Al Franken

Al Franken

Infobox Congressional Candidate
name = Al Franken

caption =
nominee = U.S. Senator from Minnesota
(2008 election)
incumbent = Norm Coleman
opponent = Norm Coleman
Dean Barkley
birth_date = birth date and age|1951|5|21
birth_place = New York, New York, USA
death_date =
death_place =
occupation = comedian, actor, author, screenwriter, political commentator, politician and radio host
alma mater = Harvard University
salary =
networth =
spouse = Franni Bryson Franken
children = Thomasin and Joe
website = [ Al Franken for Senate]
net worth =$4.3–9.9 million (USD) [ [ Al Franken worth between $4.3 million and $9.9 million - ] ]
footnotes =

Alan Stuart "Al" Franken (born May 21, 1951) is an Emmy Award–winning American comedian, writer, progressive political commentator, and, recently, politician. He gained fame as a writer and a performer for "Saturday Night Live", eventually writing and appearing in several films. Since then, Franken has become more known for his political commentary, writing numerous bestselling books and hosting a nationally-syndicated radio show on Air America Radio.

On February 14, 2007, Franken announced his candidacy for the 2008 United States Senate election in Minnesota as a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, and was nominated by that party on June 7, 2008. [ [ The Big Question » Blog Archive » It’s Franken in One ] ] He won the Democratic Party primary on September 9, 2008, defeating his closest opponent 65% to 29%. [ [ "Al Franken wins Senate nod amid 7 state primaries" By Brian Bakst] ] The seat is currently held by Republican Norm Coleman and was previously held by Paul Wellstone. [cite news | author=Chris Rovzar; Jessica Pressler | title=Al Franken Decides He's Good Enough, Smart Enough to Run for Senate | url= | work=New York Magazine | date=2007-02-01 | accessdate=2008-02-16]


Personal life

Franken was born in New York, the son of Phoebe G. (née Kunst), a homemaker and real estate agent, and Joseph P. Franken, a printing salesman. [ [ Ancestry of Al Franken ] ] [ [ Al Franken Biography (1951?–) ] ] Franken had a Jewish upbringingFact|date=September 2008 and grew up in St. Louis Park, a suburb near Minneapolis. Franken is a cousin of MSNBC's Bob Franken. [Fact|date=April 2008] His older brother, Owen Franken, is a photojournalist. Franken attended St. Louis Park High School until the tenth grade. He graduated in 1969 from The Blake School, where he was on the wrestling team. He attended Harvard College and graduated "cum laude" in 1973 with a bachelor of arts degree. At Harvard, Franken washed dishes as a participant in the work-study program with Richard Honaker, who was nominated by U.S. President George W. Bush in 2007 as one of three U.S. District Judges from Wyoming. [ [ Casper Star-Tribune Online - Top Story ] ]

Franken met his wife, the former Franni Bryson, in his first year of college at a Harvard-Simmons mixer, and they have been together ever since. They have a daughter, Thomasin, and a son, Joe, who both attended New York City's Dalton School. Joe graduated from Princeton University in June 2007. Thomasin was a public school teacher in New York City, with a degree in sociology from Harvard College, but is now volunteering full time for her father's campaign. The Frankens reside in Minneapolis. He is an active member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (Manchester Unity).

Writer and performer

Ramstein Air Base, December 2000.] Franken's performing career began in high school, where he and longtime writing partner Tom Davis were known for their humor. 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." [Hill, Doug and Weingrad, Jeff, "Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live" (Vintage Books, 1987) ISBN 0-394-75053-5]

Franken and Davis were recruited as two of the original writers (and occasional performers) on "Saturday Night Live" from 1975 to 1980 and again from 1985 to 1995, although in the latter case only Franken returned as a performer while Davis usually stayed behind the camera.

In the first season, as apprentice writers, the two shared a salary of US$350 per week. Franken received seven Emmy nominations and three Emmy Awards for his television writing and production. He created characters such as self-help guru Stuart Smalley and routines 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," appearing in it as rock singers in a band called "Bad Mouth." They also had cameos together in "" as promoter Ron Decline's (John Belushi) henchmen and in the Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd film "Trading Places" as the baggage handlers with the gorilla on the train.

Franken's most notorious "SNL" performance 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. Franken proclaimed that Silverman did not deserve a limo, unlike Franken, a comedian on a popular NBC program. As a result of this sketch, Silverman nixed Lorne Michaels's request that Franken succeed him as SNL's head producer, prompting Franken to leave the show when Michaels did, at the end of the 1979–80 season. [Shales, T: "Live From New York", page 191. Back Bay Books, 2003.] Franken later returned to the series in 1985, mostly as a writer but also as an occasional performer best known for the Stuart Smalley character. He acknowledged using cocaine while working for "Saturday Night Live" but he no longer uses any illicit drugs. [cite web| last =Cox| first =Ana Marie| title =Don't Laugh at Al Franken| publisher =CNN/Time| date =2007-04-05| url =,9171,1607252,00.html| accessdate = 2007-08-19] Franken left the show in 1995 in protest over losing the role of "Weekend Update" anchor to Norm MacDonald. [Shales, T: "Live From New York", pages 433-444. Back Bay Books, 2003.]

Besides writing 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 film "Stuart Saves His Family" [cite web|url=|title=The Al Franken Show from Woolsey Hall|date=2005-11-08] , which was panned by critics (receiving a rating of 29% on the website, He also co-wrote the film ""When A Man Loves A Woman"." He co-created and starred in the NBC sitcom "LateLine" until it was canceled in its second season. He appeared in the 2004 re-make of "The Manchurian Candidate" as Reporter #1, a role he joked was made specifically for him, saying: "Reporter #1 didn't appear in the original version."Fact|date=February 2008

In 2003, Franken served as a Fellow with Harvard's Kennedy School of Government at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. Later he became the first nationally syndicated radio talk show host to visit Iraq,Fact|date=March 2007 where he headlined two USO shows while traveling with Russell Burnham, the U.S. Army Soldier of the Year. Franken has done seven USO tours to date, his most recent being in mid-December 2006.

Since May 2005, Franken has been a contributing blogger at "The Huffington Post". Franken's most recent book, "The Truth (with jokes)," was released in 2005.

In June 2003, Franken wrote a letter to several conservatives who favored abstinence-only sex education. He asked the recipients to be role models for the youth of America by sharing "moment [s] when you were tempted to have sex, but were able to overcome your urges through willpower and strength of character." [ [ Franken's Letters to John Ashcroft] from "The Smoking Gun"] Franken proposed including the contribution in a book he claimed to be writing called "Savin' It!" The recipients included then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. The following month, Franken wrote each person who received the previous letter and apologized. He explained that his letter was satirical and said, "I am sincerely sorry if I caused any discomfort."

Radio show

Franken signed a one-year contract in early 2004 to become a talk show host for Air America Radio's flagship program with co-host Katherine Lanpher, who remained with the show until October 2005. The network was launched March 31, 2004. The show was originally named "The O'Franken Factor" but was renamed "The Al Franken Show" on July 12, 2004. The show aired 3 hours a day, 5 days a week for around 4 years. The aim of this apparent side-track was to counter the then dominance of rightwing syndicated radio commentators who Franken believed strayed from the truth with impunity, and to affect the U.S. political atmosphere. "I'm doing this because I want to use my energies to get Bush unelected", he told a "New York Times" reporter in 2004. [from "Al Franken, Seriously So" by Russell Shorto. [] ] The show was more commentary and interviews with progressive issues analysts than comedy. Franken is a Grateful Dead fan and used their songs as bumper music on his radio show. Franken's last radio show on Air America Radio was on February 14, 2007. In the last segment of the show, Franken announced his candidacy for the United States Senate.

Fox News conflict

In 2003, Penguin Books published Franken's book "", which included a cover photo of Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly and a chapter accusing O'Reilly, with whom Franken was feuding, of lying. In August of that year, Fox News sued, claiming infringement of its registered trademark phrase "Fair and Balanced". A federal judge found the lawsuit to be "wholly without merit" and Fox then filed to dismiss it. The episode with Fox focused a great deal of media attention upon Franken's book and, according to Franken, greatly increased its sales. Reflecting on the lawsuit during a September 2003 interview on the National Public Radio program "Fresh Air", 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.cite web | last = Saulny | first = Susan | authorlink = | date = August 23, 2003 | url = | title = In Courtroom, Laughter at Fox and a Victory for Al Franken | work = The New York Times | publisher = The New York Times Company | accessdate = 2005-10-05] After the lawsuit was dismissed, Franken and O'Reilly continued to feud.

Tax issues

New York state officials stated Al Franken Inc. failed to carry workers' compensation insurance for employees from 2002 to 2005. Franken paid the $25,000 fine to the state of New York upon being advised his corporation was out of compliance with the state's workers compensation laws.] [ [ Franken faces $25,000 workers' comp penalty ] ]

The California Franchise Tax Board reported that the same corporation owed more than $4,743.40 in taxes, fines and associated penalties in the state of California for 2003 through 2007 because the corporation did not file tax returns in the state for those years. [ New round of financial questions dogs Franken] Star Tribune April 24, 2008] A Franken representative said that it followed the advice of an accountant who believed when the corporation stopped doing business in California that no further filing was required. [] However, Republicans say that Franken made 32 public appearances from 2003 to 2007, including two on NBC's "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" taped in Burbank, California, for which Franken would have been paid the standard union fee as a member of the Screen Actors Guild. On April 29, 2008, Franken released a statement noting that he will pay about $70,000 in back income taxes in 17 states dating to 2003. Most of the income at issue was from speeches and other paid appearances by the comedian-turned candidate. Franken said he got bad advice from his accountant, who had told him to pay income tax only in his state of residence. He added that he will seek retroactive credit from the states where he paid income tax that should have been paid in these 17 states. [ [ Comedian-turned-candidate Franken to pay $70K in back taxes] , San Francisco Chronicle, April 29, 2008]

Political action

On SNL's Weekend Update segment in the late 1970s, Al Franken spoofed his ideas with a familiar line: "Vote for me, Al Franken. You'll be glad you did!" [,8599,1590138,00.html Vote for Me, Al Franken] , Richard Corliss, Time magazine, February 14, 2007.] In 1999, Franken released a parody book, "Why Not Me?," detailing his election for the Presidency in 2000. He had been a strong supporter of Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone. Wellstone's death in a plane crash shortly before the 2002 Senate election strongly affected Franken. After the funeral, Rush Limbaugh, Jesse Ventura, and conservative commentators criticized the remembrance ceremony and its participants for alleged overt displays of left-wing political sentiment. Columnists Peggy Noonan and Chris Caldwell asserted that 20,000 people booed Trent Lott. Franken, who attended, denied there was widespread jeering: "Along with everyone else, I cried, I laughed, I cheered. It was, to my mind, a beautiful four-hour memorial. I didn't boo. Neither did 22,800 of the some 23,000 people there." [ [ Reflections on the Wellstone Memorial and the King Funeral] , Al Franken, Huffington Post, February 11, 2006.]

Franken said he learned that 21% of Americans received most of their news from talk radio, then an almost exclusively conservative medium. Said Franken, "I didn't want to sit on the sidelines, and I believed Air America could make a difference."In November 2003, Franken talked about moving to his home state of Minnesota to run for the Senate. The seat once held by Wellstone, now occupied by Republican Norm Coleman, was to be contested in the 2008 election. In 2005, Franken announced his move to Minnesota: "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." [cite news
first=David Paul
title=Senator Franken?
] He said that he would run as a Democrat.

Franken's books express strong support for pro-choice views, gun control laws, same-sex marriage, environmental protections and a revamped, more progressive income tax system. 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 the end of Bush's term, he would push for a "quickie impeachment."

In late 2005, Franken started his own political action committee called Midwest Values PAC. By early 2007, the PAC had raised more than US$1 million. [cite web| url=| author=Chris Cilizza|| date=2007-02-05| accessdate=2007-08-08| title=Minnesota Senate: Is Franken the Dems' Dream Candidate?] [cite web| url=| publisher=Mother Jones| date=2007-09-01| accessdate=2007-09-01| title=Doggone It, People Like Him]

Franken was the subject of the 2006 documentary film "," which premiered in April 2006 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. It was released nationally on September 13 that year. [imdb title|id=0799916|title=Al Franken: God Spoke]

2008 U.S. Senate campaign

On January 29, 2007, Al Franken announced his departure from Air America Radio. [ [ Franken off the air] , Aaron Blake, The Hill, January 30, 2007.] On the day of his final show, February 14, Franken formally announced that he would run for the United States Senate from Minnesota in 2008. [cite news
title=Franken enters Minn. Senate race
publisher=Seattle Post-Intelligencer
] Challenging him for the Democratic endorsement was Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, a professor, author, and activist. Other candidates, Mike Ciresi, a wealthy trial lawyer; and Jim Cohen, an attorney and human rights activist dropped out of the race earlier. [Condon, Peter. [ Franken to seek nomination in U.S. senate race] , Globe and Mail, February 14, 2007] [, Pat Doyle and Kevin Duchschere. Retrieved 11 March 2008]

On April 13, 2007, Al Franken's campaign finance report was filed. He was able to raise US$1.35 million dollars in the first quarter of 2007. The incumbent Senator, Norm Coleman, was able to raise US$1.53 million dollars. [ [ Al Franken's Senate campaign gets off to big start] ,, April 14, 2007.] On July 8, 2007, the Franken campaign stated that it expected to announce that Franken had raised more funds than Coleman during the second quarter of the year, taking in US$1.9 million to Coleman's US$1.6 million, [cite web | author= | title=Franken Raises Over $1.9 Million In Second Quarter | url= | publisher=Al Franken for Senate | date=2007-07-08 | accessdate=2008-02-16] cite web| last=Mulcahy| first=Mike| title=Franken leads the pack in second quarter fundraising | work=Polinaut | publisher=MPR | date=2007-07-09 | url=| accessdate =2007-07-17] although as of early July 2007, Coleman's US$3.8 million cash on hand exceeded Franken's US$2 million.

On June 7, 2008, Franken was endorsed at the DFL convention, defeating University of St. Thomas Professor Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. In a July 2008 interview with CNN, Franken was endorsed by noted conservative speechwriter, economist, author and entertainer Ben Stein.cite web
title = Preston on Politics: Bueller? Bueller? -- McCain needs Rove
author=Preston, Mark
] Stein said of Franken,"He is my pal, and he is a really, really capable smart guy. I don't agree with all of his positions, but he is a very impressive guy, and I think he should be in the Senate." During his campaign for the Senate Franken advised SNL creator Lorne Michaels on a political sketch attacking and ridiculing Senator John McCain. Franken's opponent incumbent Senator, Norm Coleman's campaign reacted as saying, "Once again he proves he's more interested in entertainment than service, and ridiculing those with whom he disagrees,". [ [ Franken advises 'SNL' on sketch ridiculing McCain] ]

"Playboy" article

In late May 2008, the Minnesota Republican Party released a letter regarding an article Franken had written for "Playboy" magazine in 2000 entitled 'Porn-O-Rama!'. The letter, signed by six prominent GOP women, including a state senator and state representative, called on Franken to apologize for what they referred to as a "demeaning and degrading" article. [ ABC story anout 2008 letter regarding Playboy article written in 2000] ] Several DFL leaders expressed personal and political discomfort with the article. [ [] ] A Franken campaign spokesman said, "Al had a long career as a satirist. But he understands the difference between what you say as a satirist and what you do as a senator."


Franken has been a vocal critic of the Iraq War for several years and opposed the 2007 troop surge. However, he didn't criticize the invasion at the time, a fact he often admitted, with regret, on his radio program. In an interview with MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, [ Transcript, "Scarborough Country," MSNBC, December 7, 2005,] Franken said that he "believed Colin Powell," whose presentation at the United Nations convinced him that the war was necessary. Franken now believes that Congress should refuse to pass appropriations bills to fund the war if they don't include timetables for leaving Iraq. In an interview with Josh Marshall, Franken said of the Democrats, "I think we've gotta make [Bush] say, 'OK, I'm cutting off funding because I won't agree to a timetable.'" [, Joshua Marshall, June 14, 2007.]

Franken favors transitioning to a universal health care system, with the provision that every child in America should receive health care coverage immediately. He believes that private pensions and Social Security should be protected. [cite web | author= | title=Al on the Issues | url= | publisher=Al Franken for Senate | year=2008 | accessdate=2008-02-16] [ [ They love him, but it's a tough crowd] , Rachel Stassen-Berger, St. Paul Pioneer Press, February 18, 2007.] He wants to cut tax breaks for oil companies, increase money available for college students and cut interest rates on student loans. [ [ Al Franken Talks Politics] , Sarah Kirchner, Alberta Lea Tribune, February 21, 2007.]

Other notable events

Palace Theatre rally

During the 2004 presidential election, Franken was at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, New Hampshire, attending a rally for governor Howard Dean in his bid for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. A heckler attempted to shout down the governor, who was taking questions from the audience. When theater manager Peter Ramsey tried to calm the situation, the man began pushing and elbowing Ramsey. According to the "New Hampshire Union Leader," at that point Franken assisted Ramsey by temporarily restraining the heckler. When a second heckler appeared, "Franken and three other men escort [ed] the second heckler out the stage door." [ [ Al Franken Rousts Heckler From Dean Rally] , a January 2004 "New Hampshire Union Leader" article] The first heckler then left quietly after Ramsey threatened to call the police. Franken said that while he wasn't a Dean supporter, he restrained the heckler in order to uphold Dean's right to free speech, and that he "would have done it if [the heckler] was a Dean supporter at a Kerry rally."


Books by Al Franken

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

CDs and compilations

*"Best democracy money can buy: the truth about corporate cons, globalization, and high-finance fraudsters", with Greg Palast (2004)
*"The O'Franken Factor Factor - The Best of the O'Franken Factor"
*"The Al Franken Show Party Album"


*"Tunnel Vision" (1976)
*"The Rutles" (1978)
*"Trading Places" (1983)
*"One More Saturday Night" (1986)
*"When a Man Loves a Woman" (1994) (Writer) []
*"Stuart Saves His Family" (1995)
*"From the Earth to the Moon" (1998)
*"Harvard Man" (2001)
*"" (2004)
*"The Manchurian Candidate" (2004)
*"" (2004)
*"Tanner on Tanner" (2004)
*"" (2006)


External links

* [ Al Franken's official campaign website]
** [ Announcing his candidacy for the Senate] on YouTube
* [ Campaign contributions] at
*National Public Radio|1142525
*imdb name|id=0291253|name=Al Franken
*worldcat id|id=lccn-no93-4145
* [ Profile of Al Franken, 2008 Senate Candidate]
* [ Al Franken Fan Club and Discussion Forum]
* [ Al Franken commentary on 2006 elections]
* [ Al Franken's PAC, Midwest Values PAC]
* [ Al Franken Discussion Forum]
* [ Al Franken's federal campaign contributions]
* [ Al Franken Under the Satirist's Lens]
* [ Al Franken's writings on the Huffington Post]
* [ Is Al Franken Worthy to Take Wellstone's Seat?]
* [ Al Franken quotes]
* [ The Al Franken Show Audio Archive]
* [ Video of Al Franken interviewed on the Colbert Report]

succession box
before= Walter Mondale
title= Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party nominee for United States Senator from Minnesota
(Class 2)
after=Current nominee

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