Comedian Al Franken to receive Dallas VideoFest’s Ernie Kovacs Award


Comedy writer, standup and former US Senator Al Franken has been chosen to receive the Dallas VideoFest’s Ernie Kovacs Award, putting him in the company of such comedic innovators as Mike Judge, Amy Sedaris and Paul Reubens aka Pee-wee Herman.

Franken will come to Dallas on Sept. 22 to accept the award named after the 1950s television host whose groundbreaking style expanded the possibilities of the TV medium and inspired generations of comedians from David Letterman to Conan O’Brien.

“One can draw a very clear line between Ernie Kovacs’ characters like Percy Dovetonsils and Al Franken’s Stuart Smalley,” said VideoFest founder Bart Weiss in announcing the award. “Both understood how to harness the power of TV comedy to help us see the world differently.”

In this Feb.  22, 1961 file photo, TV author Ernie Kovacs, left, and Edie Adams appear on the...
In this Feb. 22, 1961 file photo, TV author Ernie Kovacs, left, and Edie Adams appear on the set of “Private Eye Private Eye.” Kovacs once said, “Television is a medium because it is neither rare nor well done.” (Anonymous / AP)

Smalley was developed for Saturday Night Live, where Franken was a member of the original writing team. In two stints, he stayed with the show for 15 seasons, winning five Emmys. “Yes, Al, we obviously think you are good enough, smart enough and doggone it people like you,” Weiss said, echoing the character’s oft-repeated self-affirmation.

“Ernie Kovacs’ influence on comedians of my generation is not often told these days. I was maybe 10 years old when I first watched The Ernie Kovacs Show,” Franken, 71, said in a statement released by the VideoFest. “Like many young, avid fans of comedy, I was immediately struck by his wholehearted and brilliant embrace of absurdity…I am humbled that the Dallas VideoFest is honoring me with the Ernie Kovacs Award. I’m not sure I deserve it.”

Franken turned to politics in the early aughts and was elected to two terms in the Senate by voters in his home state of Minnesota. He became known for his studious grip on political issues, which he turned into withering questioning of witnesses.

In 2018, he resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct, a decision he has since said he regrets. No formal inquiry was conducted as dozens of fellow Democratic senators quickly called for him to step down.

Franken recently restarted his standup comedy career, including a tour stop at the Majestic Theater last fall. “I took pride in that,” he said of his close attention to detail in an interview before the appearance. “It’s a big advantage to have been a performer. You listen better. People don’t listen. So, I’m smart.”

Mike Judge (center), creator of 'Beavis & Butthead', 'King of the Hill' and 'Office Space,'...
Mike Judge (center), creator of ‘Beavis & Butthead’, ‘King of the Hill’ and ‘Office Space,’ received the Ernie Kovacs Award from (L) Edie Adams, Ernie Kovac’s widow, and (R) Bart Weiss, Director of the Dallas Video Festival, at The Fourteenth Annual Dallas Video Festival at the Kalita Humphreys Theater.(Chris Hamilton/153322)

The Kovacs Award grew out of the first program at the inaugural VideoFest in 1987, when Kovacs’ widow, Edie Adams, showed excerpts of his work. The award was last bestowed in 2019, going to actor and Monty Python member John Cleese.

Franken will receive the award at the Texas Theatre, followed by a screening of the 2006 documentary Al Franken: God Spoke. Tickets go on sale soon for $40 at videofest.org.

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