Al Franken's career as a comedian and political satirist has made him a star of television, movies, and books. Born in New York City, Franken grew up in Minneapolis and started his stand-up career while still in high school. He moved back east to study political science at Harvard University, and the civil rights movements of the 1960s had a profound effect on his politics. Franken tried to blend his two passions by applying for a position at the Harvard Lampoon but was, ironically, rejected.
After Harvard, Franken and a former high school friend, Tom Davis, toured the country as a stand-up team. Fate stepped in when Lorne Michaels caught their act and hired them in 1975 for a new sketch-comedy show based on the Monty Python premise. That show, of course, was the legendary Saturday Night Live. As writers and performers, Franken and Davis were instrumental in putting the edgy new show on the map.
Franken has had an on-and-off relationship with the show, leaving for years at a time to work on outside projects. When he returned to SNL in the late 1980s, Franklin created one of his most memorable characters, Stuart Smalley, the quintessential 12-step therapy optimist whose motto was "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me." Franken spun the Smalley character into a book in 1992 and a feature film, Stuart Saves His Family, in 1995.
In between stints at SNL, Franken carved out a career in the movies. In 1976, Franken starred in Tunnel Vision, an irreverent story about a typical day of programming at TV's first uncensored network. The film wasn't a big hit, but it helped launch the careers of Franken and his costars -- burgeoning comics Chevy Chase, John Candy, and Ron Silver. Franken teamed up with fellow SNL actors once again to star in the box office hit Trading Places (1983) with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. He cowrote the screenplay for the inspiring and passionate When a Man Loves a Woman (1994), and he was a guest celebrity voice in Clerks: The Animated Series (2000).
Outside of SNL, however, Franken is best known for his hilarious and engaging books, where his sense of humor is well served by his political background. When Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot: And Other Observations was released in 1996, it quickly established Franken as the top liberal satirist of American politics. A biting attack on conservative politics, it was also critically hailed as being uncompromisingly fair. Despite seeming to single out Rush Limbaugh, the book also blasts Republican leadership on subjects ranging from family values to Vietnam draft deferment. The success of the book helped Franken launch his own sitcom, Lateline, which ran on NBC from 1998-99.
After the success of Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot, Franken fans were delighted when Why Not Me? The Inside Story of the Making and Unmaking of the Franken Presidency was released in 1999. Why Not Me? is Franken's rousing mock-epic race for the White House, detailing how he entered the 1999 presidential race (and won) on a platform condemning unfair ATM fees. In 2002, Oh! The Things I Know!: A Guide to Success, or Failing That, Happiness has Franken referring to himself as Dr. Al Franken, dispensing life-affirming lessons such as "Oh! Are You Going to Hate Your First Job" and "Oh! The Weight You Will Gain." He also served as contributing writer to Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live (2002) and wrote the foreword for the third volume of the popular Bushisms series, Still More George W. Bushisms: "Neither in French nor in English nor in Mexican."
None of Franken's books has generated as much controversy as his 2003 release, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Franken's fans waited seven years for another work of piercing political commentary, and this one more than delivered. Over the course of 43 chapters, Franken takes his battle straight to the top, criticizing the Bush administration and the scores of conservative pundits who, in his opinion, have distorted facts to support their political causes. Franken was sued by the politically conservative Fox Network for using the Fox slogan "Fair and Balanced" in the title of the book. Fox eventually dropped the case, but not before Franken got the last laugh -- he thanked the Fox Network profusely for boosting his book sales via the controversy.
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In 1992, Franken anchored Comedy Central's Indecision '92, covering the presidential conventions and election-night events. In 1996, he teamed with Arianna Huffington, covering the party conventions and election night for Bill Maher's show Politically Incorrect.
In 1988, CNN hired Franken to provide commentary at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.
Franken served as a Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government at the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, in 2003.
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