See more of the story

Before his stint as a U.S. senator, Al Franken accomplished a great deal in comedy: helping launch "Saturday Night Live," writing "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot," starring in his own sitcom, playing radio host and convincing us to love Stuart Smalley, gosh darn it.

But he only recently started hitting the road as a stand-up, a role that can trip up even the most agile of comic minds.

If Franken is struggling with his new endeavor at the age of 71, it doesn't show, at least not while filling in as guest host on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" Tuesday and not during the first of his four nights at Acme Comedy Co.

On Wednesday, Franken gave the intimate audience at the Minneapolis club a sampling of different styles of comedy, like he was teaching a class on the history of humor. His Borscht Belt jokes, which included one he borrowed from Buddy Hackett, showed off impeccable timing. He had dirty one-liners that kill at office parties. He did dead-on impressions of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Charles Grassley. He even saluted ventriloquism by introducing his new friend, Petey, a puppet who exposed the darker side of his operator — and then threw up on the front row.

But most of his 75-minute set was dedicated to his political life in Washington. At times it felt like Acme was the backroom of a D.C. bar with Franken presiding over a raucous night of gossip.

That image was strengthened by the fact that Sen. Amy Klobuchar was seated in the fourth row, a visit that Franken took full advantage of by coaxing reactions out of his former colleague. Klobuchar, who got a mighty round of applause before taking her seat, was more than game to play along. At one point, she even punctuated her own punchline by standing up and taking a bow.

Franken, who has sold-out shows at Acme through Saturday, talked openly about having to tone down the humor in Washington during his first term when even fellow Democrats like Sen. Dianne Feinstein were skeptical about a comedian in the Capitol. But he shared how he still found time to crack up his colleagues at retreats and in hallways, especially with a Willie Nelson joke that would surely make the country-music troubadour howl with laughter.

There were some somber moments. He paid tribute to his wife, Franni, recounting her hardscrabble childhood and how the government made it possible for her family to elevate themselves into middle-class status.

"They tell us in this country to pull yourself up by your bootstraps," Franken said. "But first you have to have the boots."

Franken mostly danced around the accusations of sexual harassment that led to his 2018 resignation from the Senate, but he made it clear that the lack of support from fellow Democrats at the time still stings.

"I'm still mad at my former colleagues," he said. "But I'm still a Democrat."

Franken was less political Tuesday while filling in for Kimmel, although he did share a sketch that temporarily put him back in office. During the opening monologue, he challenged the studio audience to imagine a future D.C. hearing that would reveal even more about the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. Cameras then cut to a pre-taped bit in which Franken played a fictional congressman grilling a military attaché, portrayed by Bob Odenkirk.

Franken's character got the witness to share how the former president devised a Wile E. Coyote-type trap for Mike Pence and danced a jig when he incorrectly believed his vice president has been attacked.

He seemed genuinely tickled that some In the audience understood a fairly obscure reference to Stormy Daniels.

He also made time to take digs at one of his all-time favorite targets.

"I probably liked Ted Cruz more than most of my colleagues liked Ted Cruz," he said with a joke he repeated Wednesday. "And I hate Ted Cruz."

Franken may have never hosted a late-night TV show before, but he seemed extremely comfortable in the role, deftly handling interviews with Odenkirk and surprise guest Rhea Seehorn, who both starred in "Better Call Saul," the AMC series that ended its critically acclaimed run on Monday. Franken revealed that he had watched the finale at Odenkirk's home.

He showed he knew all about the art of kissing up to a guest when Rep. Katie Porter, a Democrat from California, joined him on stage, praising her for turning C-SPAN into must-see TV.

He even mustered up the appropriate amount of enthusiasm when introducing musical guest Los Lobos, who closed out the evening with "Love Special Delivery," a song from the band's latest album, "Native Sons."

Those were no hints on "JKL" or at Acme Wednesday that Franken is considering another run for office. He's having too good a time campaigning for laughs.