Al Franken could become the first professional comedian to take a seat in the United States Senate

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Capitol Hill has never lacked for humor, inadvertent or otherwise. Over the centuries its denizens have provided the raw material of comedy — their ranks filled with magnificent egos, fakers and philanderers, not to mention the occasional statesman. As to the latter, the 19th-century House Speaker Thomas Reed offered this caution: a statesman “is a successful politician who is dead.”

Many lustrous names have tried their hand at legislative stand-up, or more likely its sophisticated precursor, the acid riposte. As a young congressman, Lincoln once advised that Democrats needed to get over their fixation with Andrew Jackson: “Like a horde of hungry ticks, you have stuck to the tail of the Hermitage Lion to the end of his life.”

About 160 years later, the barbed-tongued Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, silenced a Republican House colleague who had complained that he did not know what was inside a proposed bill: “This bill is five and a half pages — even the gentleman from Texas could have read it by now.”

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