The last time Al Franken appeared at BookExpo was in 2003. He and former Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly exchanged harsh words during an Author’s Breakfast that was broadcast live on C-Span’s Book TV. Recalling the argument, which began in the green room and continued on the dais, Franken laughs. His wife, who watched it on television, told him that she “was afraid that [O’Reilly] was going to stab me in the neck.”
In the intervening 14 years, circumstances have changed for both men. Franken is now the U.S. senator from Minnesota and has just released a memoir, Al Franken: Giant of the Senate (Twelve). Bill O’Reilly? Well... Franken says that his new book tells the story of a “nice Jewish boy” from Minnesota, who grew up, moved to New York City, became a comedian, and then made a mid-career switch to politics. Franken was one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live, and later became a cast member.
After writing six books, including such politically charged satires as Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them (the book that O’Reilly took umbrage with back in 2003), Franken returned to Minnesota. In 2008, he ran for the U.S. Senate against the incumbent, Republican Norm Coleman. The election was so close that there was a recount, and Franken was named the winner by only 312 votes. After months of legal challenges from Coleman, Franken took his seat seven months later. He was re-elected in 2014 with 53% of the vote.
Franken says that he wrote the memoir because he had some time to kill during a 2015 solo vacation in rural Minnesota, and he wanted to answer once and for all the same questions that everyone asks him: Which is more fun, the U.S. Senate or Saturday Night Live? How did he successfully make the transition from comedian to senator? What is it like to be a U.S. senator? “Most of the book is about the Senate,” Franken says, “but I also write about SNL, and that first campaign, as well as how the Senate works.” Franken describes Al Franken: Giant of the Senate as “an honest book [with] laughs o’plenty,” and some dishing.
Franken notes that a sense of humor is “helpful” in any field, but especially in politics. “Humor,” Franken says, “is shorthand for someone getting to know you.” As his more conservative colleagues in Congress have gotten to know him, he explains, they have come to realize that he skewered them in his previous books not just to make fun of them, but, rather, because he’s “just funny.” One unexpected benefit of laughing often and loudly, he notes, is that his staff always know where he is on the Senate floor. “They can hear me on the monitors,” he says.
Today, 11:15 a.m.–12:15 p.m. Al Franken will be on the Main Stage with comedian Marc Maron in an event they’re calling, “WTF Is Happening, Senator Franken?”