AL FRANKEN Biography - Writers


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Al Franken (born May 21, 1951) is a well-known comedian, writer, radio host, lecturer and political activist who is perhaps best known for his performances on the NBC-TV variety program Saturday Night Live. He is half of the comedy duo “Franken and Davis.” He is also the host of Air America Radio’s flagship show, The Al Franken Show.


Franken was born in New York City, grew up in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. He graduated from The Blake School in 1969, and Harvard University in 1973. He is married to Franni Franken and the couple lives in New York City with their son, Joe, and daughter, Thomasin. Al Franken is a distant cousin of Bob Franken of CNN.


Franken was one of the original writers on Saturday Night Live, and received three Emmy Awards and seven Emmy nominations for television writing and producing for his work there. He created characters such as self-help guru Stuart Smalley and schtick such as the “Al Franken Decade.” Franken was associated with SNL for more than 15 years and in 2002 interviewed former Vice President Al Gore while in character as Smalley.


Franken’s most notorious SNL sketch may have been “A Limo for the Lamo,” a commentary delivered by Franken near the end of the 197980 season. Franken mocked the controversial president of NBC, Fred Silverman, describing him as “a total unequivocal failure” and displayed a chart showing the poor ratings of NBC programs. According to some associates of the show, Silverman’s anger over the sketch prompted him to abandon negotiations with the show’s creator Lorne Michaels and seek a different producer for the sixth season of SNL.


Besides having written numerous books (including Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot ), Franken co-wrote (with Tom Davis) the screenplay for The Coneheads TV show. He also wrote the original screenplay and starred in the theatrical flop, Stuart Saves His Family . He created and starred in the TV show LateLine that suffered low ratings, causing it to be cancelled halfway through its second season with only a total 12 of the 19 episodes airing.


Franken has often been the subject of controversy for writing satirical books and editorial commentaries which convey his liberal political views.


In August 2003, Penguin Books published Franken’s book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, subtitled A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Fox News sued, claiming that Franken violated the company’s trademark rights to the phrase, “Fair and Balanced.” A Federal judge found the lawsuit to be “wholly without merit"; Fox then withdrew the suit. The lawsuit ultimately provided Franken’s book with a great deal of media attention and greatly enhanced 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".


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 show, The Al Franken Show, formerly the The O’Franken Factor. The show kicked off the network’s launch at 12 Noon EST on March 31, 2004. On July 12, 2004, the show was renamed The Al Franken Show. Franken has said that he chose the name The O’Franken Factor in hopes that Bill O’Reilly, who hosts “The Radio Factor ” and “The O’Reilly Factor,” would sue him, as such a move would garner publicity for Franken’s show. When no lawsuit materialized, Franken renamed his show. Franken has said that he reserves the right to revert to the original name at any time. He co-hosts the show with Katherine Lanpher.


Franken had been a strong supporter of Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone, who was dealing with a difficult re-election campaign in 2002 and died shortly before the election.


Franken announced in November 2003 that he was considering moving back to Minnesota, his home state, in order to run for the Senate seat held by Wellstone’s successor, Republican Norm Coleman, in the 2008 election. Now that his youngest daughter has left for college, such a move is more appealing to him. He has also said that he’d take lessons from Democratic New York senator Hillary Clinton on how to run for Senator.