On his first day as the newest senator from Minnesota, Democrat Al Franken reprimanded his chief of staff, Drew Littman, for gently ribbing one of the new staff assistants.
In an effort to appear senatorial, Franken has banned all jokes at the office and in the Capitol building by anyone representing him, including himself.
"We thought he was joking when he said no jokes," but he turned deadly serious when he heard Drew asking the staff assistant whether that the orange checked tie was something he'd gotten from his dad's closet or paid $100 for as the latest fashion," said another staff assistant who asked not to be named. "Then in the staff meeting he was frowning when the schedulers walked in laughing, and asked what was so funny."
The former Saturday Night Live comic-turned politician faced an uphill battle in overcoming public perception that he was not statemanlike enough to be senator, despite his Harvard education.
Memories of Franken's fictional SNL character, Stuart Smalley, remain fresh among Minnesotans, apparently. And during the campaign Franken -- who defeated opponent Norm Coleman by such a slim margin that he was only able to assume his seat eight months after the other freshman senators due to litigation -- was dogged by an article he wrote in Playboy magazine titled "Porn-O-Rama!."
Franken is working hard to revise his image into a worker bee politician who is ready to buckle down into the minutae of health care and the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. (Franken has been appointed to the committees overseeing the health care overhaul and judicial nominees.)
In a turn before the microphones Tuesday, Franken disappointed reporters by sticking to a meat and potatoes script, mentioning such poll-tested terms as "rational health care system," "decent day's wage for an honest day's work," and "education that prepares them for a 21st-century economy."
After ending his statement vowing to "get to work" Franken turned around, without a smile, and walked away.