Beginning his stand up career in high school, Al Franken toured the country with his partner Tom Davis before gaining notice as a writer and performer on the television sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live” during 1975 to 1980. He returned to the popular show five years later and enjoyed success with the show until 1995. Known for creating popular sketches like “The Al Franken Decade” and the memorable character Stuart Smalley, the New York City native won three Emmy Awards for his writing and an Emmy Award as a producer during his long-term tenure on “SNL.” A five-time Emmy Award recipient, Franken picked up an additional Emmy Award for his work on the 1977 “Paul Simon Special.”
Franked also wrote the box office flops “One More Saturday Night” (1986, also starred in) and “Stuart Saves His Family” (1995, also played the title character), which was based on his 1993 novel “I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!: Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley,” and the successful drama “When a Man Loves a Woman” (1994). He also appeared in such movies as John Landis' “Trading Places” (1983), “The Definite Maybe” (1997), “Harvard Man” (2001), “The Manchurian Candidate” (2004) and the HBO miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon” (1998). He also created and starred in the NBC sitcom “Lateline” (1997-1999).
After he left “SNL,” Franken emerged as a liberal political commentator and satirist. He provided commentaries for the 1988 Democratic National Convention for CNN and covered the presidential elections in 1992 and 1996 for Comedy Central. However, it was his books that really put him in the center of attention. Since 1993, Franken has published a series of New York Times bestsellers, including “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations” (1996, won a Grammy award), “Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right” (2003) and “The Truth (with Jokes)” (2005). He also hosted a talk show for the left-wing radio network Air America called “The Al Franken Show,” which ran from 2004 to 2007.
In 2008, Franken ran for the U.S. Senate seat from Minnesota against Senator Norm Coleman.
Franken and wife lives in New York City and have two children.
Childhood and Family:
Son of Phoebe G. Kunst, a housewife and realtor, and Joseph P. Franken (died in 1993), a printing salesman, Alan Stuart Franken, who would later be popular as Al Franken, was born on May 21, 1951, in New York City. When he was young, his family moved to Albert Lea, a small town in Minnesota, and his father started a fabric factory. After the project failed, they moved to a suburb outside of Minneapolis called St. Louis Park, where Al spent most of his adolescence.
Al was educated at St. Louis Park High School until the tenth grade. He then transferred to The Blake School in Minneapolis and graduated in 1969. During high school, Al was active in his school's wrestling team and maintained an “A” average. He was accepted to Harvard University in Cambridge and graduated in 1973 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in social relations and behavioral science. It was while at Harvard that Al began performing stand-up comedy with his partner, Tom Davis. He also participated in drama clubs on campus.
On October 2, 1975, Al married Franni Bryson, whom he met in his first year of college. They welcomed their first child, daughter Thomasin Davis Franken, in 1981. Son Joe Franken was born four years later in 1985.
Al grew up Republican, but after the 1960’s civil rights movement, he and his father changed their political party to Democrat.
Show Business to Politics
While at Harvard, Al Franken, who knew he had a knack for comedy, teamed up with longtime friend Tom Davis to perform stand-up comedy and stage shows. It was Lorne Michaels, the then-unknown producer from Canada, who noticed their promising talent and hired the twosome as apprentice writers on what would become one of the most innovative shows on television, “Saturday Night Live.”
Joining “SNL” in 1975, Franken and Davis soon became the staff writers and began appearing in front of the camera as performers. They took on the producer/co-producer duties in 1979. Franken created notable sketches like “The Final Days,” which spoofed the Nixon presidency, and “The Al Franken Decade.” However, it was his notorious “SNL” performance on “A Limo for the Lame-O,” which mocked Fred Silverman, which led to Franken leaving the show in 1980 when the producer and several other writers and performers quit. During his five years with the show, Franken jointly nabbed two Emmys for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Series (1976, 1977). Apart from “SNL,” Franken and partner Davis also wrote a variety of projects under the supervision of Michaels. Their work in “The Paul Simon Special” (1977) brought Franken his third Emmy Award in 1978 in the category of Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Special. Subsequent writing credits included 1979's “Bob & Ray, Jane, Laraine & Gilda” and 1981's “Steve Martin's Best Show Ever.”
After his departure from “SNL,” Franken left New York City for Hollywood. Along with Davis, he made a cameo appearance in the Golden Globe and Academy Award-nominated comedy “Trading Places” (1983), which starred Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd and was directed by John Landis. They returned to writing the following year as part of the staff of Michaels' short-lived sketch show “The New Show” (NBC, 1984). Despite the show's failure, Michaels brought Franken and Davis with him when the producer returned to “SNL” in 1985.
During his second tenure on the show, Franken became known for his portrayals of Paul Simon, Paul Tsongas and Pat Robertson. He also created the well known character of self-help guru Stuart Smalley. Franken co-won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program in 1989 and another Emmy for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series in 1993.
Franken made his screen writing and starring debut on “One More Saturday Night” (1986), which was co-written and costarring Davis. Produced by Dan Aykroyd, the comedy film, which cast Franken as rock singer Larry Hays, was largely ignored by audiences. Two years later, he embarked as a political commentator when he was hired be CNN at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, GA. He then served as the anchor of Comedy Central's election eve coverage of the 1992 Presidential election and as the writer and anchor of “Indecision 92,” Comedy Central's coverage of the Democratic and Republican national conventions in New York City and Houston.
In 1993, Franken released his first book, “I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!: Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley.” The book was a New York Times bestseller and received a Grammy nomination for Best Comedy. Multi-talented Franken went on to team up with Simon Maslow and Ron Bass to executive produce the motion picture “When a Man Loves a Woman” (1994), which he also co-wrote. Directed by Luis Mandoki and starring Andy Garcia and Meg Ryan, the drama was a hit in America and around the world. Franken also had a small part in the film as a copilot.
Also recognized as a frequent commentator on the “Weekend Update” on “SNL,” Franken lost his role as the “Weekend Update” anchor to Norm MacDonald and left the show in 1995. Also that year, he adapted his novel for the screenplay of the big screen comedy “Stuart Saves His Family” (1995), in which he also recreated his “SNL” character Stuart Smalley. Helmed by Harold Ramis and costarring Laura-San Giacomo and Vincent D'Onofrio, the film received a good response from critics but failed to ignite audiences.
An accomplished author, Franken enjoyed his next success with the release of “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations” (1996), a collection of political essays. The book rose to No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller list and remained there for five weeks. The audio version won a Grammy Award in 1997 in the category of Best Spoken Comedy Album. Franken also served as a political commentator for Comedy Central's “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher” during the 1996 presidential election. He co-wrote the program with conservative Arianna Huffington and was nominated for a 1997 Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Variety or Music Program. He then made a cameo appearance in the comedy film “The Definite Maybe” (1997), which was directed and written by Rob Rollins Lobl and Sam Sokolow, and appeared in the HBO miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon” (1998), which was hosted by Tom Hanks. It was Hanks who personally asked Franken to appear in the Golden Globe award winning project.
Lured by the success of his book, Franken was given his own sitcom on NBC named “Lateline,” a parody of ABC's long running news program once hosted by Ted Koppel, “Nightline.” Debuting in March 1998, the show, which he co-created and co-executive produced and was cast as an egoistic reporter named Al Freundlich, was soon axed.
1999 saw Franken release “Why Not Me? The Inside Story of the Making and Unmaking of the Franken Presidency.” Like its predecessor, the book was also a New York Times bestseller and stayed on the list for several months.
Entering the new millennium, Franken produced and wrote the TV special “Saturday Night Live: Presidential Bash 2000,” which was broadcasted on November 5, 2000. A year later, he and his daughter Thomasin appeared in the James Toback feature “Harvard Man,” starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Adrian Grenier. The same year, he also voiced the character of Mayor McCheese on an episode of the short-lived cartoon series “Clerks,” which was adapted from the 2004 Kevin Smith cult film “Clerks: The Lost Scene.”
Franken published “Oh, the Things I Know: A Guide to Success, Or, Failing That, Happiness,” which spoofed self help books, in May 2002. The book went on to become a bestseller and earn a Grammy nomination. His next book, “Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right,” was released in 2003 by Dutton Books and rose to the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list. Due to the book's subtitle, “A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right,” he was sued by Fox News Channel for an alleged infringement of trademark rights. Fox News later dropped the lawsuit.
In 2004, Franken broke into the world of broadcasting with “The Al Franken Show,” previously known as “The O’Franken Factor.” Airing on Air America Radio five days a week, the talk show was launched in late March and soon became the most successful program on the network. Franken stayed with the show until early 2007 when he decided to enter politics. Still in 2004, Franken was also seen playing a TV commentator on Jonathan Demme's movie version of Richard Condon's novel, “The Manchurian Candidate,” starring Jeffrey Wright. He then received a Grammy nomination for Best Comedy Album for the compilation “The O' Franken Factor- The Best of the O'Franken Factor.”
In 2005, Franken published a book titled “The Truth (with Jokes).” Upon its release, rumors began to circulate that he was thinking of running for the U.S. Senate seat for Minnesota, but he strongly denied the rumors. Nevertheless, Franken, who was an avid supporter of Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone who passed away in a plane accident shortly before the Senate election in 2000, set up his own political action committee in late 2005 named Midwest Values PAC. By early 2007, the committee had collected over one million dollars.
On the day of his last show on Air America, in February 2007, Franked proclaimed he would run for the United States Senate from Minnesota in the 2008 election. During his campaign, Franken received criticism after advising “Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels on a political sketch mocking Senator John McCain's ads attacking Barack Obama. After a long process of recounting, on January 5, 2009, the Minnesota State Canvassing Board certified recounted vote totals, with Franken taking the lead by 255 votes. The following day, Coleman's campaign filed an election contest. As long as the case is not resolved, the official certification of the winner of the election will be detained.
Grammy: Best Spoken Comedy Album, “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot,” 1997
Emmy: Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series, “Saturday Night Live,” 1993
Emmy: Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program, “Saturday Night Live,” 1989
Emmy: Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Special, “The Paul Simon Special,” 1978
Emmy: Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Series, “Saturday Night Live,” 1977
Emmy: Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Series, “Saturday Night Live,” 1976