Al Franken was born on May 21, 1951. Originally from New York City, his family moved to a small, southern Minnesota town, Albert Lea, where his father opened a quilting factory. Despite his father's best efforts, the venture eventually failed.
At the age of 6, Franken moved to suburbs outside of Minneapolis, where he spent most of his adolescence. Here, he lived in a district known as "St. Louis Park," but, according to Franken, was also known as "St. Jewish Park." Franken's father worked as a printing salesman while his mother became a realtor.
Growing up, Franken was initially a Republican, following in his father's footsteps, who supported men like Herbert Hoover, Alf Landon and Thomas Dewey. However, in the wake of the '60s civil rights movement and Barry Goldwater's staunch opposition to civil rights, Al and his father changed party affiliation. From that time on, both Frankens considered themselves Democrats.
Al Franken began comedy at an early age. While a second grader, Franken watched in horror as a group of girl classmates performed a silly, second grade skit. Seizing the moment, Franken teamed with his boy classmates and wrote a skit mocking the girls. It left his female classmates in tears.
In high school, Franken performed well academically, maintaining an "A" average and participating on his high school wrestling team. He was accepted to Harvard University. During this time, Franken also performed stand-up comedy and stage shows with his partner, Tom Davis, a long-time friend from Minnesota. He was also active in drama clubs on campus. Franken also tried out for the Harvard Lampoon, but was rejected.
Upon graduating from Harvard in 1973 with a degree in general studies, Franken continued performing with Davis. Their witty-yet-raunchy performances, mainly for college crowds, caught the eye of then-unknown Canadian producer Lorne Michaels. Michaels, a fan of Monty Python, was contracted to develop a variety show for NBC. Michaels, seeing talent in the two, signed the duo for $500 a week each and flew them to New York City. Franken and Davis were the only people hired without actually meeting with Michaels. Had Michaels met with them, Franken often says, they probably would have never been hired. At the time, little did they know, Franken and Davis would help start one of the most innovative shows on television, Saturday Night Live.
For his work on television, Franken is the recipient of four writing Emmys and a fifth for producing. During 1975-1980 on Saturday Night Live, Franken created such sketches as "The Final Days," a parody of the Nixon presidency and "The Al Franken Decade," a commentary about the ways the '80s would be about him, Al Franken. He also frequently appeared in sketches as an actor with Tom Davis.
When Franken, along with Lorne Michaels and most of the cast , left SNL in 1980, he trekked to Hollywood and tried his luck at movies. Franken wrote several unproduced screenplays; one was produced, the 1986 unsuccessful movie, One More Saturday Night, which Al wrote and performed in with Tom Davis . Franken also made an appearance as a baffoonish baggage handler in the successful Trading Places, with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd.
In 1985, Franken and Davis returned to Saturday Night Live, where he remained until 1995. Here, Franken expanded his acting résumé, with impressions of Pat Robertson, Paul Simon and Paul Tsongas. He also developed his most popular character, self-help guru Stuart Smalley.
Aside from his work on SNL, Franken co-wrote and produced Touchstone Pictures' When a Man Loves a Woman, with Andy Garcia and Meg Ryan. The movie was domestically and internationally popular, drawing strong reviews and over $100 million worldwide.
Franken also wrote and starred in Stuart Saves His Family, a 1995 Paramount Picture based on his SNL character. Directed by Harold Ramis and co-starring Laura-San Giacomo and Vincent D'Onofrio, the movie received strong reviews but never clicked with audiences, generating only a million dollars in box office revenue. As Al Franken told Franken Web in an interview in 1996 about future Stuart endeavors, "when a movie loses 15 million bucks, studios don't exactly break down your door to make a sequel."
In 1997, independent film-makers Rob Rollins Lobl and Sam Sokolow approached Franken to film a cameo in their movie, The Definite Maybe, the story of 25-year-old New Yorker searching for meaning in life. Franken played a Vagabond the title character meets in the subway.
A year later, by the request of Tom Hanks, Franken appeared in the HBO miniseries, From the Earth to the Moon. Filmed in Florida, the $80 million production chronicled NASA's first babysteps into space. Franken played Presidential Science Advisor Jerome Weisner in the first segment of the film.
Franken is a well-known political satirist. In 1988, CNN hired him to provide commentary at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. In 1992 and 1996, he anchored Comedy Central's election coverage with then-Republican Arianna Huffington. Arianna and Al's writing for Comedy Central's Politically Incorrect in 1996 received an Emmy nomination. Franken has also contributed news commentary to Newsweek, The Nation and Rolling Stone, among others.
In early 1998, Franken wrote and co-starred in NBC's Lateline, a behind-the-scenes look at a Nightline-type news program. Featuring guest stars like Richard Gephardt, Jerry Falwell and Robert Reich, the political show received strong reviews (People magazine gave the show an "A") but in the wake of the Clinton-scandals, failed to capture an audience. NBC renewed the show after its 1998 run but cancelled it in 1999. Overall, Lateline filmed 19 episodes.
Franken is also a prolific and New York Times best-selling author. I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough and Doggone It, People Like Me was released in 1992 and chronicled the life of Stuart Smalley, Al's SNL self-help guru. A New York Times bestseller, it was also nominated for a Grammy in the "best comedy" category.
Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot was released in 1996 and became an instant classic. Fueled by strong reviews (even the New York Post liked it) and a distaste for the "nutcase right," the book spent five weeks at the #1 spot and eight months on the list. The audio version also won a Grammy in the "best comedy" category. Indeed, Franken is among few political figures who can claim to have won a "Grammy."
His successful follow-up, Why Not Me? chronicling the fictional Al Franken presidency, enjoyed similar success, staying on the New York Times bestseller list for several months. In May of 2002, Franken published another book, Oh, the Things I Know: A Guide to Success, Or, Failing That, Happiness, which poked fun at self-help books. That, too, was a New York Times bestseller and recipient of a Grammy nomination.
In 2001, Franken and his daughter played themselves in the movie, "Harvard Man." Franken has also made appearances on hundreds of radio and television shows, including 3rd Rock from the Sun, The Tonight Show, Hannity and Colmes and The Late Show. In 2000, Al Franken was a cast member of the short-lived animated series Clerks, based on the Kevin Smith cult film. In 2000, he also appeared in a commercial for Parkay Margarine.
Franken is an active lecture speaker. He has given speeches to hundreds of corporations, universities, and other organizations. He has twice been the keynote speaker at the White House Correspondents Dinner for President Bill Clinton, National Press Club, USO tours, DNC dinners and a commencement speaker at Harvard in 2002.
In early 2003, The New York Times wrote that Al Franken is considering a radio talk show on a network for liberals, who have traditionally been shut out of talk radio. Tentatively, an Al Franken talker is being planned for the Fall of 2003.
In August of 2003, Al released his fifth book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, which Franken describes as "a fair and balanced look at the right." The Fox News Channel sued Franken and his publishing company, Penguin Books, for trademark infringement. A judge later dismissed a motion to stop the publication of the book as "wholly without merit, both factually and legally."
Franken currently lives in New York City with his wife, Franni. He has two children, Thomasin and Joe.
Eric Hananoki, Al Franken Web