Al Franken Hated This Charlton Heston Ad-Lib on ‘SNL’

‘The only problem is, while you’re waiting for your gun, criminals are stealing theirs and running amok!’
Al Franken Hated This Charlton Heston Ad-Lib on ‘SNL’

Al Franken is returning to comedy. Now on the road with his unimaginatively named “An Evening of New Stand-up With Al Franken” tour, the comic/pundit offers a night of storytelling about his days as a U.S. Senator, his famous showbiz friends and backstage gossip from Saturday Night Live. 

On the tour’s first stop in Chicago, Franken reminisced about SNL host and National Rifle Association (NRA) President Charlton Heston. “I did enjoy working with Heston,” Franken tells Forbes. “He had a sense of humor about himself.” Watch that sense of humor in action in this sketch about a new law requiring a five-day waiting period when purchasing a gun. No problem, says Heston — the NRA will be happy to loan you one while you wait. 

While the sketch was plenty pro-gun already, Franken says Heston threw in a line that wasn’t in the script. The self-described “actor, sportsman and gun collector” outlined the bill that Bill Clinton had just signed into law, then added this rejoinder: “The only problem is, while you’re waiting for your gun, criminals are stealing theirs and running amok!” A smirking Heston paused for an applause break that never came. 

“He did that and I went, ‘Oh, fuck it,’” said Franken. “It was just not worth it, you know? That wasn’t a funny line. That’s the thing. It didn’t help the comedy at all. It was just an editorial viewpoint that he put in.”

Frankly, the glib sketch is pretty shocking without the Heston ad-lib. For historical context, it was still possible in 1993 to enact some sort of gun reform. People were mostly concerned about the threat of a crook pulling a pistol on them. Crooks, presumably, were worried that their victims might do the same, like when Bernhard Goetz shot four teens on a New York subway after they tried to rob him. The Brady Bill discussed in the sketch was named after James Brady, the press secretary who was shot when John Hinkley Jr. attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981. 

The new law’s background check would prevent customers with a history of criminal activity or mental illness from easily getting their hands on a gun. The waiting period provided time for a cool-down in case a gun was being purchased in a fit of rage. Not surprisingly, the NRA and Heston didn’t like to wait. 

In the sketch, Heston gleefully fondles firearms that the NRA would be glad to loan you. How about a .44 magnum, the kind Dirty Harry used? “This thing will blow your head off,” he boasts. The .38 snub-nosed police special is perfect for home protection with its hollow-nosed, human-killer ammo. Heston likes the Remington 38 Derringer because it’s easy to conceal. A semi-automatic with laser sighting is also swell for keeping your home safe. Imagine this sketch in Comedy Central reruns just a few years later after the Columbine High School massacre and subsequent mass shootings.

I wasn’t privy to Forbe’s entire conversation, but it’s hard to understand Franken’s disappointment with the actor’s editorializing. The throw-in line was completely in sync with the rest of the sketch’s firearm-fetish point-of-view. Granted, Heston’s ad-lib wasn’t a punchline. But it’s also hard to find the funny in “This thing will blow your head off.” 


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