A former fan’s notes

The Al Franken Show Blog is touting Rocket Man’s appearance tomorrow in its preview of Friday’s show (the post includes generous links to this site and the blog includes online links to the Franken show’s Internet feeds). Rocket Man will follow Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman on the show. In the linked post, Franken’s flack links, among other items, to “Al Franken: Unfunny, with an excuse,” one of the several critical items we’ve posted here about Franken, and credits Rocket Man with courage for agreeing to appear on the show.
I’ve taken a look through our archives for the notice we’ve previously taken of Franken here and am somewhat surprised to find how much we’ve written about him. I tried to give Franken some credit for his USO tours in “Al Franken plays Baghdad,” but Franken’s material made the task more difficult than it should have been. I linked to David Frum’s powerful critique of one of Franken’s books in “What went wrong?” I quoted a Star Tribune account of Franken’s appearance in the Twin Cities at a Democratic Party fundraiser this past July in “Al Franken channels Castro.”
Rocket Man documented Franken’s deployment of his diplomatic skills at the Republican Convention at the end of August in “Row on Radio Row.” And Deacon commented on Franken’s unlovely polemical style in “We’ll be seeing you, Al.”
In truth, I am an old fan of Franken with a soft spot in my heart for him. Together with his former comedy partner Tom Davis, Franken attended Blake School in Minneapolis, the traditional rival of the high school that I attended in St. Paul. I went to see Franken and Davis work on the material they had written for the upcoming season of Saturday Night Live at the Dudley Riggs West Bank comedy venue in Minneapolis during the summer of 1976. If I remember correctly, Franken endearlingly made his parents a part of his act that night, happily sharing the spotlight with them. I thought that Franken and Davis were both funny and that their material was good, but the last time Franken was funny was around the time he declared the 1980’s the Al Franken Decade.
In any event, I have tried to represent Franken fairly here. Last March in “A visit to Al Franken’s Nixon bathroom,” I gave a close reading to Russell Shorto’s excellent New York Times Magazine profile of Franken. I wrote that if Franken is not quite a genuine eccentric, he does appear at least to be genuine, and that Franken’s “Nixon Bathroom” best located him in the land between satire, self-satisfaction, and politics that is Franken’s current residence. I gave the last word to Shorto:

Al Franken and I are standing wedged into the half-bathroom in his apartment, staring at the walls. The family calls this the Nixon Bathroom; it’s covered with memorabilia associated with the 37th president. In one long frame is a copy of the five-page handwritten letter Elvis Presley sent to Nixon in 1970 asking to be made a ”federal agent at large.” Above it are three photographs of Nixon as he’s about to board the presidential helicopter after his resignation, which were taken by Franken’s brother, Owen, a veteran photojournalist. Next to the toilet is a framed copy of Nixon’s letter of resignation, with the tiny blue letters of Henry Kissinger’s initials in the corner. Beside the sink is a copy of President Carter’s commutation of the Watergate sentence of G. Gordon Liddy. (”That was a present from G. — I get to call him G. because we’re friends.”) And there is a letter from Nixon’s personal secretary — written to Franken in 1992 after Franken invited the former president to be a guest on an S.N.L. political special — saying she’s sorry Nixon can’t appear on ”your special show.” Franken said the phrase aloud, savoring its weirdness. This is the bathroom decor of a political junkie and a serious clown.

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