And the guy seems to be on the road as much as the political candidates, drumming up support and eyeing the senate seat vacated by the death of his good friend Paul Wellstone. In fact, it's hard not to see God Spoke as an early campaign ad, although Franken is certainly a lot more entertaining than most members of the world's most exclusive club. He may have lost a step or two in his delivery, but he still moves through his life like a bull in a china shop, letting the chips fall where they may. I finally lost count of the number of times he used the F-word.
It's a kick when Franken calls Karen Hughes, the Bush administration's former point-woman, a liar, if not to her face, then to her back as she walks away. Those are the kinds of moments that fly-on-the-wall filmmaking is supposed to deliver. And God Spoke, which is from the same folks who brought us The War Room, delivers its share. But it feels a little cobbled together, a little directionless. Then again, maybe it was Franken's life that was being cobbled together as he transitioned from comeditician to politician.
At the end of the movie, with John Kerry suddenly yesterday's news, Franken takes some actual steps toward running in 2008. And two years later, with a Republican Congress suddenly yesterday's news, he may take some more, Air America having just declared bankruptcy. Will comedy's loss be politics' gain? Possibly, but you can't lose what you no longer have. At one point, Franken shares an old Buddy Hackett joke about a guy who has a penis growing out of his forehead with a semi-shocked audience. And it's surely no accident that his last words to us are "Okay, I won't tell that joke anymore." It's always nice when pottymouths clean up their acts. The thing is, Franken didn't tell the joke that well anyway.