Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My Encounter With Al Franken

Al Franken is a dick. And he's not funny. Politically, he may be leagues above Norm "I Hate The UN" Coleman, but personally Franken is a true prick and I know whereof I speak. A true story: years ago, on the Upper West Side (Riverside Drive to be exact), I encountered Al Franken. As Al Franken isn't really a "celebrity," I just walked on by as if it were just any other New Yorker. As I got closer, Franken began to eye me. Suspiciously. I don't know if Franken thought I was a crazy fan or something, but he watched me very closely, actually crouching just a bit -- defensively, as menacingly as a 50 year old comedy writer can be -- as if he were anticipating that I was going to attack him or something. It was fucking weird and I never quite forgot the feeling. Was it a racial thing? Is he paranoid? Was he doing an impromptu stand-up routine? No. He definitely wasn't doing a joke. There was no jovial vibe; rather, it was ugly.

Al Franken was trained as a wrestler and has been known to "throw down ( From the NYTimes mag: "'He seemed like a total jock,' says the comedian Laraine Newman, who was a member of the original cast.")." Franken actually tackled a heckler at a Howard Dean speech, in the process snapping his glasses in two. And his prickishness is well remarked upon by former SNL cast member Jay Mohr, who wrote in Gasping For Airtime:

".. (W)hen Emma Thompson hosted the show and Smashing Pumpkins was the musical guest, Al and I had another dust up. Emma Thompson had just broken through in American film, and though I knew who she was, I made the mistake of wandering through the writers’ room, a blank on ideas that was causing me to blank on everything, and bothering Franken about it. He was sitting at the writers’ table chewing on a pencil. He would go through about three pencils a night with his mouth. I asked Al, 'Who is Emma Thompson?' He went ballistic. 'Are you fucking kidding me?' He threw his chewed pencil across the room. 'She was nominated for a fucking Academy Award!”

I thought he was remarkably angry for such an innocuous question. Most of the writers were seated at the table with Al and had seen and heard the entire exchange. I was being screamed at like I was a child in front of my coworkers. I looked around to see if anyone was going to tell Al to calm down, but they didn’t. I was on my own. I looked at Franken and asked, 'Hey, Al, who are Smashing Pumpkins?' Franken turned red and then bluish red. Getting up from the table and storming out of the room, he yelled over his shoulder: 'I don’t know. But they didn’t get nominated for a fucking Academy Award!' Uh, touche, I guess."

Today Steve Kornaki writes in The Observer about how Franken is looking to be something of a loser in his Senate run even as the more bullish of prognosticators are talking about the Democrats winning four to six Senate seats. From the salmon-colored weekly:

"Coleman is poised to buck the same odds that Robb did in 1994 – and he owes it all to Minnesota’s Democrats, who have, just like Virginia’s Republican 14 years ago, picked the one candidate capable of squandering the enormous built-in advantages that their party enjoys.

That would be Al Franken, the former Saturday Night Live writer and performer and Air America host, who returned to his native Minnesota a few years ago with an eye on Coleman’s Senate seat. As a public figure, Franken is proving to be about as polarizing as North – although, obviously, for very different reasons. (Franken has never stood accused of coordinating the illicit sale of weapons to Iran, transferring the resulting profits to an illegal war in Central America, or even of lying to Congress).

But Franken has attracted the same intense passion from his party’s left-wing base that North generated from conservatives. To the left, Franken is something of a folk-hero for his scathing mockery of the right, beginning 12 years ago with his best-seller Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat Idiot. Other books (and countless media appearances and his own radio show) followed, and in the years since, the party’s grassroots activists – in Minnesota and nationally – have come to rely on Franken for pointed, unsparing derision of the right. This has given him a strong base of political and financial support.

To the right, of course, this makes Franken an obnoxious limousine liberal, a symbol of the condescension and cultural elitism that, they believe, defines the left and the Democratic Party. In a year when Republicans aren’t motivated about much, Minnesota’s conservatives are salivating over the prospect of handing Franken a defeat – in the same way that liberals in Virginia, most of whom cared little for Robb, found reason to work overtime when faced with the prospect of a Senator North in ’94."

More here.

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