Al Franken

Alan Stuart Franken (born May 21, 1951) is an American comedian, actor, author, screenwriter, political commentator and radio host, noted for his liberal politics.

Franken first achieved national prominence on Saturday Night Live as the writing and performing partner of Tom Davis. His more recent career accomplishments are politically oriented, authoring books such as Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations and serving as host of the flagship program from the liberal Air America Radio network. He is currently considering running for the United States Senate as a Democrat, representing Minnesota, and in 2005 he established Midwest Values PAC to lay the groundwork for that possible campaign.

Franken was born in New York City into a Jewish family, and grew up in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, in suburban Minneapolis. He graduated in 1969 from The Blake School, where he was on the wrestling team. He attended Harvard University and graduated cum laude in 1973 with a Bachelor of Arts in government.

Franken met his wife, Franni, in his first year at college at a Harvard-Simmons mixer, and they have been together ever since. They have a daughter, Thomasin, and a son, Joe (both attended New York City's prestigious Dalton School). Joe attends Princeton University and Thomasin is a public school teacher in New York City, with a degree in sociology from Harvard University. The Frankens reside in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Franken is also a Grateful Dead fan, as evidenced by the use of their music as segues to commercials on his radio show.

Franken is a distant cousin of CNN's Bob Franken. His older brother, Owen Franken, is a photojournalist.

Franken's performing career began in high school, where he and longtime writing partner Tom Davis were known as class clowns. Franken honed his writing and performing skills at Minneapolis's Dudley Riggs' Brave New Workshop theater specializing in political satire. He and Davis soon found themselves in "a life of near-total failure on the fringes of show business in Los Angeles."

Franken and Davis were recruited as two of the original writers on Saturday Night Live (1975-1980, 1985-1995). Franken was awarded three Emmy Awards and seven Emmy nominations for his television writing and production. He created characters such as self-help guru Stuart Smalley and schticks such as proclaiming the 1980s to be the "Al Franken Decade". Franken was associated with SNL for over 15 years and in 2002 interviewed former Vice President Al Gore while in character as Smalley. Franken and Davis wrote the script to the 1986 comedy film One More Saturday Night and they both had roles as rock singers in a band called "Bad Mouth."

Franken's most notorious SNL sketch may have been "A Limo for the Lame-O", a commentary delivered by Franken near the end of the 1979–80 season. Franken mocked controversial NBC president Fred Silverman as "a total unequivocal failure" and displayed a chart showing the poor ratings of NBC programs. Al proclaimed that Silverman did not deserve a limo unlike Al, a comedian on a popular NBC program. According to associates of the show, Silverman's anger over the sketch helped prompt him to abandon negotiations with SNL creator Lorne Michaels and seek a different producer for SNL's sixth season.

Besides having written five New York Times bestselling books, three of which reached #1 (including Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations), Franken wrote the original screenplay and starred in the theatrical flop Stuart Saves His Family. He also co-wrote the hit film When A Man Loves A Woman. These movies are still used as an aid by various addiction programs. He co-created and starred in the NBC sitcom LateLine, but low ratings led to its cancellation halfway through the second season, with only twelve of the nineteen episodes airing. He had a cameo as "Baggage Handler #2" in the Eddie Murphy/Dan Aykroyd film Trading Places.

In 2003, Franken served as a Fellow with Harvard's Kennedy School of Government at the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. He also became the first nationally syndicated radio talk show host to visit Iraq, where he headlined two USO shows. Franken has done five USO tours to date.

Since May 2005, Franken has been a contributing blogger at The Huffington Post. Franken's most recent book, The Truth (with jokes), was released on October 25, 2005. A film titled Al Franken: God Spoke is scheduled for release in 2006.

On January 13, 2004, it was announced that Franken would enter the radio business. He signed a one-year contract to become a talk show host for Air America Radio's flagship program, The O'Franken Factor with co-host Katherine Lanpher. The inaugural broadcast kicked off the network's launch at noon EST on March 31, 2004. Franken said that the he chose the "O'Franken" in the title was "to annoy and to bait" Bill O'Reilly (of The O'Reilly Factor) to sue him again, thus bringing publicity to Franken's show. O'Reilly never did, so on July 12, 2004, the program was renamed The Al Franken Show. Franken has said that one of his primary goals was to "get Bush unelected", and that he might end the show if President Bush lost the 2004 election. He decided in 2005, after Bush's reelection, that he would do the show for at least two more years. In December 2005, the show moved from New York to Minneapolis.

Franken has composed introductory theme songs for some of his regular guests. When introducing liberal think-tank director Christy Harvey, Franken sings the following song in a meandering lounge style over a piano track to the tune of "Misty":

Talk to me
Talk about the right wing's dishonesty
She is the Center for American Progress's
Director of Strategic Communications
She's my Christy, Christy Harvey is here.

When introducing Judd Legum (also a director of the Center for American Progress), Franken co-opts the melody of the popular Beatles song "Hey Jude":

Hey Judd
Don't be a putz
You were born to
Be on our program today
The minute you give us the scoop
We'll know the poop
And make it better.

As discussed on his 21 July 2006 radio program, Franken applies what he calls the "Tim Robbins Rule": He generally does not invite entertainment-industry celebrities to be guests on the show. The rule is named after actor Tim Robbins based on a request Robbins made to be on the show, which Franken turned down (in the first week of the show in 2004). Franken clarified the rule to say that celebrities could not come on the show to talk about politics, but could come on to perform or sing (the "Meg Ryan" rule).

Amid rumors of a pending announcement of bankruptcy by Air America, Franken has expressed confidence that the network and his program will continue, though he has admitted that the network has fallen behind in his pay. Franken makes a reported $2 million a year hosting his radio program. The show, along with the network as a whole, has struggled in ratings battles against more established programs, although The Al Franken Show has consistently been Air America's highest rated show.

Franken's time at Air America Radio has not been without some scandal and controversy. In September of 2005, The New York Sun reported that Al Franken was among the signers of a confidential agreement in November 2004 that said the Air America network would repay $875,000 it had borrowed from the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club, a Bronx nonprofit organization. The legality of the loan is under criminal investigation by New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Although Al Franken was one of the signers of the November 2004 confidential agreement to repay the Gloria Wise loan, Franken maintains that he was not aware of the details regarding Gloria Wise in the agreement and simply signed it under the advice of legal counsel (see Air America-Gloria Wise loan controversy). On September 8, 2005, The New York Sun quoted Air America CEO Danny Goldberg's defense of Al Franken: "Al Franken does not have and never had any responsibility for this loan." Piquant LLC, the parent company of Air America, has repaid the entire $875,000 into an escrow account.

In October 2005 his on-air partner Katherine Lanpher left the show to meet a book deadline. In November, Franken told an audience in Berkeley, California that he would not seek a replacement for Lanpher.

In August 2003, Penguin Books published Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Fox News sued, claiming that Franken infringed its registered trademark rights in the phrase, "Fair and Balanced." Fox was unsuccessful, with a federal judge finding the lawsuit to be "wholly without merit." The lawsuit focused a great deal of media attention upon Franken's book and is credited with enhancing its sales. Reflecting later on the lawsuit during an interview on the National Public Radio program Fresh Air on September 3, 2003, Franken said that Fox's case against him was "literally laughed out of court," and added that the judge's comment that the case was "wholly without merit" was a good characterization of Fox News itself.

In June 2003, Franken wrote a satirical letter to then Attorney General John Ashcroft, in which he asked Ashcroft to be a role model for the youth of America by sharing "a moment when you were tempted to have sex, but were able to overcome your urges through willpower and strength of character." Franken proposed including the contribution in a book he claimed to be was writing called Savin' It!. Franken said he wanted administration officials who promoted premarital abstinence to provide examples of when they had actually abstained themselves, showing the youth that they "truly walked the walk — instead of just talking the talk — by not having sex until they are married." The letter stated that other conservative leaders (then HHS secretary Tommy Thompson, William J. Bennett, then White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, Senator Rick Santorum and then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice) had already submitted their testimonies. All of these figures either supported "abstinence from sex until marriage" promotional programs in school, or worked for people that did. The letter was written on letterhead from the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government where Franken was a fellow at the time.

In truth, Franken was not writing a serious book about abstinence nor did he receive testimony from any of the people he mentioned. Al Franken claimed that the letter was obviously satirical. Although Franken's fans believed there was a prankish spirit in the letter, some conservative critics claimed there was no obvious satirical intent in his actions and charged the comedian with being a hypocrite who lied in order to make fun of the concept of abstinence-only sex education programs.

The following month Franken wrote a letter of apology to Ashcroft in which he told the truth about the subject matter of his book, the purpose of his abstinence letter to the Attorney General, and apologized for "any discomfort" caused to conservative leaders whom he claimed to have responded to the letter but in reality had not-- and that they would receive the letter of apology. Franken expressed his biggest regret over "sending the letter on Shorenstein Center stationery", writing, "I am very embarrassed to have put them in this awkward and difficult position, and I ask you not to hold this against the Center, the Kennedy School or Harvard in general." He then asked that Ashcroft take his "original letter with a measure of humor with which it was intended."

In the early stages of the 2004 presidential election, Franken was at a support rally at the Palace Theater in Manchester, New Hampshire for governor Howard Dean in his bid for the Democratic Party nomination. A supporter of perennial candidate Lyndon LaRouche attempted to shout down the governor, who was taking questions from the audience. Two members of Dean’s security team immediately moved toward the man, who shoved and elbowed them. According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, "... Franken emerged from the crowd and was elbowed in the face by the heckler, knocking the comedian's glasses off. Franken, a former highschool wrestler, used a takedown move to attempt to immobilize the man." The heckler then managed to scramble over a few people onto a balcony railing, screaming at Dean. He eventually left the premises after theater manager Peter Ramsey threatened to call police. Franken said his tackle had nothing to do with Dean specifically, but that he was upholding the right to free speech, and that he "would have done it if the heckler was a Dean supporter at a Kerry rally." Conservative bloggers criticized Franken for physically assaulting somebody speaking his mind.

Franken had been a strong supporter of Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone, who was killed in a plane crash shortly before the 2002 elections.

Franken announced in November 2003 that he was considering moving back to Minnesota, his home state, to run for the Senate seat held by Wellstone's successor Norm Coleman in the 2008 election. On April 28, 2005, reported that Franken, who had previously promised that if he was to run for office he would move to Minnesota and broadcast from the Twin Cities, was doing just that. "I can tell you honestly, I don't know if I'm going to run, but I'm doing the stuff I need to do, in order to do it," Franken said. He has said that he would run as a Democrat, stating that "Democrats care so much more for the poor than Republicans do".

He talked about his political aspirations when he went on The Daily Show on October 25, 2005 to promote his book, The Truth (with jokes), saying that if he ran, he would run on a platform of universal health coverage and expanding alternative energy -- a message that he would repeat on the March 15, 2006 episode of The Colbert Report. Stephen Colbert jokingly egged him on to make a declaration, asking him to announce his candidacy right then (which the audience applauded), but Franken refused. He has previously claimed that he would not be able to decide if he would run for a seat in the Senate until 2007, stating that he has written this in a chapter of his new book.

Franken's books express strong support for abortion rights, gun control laws, same-sex marriage, environmental protections and a revamped income tax system burdening the wealthy more than the poor and middle classes. In the postscript of The Truth (with jokes), Franken joked that if elected to the Senate, in the two week window between the Senate's swearing in and Bush's leaving office, he would push for a "quickie impeachment."

In late 2005, Franken started his own political action committee called Midwest Values PAC. In a period of a little over two months, the PAC raised nearly $170,000.

* The Truth (with jokes) (Dutton Books, 2005) ISBN 0-525-94906-2
* Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right (Dutton Books, 2003) ISBN 0-525-94764-7
* Oh, the Things I Know! A Guide to Success, or Failing That, Happiness (Plume Books, 2003) ISBN 0-452-28450-3
* Why Not Me? (Delacorte Press, 1999) a parody-journal of the fictional “Franken campaign” for President ISBN 0-385-31809-X
* Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations (Delacorte Press, 1996) ISBN 0-385-31474-4
* I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough and Doggone It, People Like Me: Daily Affirmations By Stuart Smalley by Al Franken, Stuart Smalley (Dell, 1992) ISBN 0-440-50470-8

* Had a brief role in one scene of the HBO series From the Earth to the Moon. His character counsels President John F. Kennedy's advisers to send an unmanned ship to the moon, scoop up some rocks, and send them around the world "for propaganda purposes" rather than sending human explorers there, adding, "It sure as hell won't cost 20 billion dollars."

* IS CNN Anchor, Bob Franken's cousin. Source: CNN interview w/Wolf Blitzer 28 SEP 2006.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home