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With one of the oddest career arcs in comedy history, Al Franken rose from minor standup and Saturday Night Live writer/bit player in the 1970s to Minnesota's Junior Senator by the end of the '00s. In between, the nebbishy comedian carved a niche as one of liberal America's most vocal humorists, while creating some classic SNL sketch characters, most notably neurotic self-help guru Stuart Smalley. Smalley, talk show host of a fictional new age show, went from cable to network TV through SNL. A book (by the name of his favorite Daily Affirmation "I'm good enough...") and a movie deal (Stuart Saves His Family) followed.
Saturday Night Live eventually proved itself too small a venue for Franken. The sharp satirical candor and savvy he displayed at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 1994 and again in 1996 established him as one of the nation's top after-dinner speakers. This SNL and college comedy circuit veteran was first able to perform in the arena he most often satirized when he was asked to commentate at the Democratic National Convention for NBC in Atlanta in 1988. This was followed by an invitation to host Indecision '92 for Comedy Central, and other offers.
In the late '90s, Al Franken starred in his own sitcom, Lateline, which only lasted a season, frequented the late-night talk show circuit, and appeared numerous times as a guest on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher.
Franken has won over five Emmys for writing and producing throughout the course of his career. He won a Grammy (Best Spoken Comedy Album, 1997) for the audio companion piece to his Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot book -- a satirical critique of right wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh. In addition to the Stuart books and movie, Franken also co-wrote the feature When a Man Loves a Woman, starring Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia. Why Not Me? is his 2001 memoir "the dramatic rise and dizzying fall of Franken, who became the first Jewish President of the United States."
Franken was first discovered as half of the lambaste comedy duo "Franken and Davis" by producer Lorne Michaels. He was hired as one of the original writers on Saturday Night Live, taking walk-on and "extra" parts in the skits that he wrote for the show. He then stepped out from behind the scenes promoting the "The Al Franken Decade" -- a skit named after himself in which he humorously repeated his own name and special interests several times over, "objectively" reporting for Weekend Update.
Franken grew up in Minnesota talking politics at the dinner table with his family. He attended Harvard College and majored in political science. In 2002, Franken's friend and Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, the lone vote against the Iraq War, died suddenly in a plane crash while crisscrossing the state, campaigning for a third term. Shortly after Wellstone's seat was won by Republican Norm Coleman, Franken hinted on his Air America radio gig about a potential run in 2008 to reclaim the Senate seat for the Democrats. In 2005, Franken moved with his family from New York City back to Minnesota, and on his final radio program on February 14, 2007, he officially announced his candidacy, declaring himself the one New York jew actually from Minnesota (Coleman grew up in NYC). After a contentious campaign, Coleman appeared in the lead the day after the election by the scantiest of margins. However, following many recounts it began to become apparent that it was Franken who actually received more votes. After eight months of controversy, Franken was finally declared the winner in July 2009 just in time to set up the '10s as the real "Al Franken decade." ~ Sandy Lawson and Jason Thurston