Al Franken Provides Comic Relief at the Grateful Dead’s 1980 Halloween Concert: A Tribute to Our Favorite Deadhead Senator

Our illus­tri­ous Sen­a­tor from Min­neso­ta Al Franken has long been a Dead­head, or at least an ardent fan. He and com­e­dy part­ner Tom Davis were the first writ­ers hired by Sat­ur­day Night Live in 1975 and occa­sion­al­ly also per­formed rou­tines on the show. They were also Grate­ful Dead fans respon­si­ble for get­ting the band booked on SNL.

So by the time 1980 and the eight-night res­i­den­cy of the Grate­ful Dead at Radio City Music Hall rolled around, Franken and Davis were asked to host the final night, Hal­loween, for a show that was simul­cast on radio and closed cir­cuit tele­vi­sion to 14 movie the­aters around the coun­try. Their job? To help enter­tain view­ers and fill the two 40-minute breaks in the Dead­’s show.

For Radio City Music Hall, the event saved its finan­cial skin. Accord­ing to Rolling Stone, by the late ‘70s, “with New York City in fis­cal freefall, Radio City’s future was sud­den­ly shaky; movie atten­dance dropped, and plans to con­vert it into an office build­ing or park­ing lot loomed.”

The solu­tion was to book pop and rock acts. The first was Lin­da Ron­stadt. The sec­ond was the Dead, and soon Dead­heads descend­ed on Rock­e­feller cen­ter, buy­ing up 36,000 tick­ets.

Franken and Davis pre-taped many of the seg­ments, and the Dead loved mock­ing them­selves. There’s a Jer­ry Lewis Telethon par­o­dy for “Jerry’s Kids,” where Franken urges dona­tions for acid casu­al­ties; Bob Weir’s lux­u­ri­ous hair is admired; drugs and penis jokes abound; and at one point Davis “mis­tak­en­ly” drinks acid-dosed urine and trips out. (In real­i­ty, Davis actu­al­ly had dropped acid for the live por­tion.)

Radio City’s lawyers sued after the con­certs for dam­ag­ing its rep­u­ta­tion, but lat­er set­tled. A com­pi­la­tion video of the Hal­loween show and the pre­vi­ous night’s con­cert was released in 1981 as Dead Ahead, the source of these clips.

Tom Davis died in 2012 from throat and neck can­cer; and Al Franken rep­re­sents the cit­i­zens of Min­neso­ta, but did briefly take over SiriusXM’s Grate­ful Dead chan­nel in May of 2017 to host a full day of music and inter­views with Bob Weir, Bill Kreutz­mann and Mick­ey Hart, the sur­viv­ing mem­bers of the Dead (always an iron­ic turn of phrase).

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sen­a­tor Al Franken Does a Pitch Per­fect Imi­ta­tion of Mick Jag­ger (1982)

Al Franken Effort­less­ly Draws the Map of Amer­i­ca

11,215 Free Grate­ful Dead Con­cert Record­ings in the Inter­net Archive

Bob Dylan and The Grate­ful Dead Rehearse Togeth­er in Sum­mer 1987. Lis­ten to 74 Tracks.

The Grate­ful Dead Play at the Egypt­ian Pyra­mids, in the Shad­ow of the Sphinx (1978)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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