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Alan Stuart "Al" Franken (born May 21, 1951) is the junior United States Senator from Minnesotamarker. He is a member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, that state's affiliate of the Democratic Party.

Franken first became famous as a writer and performer for the television show Saturday Night Live (SNL) since its inception in 1975 before moving on to writing and acting in several films. He then became a political commentator, author of several best-selling books, and host of a nationally syndicated radio show on Air America Radio.

Franken ran for U.S. Senator in 2008 and narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Norm Coleman after a mandatory statewide manual recount. Coleman contested the outcome in court, but the Minnesota Supreme Courtmarker unanimously upheld Franken's victory on June 30, 2009.Franken was sworn in to the Senate on July 7, 2009.

Early life

Franken was born in New York Citymarker to Phoebe G. Kunst, a homemaker and real estate agent, and Joseph P. Franken, a printing salesman, and grew up in St. Louis Parkmarker, a suburb near Minneapolismarker. Franken had a Jewish upbringing. He is a cousin of MSNBC's Bob Franken, and his older brother, Owen Franken, is a photojournalist. He graduated in 1969 from The Blake School, where he was on the wrestling team. He attended Harvard Collegemarker and graduated cum laude in 1973 with a B.A. in political science.


Franken met his wife Franni (née Bryson) in his first year of college. They now reside in Minneapolis.

The Frankens have two children. A daughter, Thomasin (born 1982), is a "food educator and private chef" and a former elementary school teacher, with a degree from Harvardmarker, and a son, Joe (born 1986), named after Al's father, with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Princetonmarker.

Saturday Night Live

Franken had begun his performing career in high school at The Blake School, where he and longtime writing partner Tom Davis were known for their humor. Franken honed his writing and performing skills at Minneapolis' 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 Angelesmarker."

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 $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 appeared in cameo roles in The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash 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 he delivered near the end of the 1979–80 season during a "Weekend Update" broadcast. 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 limousine. As a result of this sketch, Silverman nixed Lorne Michaels' 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. 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 says that he no longer uses any illegal drugs. Franken left the show in 1995 in protest over losing the role of "Weekend Update" anchor to Norm Macdonald.


Franken is the author of five New York Times best-selling books, three of which reached #1, including Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations.

Fox News lawsuit

In 2003, Penguin Books published Franken's book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, which included a cover photo of Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly and a chapter accusing O'Reilly 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". The episode with Fox focused a great deal of media attention about 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.

USO service

Franken has served as a volunteer with the United Service Organizations since he first visited Kosovo in 1999. Franken has conducted several overseas tours to both Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to participating in numerous celebrity handshake tours at military hospitals to visit wounded soldiers. On March 25, 2009, Franken was presented with the USO's Merit Award for his 10 years of service to the organization through visiting injured and deployed servicemembers.

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 cohost Katherine Lanpher, who remained with the show until October 2005. The network was launched March 31, 2004. Originally named The O'Franken Factor but renamed The Al Franken Show on July 12, 2004, the show aired three hours a day, five days a week for three years. The stated goal of the show was to provide the public airwaves with more progressive views to counter what Franken perceived to be the dominance of conservative syndicated commentary on the radio. "I'm doing this because I want to use my energies to get Bush unelected," he told a New York Times reporter in 2004.

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.

Other projects

Franken wrote the original screenplay and starred in the film Stuart Saves His Family, which was panned by critics (receiving a rating of 29% on the website He also cowrote the film When a Man Loves a Woman. He cocreated and starred in the NBC sitcom LateLine until it was canceled in its second season. He appeared in the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate.

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.

Since 2005, Franken has been a contributing blogger at The Huffington Post. His most recent book, The Truth , was released in 2005.

Franken has long been associated with the International Order of Odd Fellows (Manchester Unity), but in September 2009, his spokesperson said he is not a member.

Political action

Franken giving a political speech.
According to an article by Richard Corliss published in Time, "In a way, Franken has been running for office since the late '70s." Corliss also hinted at Franken's "possibly ironic role as a relentless self-promoter" in proclaiming the 1980s "the Al Franken Decade" and saying, "Vote for me, Al Franken. You'll be glad you did!" In 1999, Franken released a parody book, Why Not Me?, detailing his campaign for the Presidency in 2000. He had been a strong supporter of Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone and was strongly affected by the senator's death in a plane crash shortly before the 2002 Senate election. After the funeral, Rush Limbaugh, Jesse Ventura, and several other conservative commentators accused the organizers and participants of Wellstone's remembrance ceremony of using the tragedy for political purposes. 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." In Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Franken wrote that Noonan and Caldwell had later told him that they had not personally been at the memorial service.

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, then 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." He said that he would run as a Democrat.

Franken's books express strong support for pro-choice views on abortion, stricter gun control laws, legalization of same-sex marriage, environmental protections, and a revamped, more progressive income tax system. In the postscript of The Truth , Franken joked that if elected to the Senate, in the two-week window between the Senate's swearing in and the end of George W. 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 $1 million.

Franken was the subject of the 2006 documentary film Al Franken: God Spoke, which premiered in April 2006 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. It was released nationally on September 13 of that year.

2008 U.S. Senate campaign

Franken in 2008

On January 29, 2007, Al Franken announced his departure from Air America Radio. On the day of his final show, February 14, Franken formally announced that he would run for the United States Senate from Minnesotamarker in 2008. Challenging him for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party endorsement was Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, a professor, author, and activist. Other candidates were Mike Ciresi, a wealthy trial lawyer, and Jim Cohen, an attorney and human rights activist who had dropped out of the race earlier.

On April 13, 2007, Franken's campaign filed a campaign finance report. He raised $1.35 million in the first quarter of 2007. The incumbent Senator, Norm Coleman, raised $1.53 million. On July 8, 2007, the Franken campaign stated that it expected to announce that Franken had raised more money than Coleman during the second quarter of the year, taking in $1.9 million to Coleman's $1.6 million, although as of early July 2007, Coleman's $3.8 million cash on hand exceeded Franken's $2 million.

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. Several DFL leaders expressed personal and political discomfort with the article as well. A Franken campaign spokesman responded that, "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. And as a senator, Norm Coleman has disrespected the people of Minnesota by putting the Exxons and Halliburtons ahead of working families. And there’s nothing funny about that."

Franken campaigning for U.S.
On June 7, 2008, Franken was endorsed at the DFL convention. In a July 2008 interview with CNN, Franken was endorsed by Ben Stein, the noted entertainer, speechwriter, lawyer and author who is known for his conservative views and generally supports Republican candidates. 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."

On September 9, 2008, Franken won the Democratic primary for the Senate seat.

During his campaign for the Senate, Franken was criticized for advising SNL creator Lorne Michaels on a political sketch ridiculing Senator John McCain's ads attacking Barack Obama. Coleman's campaign reacted, saying, "Once again, he proves he's more interested in entertainment than service, and ridiculing those with whom he disagrees."

Preliminary reports on election night November 4 had Coleman ahead by over 700 votes; but the official results certified on by November 18, 2008, had Coleman leading by only 215 votes. As the two candidates were separated by less than 0.5 percent, the Secretary of State of Minnesota, Mark Ritchie, authorized the automatic recount stipulated in Minnesota election law. In the recount, ballots and certifying materials were examined by hand, and candidates could file challenges to the legality of ballots or materials for inclusion or exclusion with regard to the recount. On January 5, 2009, the Minnesota State Canvassing Board certified the recounted vote totals, with Franken ahead by 225 votes.

On January 6, 2009, Coleman's campaign filed an election contest, which led to a trial before a three-judge panel. The trial ended on April 7, when the panel ruled that 351 of 387 disputed absentee ballots were incorrectly rejected and ordered them counted. Counting those ballots raised Franken's lead to 312 votes. Coleman appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Courtmarker on April 20. On April 24, the Minnesota Supreme Court agree to hear the case. and oral arguments were conducted on June 1.

On June 30, 2009, the Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously rejected Coleman's appeal and said that Franken was entitled to be certified as the winner. Shortly after the court's decision, Coleman conceded. Governor Tim Pawlenty signed Franken’s election certificate that same evening. Franken was sworn in to the Senate on Tuesday, July 7, 2009 using the Bible of late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone.

Tax issues

During the 2008 election, New York state officials asserted that Al Franken Inc. had failed to carry required workers' compensation insurance 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. At the same time, 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. 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. Subsequently, Franken paid $70,000 in back income taxes in 17 states dating to 2003 mostly from Franken's speeches and other paid appearances. Franken said he paid the income tax in his state of residence, and he will seek retroactive credit for paying the taxes in the wrong states.


Franken has been a vocal critic of the Iraq War, and opposed the 2007 troop surge. In an interview with MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, Franken said that he "believed Colin Powell", whose presentation at the United Nations convinced him that the war was necessary. However, since then he had come to believe that "we were misled into the war" and urged the Democratically-controlled Congress to 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.'"

Franken favors transitioning to a universal health care system, with the provision that every child in America should receive health care coverage, immediately. He has spoken in favor of protecting private pensions and Social Security. He has also advocated cutting subsidies for oil companies, increasing money available for college students, and cutting interest rates on student loans.

U.S. Senate

Franken meeting with Vice President Biden.
Franken was sworn in to the Senate on July 7, 2009, 246 days after the November 2008 election. He is the fifth senator to be sworn in since the class of 2008 was sworn in January 2009. He sits at the same desk that Paul Wellstone used, which Senate leaders had kept open for Franken. Since 1979 his Senate seat has been occupied by four different Jewish senators, with the only non-Jew being short-term appointee Dean Barkley.

On August 6, 2009, Senator Franken presided over the confirmation vote of Sonia Sotomayor to be an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Senator Franken's first piece of legislation was the Service Dogs for Veterans Act ( ), which he co-authored with Sen. Johnny Isakson (R). The bill, which passed the Senate via unanimous consent, established a program with the United States Department of Veterans Affairsmarker to pair disabled veterans with service dogs.

A September 2009 Survey USA poll placed Franken's approval rating at 45% of Minnesotans, with 41% disapproving.

A video of Senator Franken on September 2, 2009, at the Minnesota State Fairmarker engaging in a discussion with what started out as an ambush from an angry group of Tea Party protesters but became a productive conversation on health care reform soon found itself going viral. The discussion was noted for its civility, in contrast to several other similar discussions between members of congress and their constituents that had occurred over the summer.

Citing the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, Senator Al Franken offered an amendment to the 2010 Defense Appropriations bill that would withhold defense contracts from companies like KBR "if they restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court." It passed the US Senate 68-30. All 30 nay votes came from Republicans.

Committee assignments



CDs and compilations

  • The 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


Electoral history


External links

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