Remembering The Funny Al Franken

July 7, 2009 9:16 a.m.

As we’ve seen over the last week, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) is now going to be a dead-serious public servant, leaving behind the image of the goofy comedian that he’d cultivated for decades before. With that in mind, it’s time to remember and say goodbye to Funny Al — at least for a while.

During the 2008 campaign, Republicans went out of their way to attack Franken for jokes that he’d told over the course of his comedy career, sometimes taking them out of context to make him seem like a real nut-job. Franken clearly adjusted his own demeanor over the course of that race, and he just barely won it in the end. So he’ll probably have to be on his best behavior going forward.

As the first part of our trip down memory lane, here’s Franken in the early 1980s, along with his writing partner Tom Davis, doing a bang-up impression of the Rolling Stones:

Here’s a 1987 appearance by Franken and Davis on the David Letterman show, with the two of them joking about family life, the Iran-Contra scandal, impersonating politicians (hmm…), having to compete against a Holocaust TV special for an Emmy, and doing a really interesting “Stupid Human Trick”:

That’s right — Al Franken can draw a map of the contiguous United States in under two minutes — a trick he later used to entertain Democratic crowds in Minnesota. Why did he learn to do this, Letterman asked? Franken’s response: “A bar bet.”

Here are the first five minutes of Franken’s 1995 movie about his flagship character Stuart Smalley, Stuart Saves His Family:

Unfortunately for Franken’s career, the movie was a box-office flop.

Here’s Franken from a few years ago, explaining the difference between himself and Rush Limbaugh — and where Limbaugh’s facts come from:

“So where did Rush get his statistic that ‘75% of all Americans on the minimum wage are teenagers in their first job?'” Franken asked. “Well, clearly he got it directly — he pulled it directly from his butt. And it went out of his butt, through his mouth, into the microphone, over the airwaves, into the brains of ditto-heads, who swallowed it. And you don’t want to swallow something from Rush’s butt — you just don’t.”

Early in his campaign, Franken kept the laughs coming. Check out this March 2007 appearance with Letterman:

“I’m more of a satirist. You are a clown,” he told Letterman. “And by the way, you’re a great clown, and there’s nothing better than making people laugh. And that’s what you do. And I do that too — except that I also make people think.”

By March 2008, however, in another appearance with his friend Letterman, Franken had become much more straight-laced:

Franken tried to stick to the issues and what matters for Minnesota, while Letterman kept trying to make things funny. After Franken talked about the serious campaign organization he’d built, Letterman asked: “And are you confident that you will get the clown vote?”

In the home stretch of the 2008 campaign, Franken ended up contributing to a Saturday Night Live sketch making fun of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), depicting the Republican nominee for President approving various ads that said all sorts of sleazy things about Barack Obama:

Franken later said the sketch’s main joke originated from conversations he had with Lorne Michaels and SNL head writer Seth Meyers — but he didn’t realize it would actually become a sketch on the show, and he insisted that he didn’t actually write any specific words for it.

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