Alan Stuart Franken (born May 21, 1951) is an American comedy writer, occasional actor, political satirist, and former U.S. Senator from Minnesota.
First known as a writer and bit player on Saturday Night Live in the 1970s with fellow writer Tom Davis, Franken left the show after it changed producers in 1980 but returned five years later along with Lorne Michaels, helping contribute to its resurgence over the following decade. (Franken is SNL's longest-running feature player who was never promoted to cast member as of 2011.) A film based on his recurring Stuart Smalley character, Stuart Saves His Family, was released in 1995 and flopped. In the late '90s he became a bestselling author, with a strong liberal political bent. He also appeared in a few other (largely forgettable) films, and hosted a radio Talk Show on the short-lived Air America network.
In 2009, he became the Junior Senator from Minnesota in a very close, frighteningly protracted election. His re-election in 2014 was more of a Curb-Stomp Battle, in which he defeated his opponent by ten points. Interestingly, as a Senator, he was rather mild-mannered, level-headed, and kind of sheepish. Didn’t stop him from making frequent jokes, though.
Oh, and he can freehand draw an accurate map of the United States of America (mostly the continental 48) from memory (a skill he once displayed on a late-'80s Saturday Night Live episode, showing then-Weekend Update anchor Dennis Miller where the electoral college votes would be for the 1988 election).
He's also really fast with a gun. Freakishly fast. In fact, he is an acknowledged quick draw champion and once claimed to be the third fastest in the U.S.
In December 2017, due to allegations of sexual misconduct, Franken announced his resignation from the Senate, before formally resigning on January 2, 2018.note
Since his resignation, Franken hosted the podcast, The Al Franken Podcast, embarked on a comedy tour in 2021, and was a Guest Host on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2022 and The Daily Show in 2023. He has also expressed interest in running for office again, with both himself and his Democratic colleagues regretting the circumstances of how he stepped down.
His books include:
- I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!: Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley
- Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations
- Why Not Me? The Making and Unmaking of the Franken Presidency
- Oh, the Things I Know! A Guide to Success, or Failing That, Happiness
- Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right
- The Truth (With Jokes)
- Al Franken, Giant of the Senate
Tropes associated with Franken include:
- All Myths Are True: He admits he got the infamous "Jew call" Short explanation in Lies, though he may have been joking, given the way he goes about it."To tell you the truth, I got the Jew call...from former New York mayor Ed Koch. 'Al', he said, 'Don't go to work on the 23rd day of Elul.'"
- Arch-Enemy: Bill O'Reilly. See below, and also here.
- Biting-the-Hand Humor: Franken describing the failures of then-NBC president Fred Silverman on SNL's "Weekend Update" segment in 1980, in what came to be known as the "Limo for the Lame-o" affair.
- Bleached Underpants: He had to disavow a great deal of his earlier, more ribald work to run for the Senate.
- The Cameo: He's been a guest star on his friend (and fellow Minnesotan) Garrison Keillor's radio show A Prairie Home Companion where he's done pretty good impression of Henry Kissinger.
- Could Say It, But...
- The so-called "Kidding on the Square" version is closely associated with Franken, particularly in the Lying Liars era.
- The relative lack of this in his political career is mostly thanks to his getting dressed down by his fellow senators when he tried cracking wise on the floor.
- The Eponymous Show: The Al Franken Show, previously known as The O'Franken Factor.
- Game Show Appearance: Three times on Jeopardy!. The first time, a category was "SNL Presidential Players." After running the category, he leaned over to Keith Olbermann and said that he wrote the skits featured in four of the five clues (likely the only one he didn't was Robert Smigel's "X-Presidents").
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: In Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, he eliminates all the cussing that marked his previous books, because he has to hold himself to a higher standard of discourse (well, he doesn't have to, but it's expected of a Senator). So instead, he uses words like jerk, poppycock, fiddle-faddle, nincompoopery, and world-class butthole, the last to refer to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
- The Gunslinger: The Quick Draw type. He is a Quick Draw champion in real life. In Lies, he claims he is 3rd ranked in the US, in response to Bill O'Reilly saying that in The Wild West he'd have shot Franken in a Showdown at High Noon.
- Hidden Depths: For those who primarily know him from his work on SNL; he's a Harvard graduate, and has proven rather competent as a Senator since assuming office in 2009.
- Let's See YOU Do Better!: He has probably received vituperations of this sort from various factions. His response was to get himself elected to the United States Senate.
- Momma's Boy: Inverted real-life example-Franken admits that in his childhood, he cheered for Nixon in the 1960 presidential election because he was fonder of his father, then a registered Republican (they both switched four years later when the Republican Party nominated Barry Goldwater for President), than he was of his mother, a registered Democrat. Al's older brother, meanwhile, cheered for Kennedy, which he attributes to "a visceral aversion to Nixon."
- Mood Whiplash: A particularly bad case in Lies. Chapter 25 details how the Republicans exploited Paul Wellstone's death for political gains, and ends on a bittersweet note. Chapter 26? Franken goes to the White House Correspondents Dinner and trolls all the righties there. Uh-huh.
- My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: Explained in Lies.Franken: We love America just as much as they do. But in a different way. You see, they love America like a 4-year-old loves his mommy. Liberals love America like grown-ups. To a 4-year-old, everything Mommy does is wonderful and anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad. Grown-up love means actually understanding what you love, taking the good with the bad and helping your loved one grow.
- Odd Friendship: In Giant of the Senate he explains that, as a Senator, one is obligated to work with members of the opposing party to get anything done, and so he must find Republicans that share his views on particular issues, even if they disagree on everything else. This often results in friendships with people who would ordinarily be political opponents, but politics aside, he gets along well with some of his Republican colleagues.
- Of Corpse He's Alive: Briefly discussed in Lies; one of Franken's friends believes that Strom Thurmond may have died as much as 3 years before the book was published, and the GOP is pursuing this strategy so the Democratic governor of South Carolina doesn't appoint a Democrat to fill the seat.
- Painting the Medium: When ever he writes Alan Colmes' name in Lies, he uses a smaller font to emphasize how Colmes is dominated by Sean Hannity in his role of Fox News Liberal. e.g. Hannity and Colmes
- Pass the Popcorn: The only accurate description of his senior Senator Amy Klobuchar's reaction to Franken deciding to cut Ted Cruz — infamously the most hated man in the Senate by both sides — down to size.note Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Amy having two successive thoughts:1. 'Oh no, Al's not going to do this!'2. 'But I definitely want to be here if he does.'
- Quick Draw: He is an acknowledged quick draw champion. It made the joke Bill O'Reilly once told about settling things with Franken like they did in the days of the old west hilariously ironic given that if that was the case, Franken would've been easily able to kill O'Reilly in such a duel.
- Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Al writes in Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot that his research assistant Geoff Rodkey contracts Lyme disease and dies.note Many of Al's readers apparently did not get the joke, and thought Geoff was really dead. A few sent Al letters telling him what a horrible person he was, working his assistant to death. In the paperback edition of Rush, he assures his readers that Geoff is alive and well (wrapping up this addendum by once again announcing that Geoff has died).
- Stealth Parody: The title of Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot is a deliberate parody of Limbaugh's style of debate largely involving hurling personal insults at his opponents, and this becomes clear when you read the whole book, but most who aren't familiar with Franken's style of satire will take it as a straight-up Ad Hominem. In one of his later books he describes his attempt to explain this to someone who didn't get the joke, with limited success.
- Streisand Effect: Fox News sued Al for using the phrase "Fair and Balanced" (according to Al, this was to placate Bill O'Reilly), trying to block the publishing of Lies. The lawsuit was quickly thrown out by the courts, as there is a longstanding exception to copyright law for satire and parody, and in response to all the free publicity about the lawsuit, the publisher increased the initial print run.
- Take That!:
- "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot" could be interpreted as this.
- Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.
- Troll: Al books are full of instances of him humorously screwing with people he doesn't like and/or agree with, like meeting Bush administration officials at the White House Correspondents' Dinner and congratulating them on their effective use of Bill Clinton's military in Iraq and Afghanistan, sending a number of conservative politicians and pundits letters asking for inspirational stories about their struggle to remain sexually abstinent until marriage (and not getting a single response back), or messing with his "tracker" note by constantly repeating a conversation (advocating for the purchase of a pull-out couch) with his driver, every single time he got out of the car.
- X Must Not Win: In Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, he says this is one aspect of American politics he deeply hates, calling it the "I-will-stop-you-from-doing-good-because-I-don't-want-you-to-get-credit" factor.