Playboy: What was your involvement with "Weekend Update"?
Franken: I helped pick Dennis Miller. I wanted to do "Weekend Update" after he left. Kevin Nealon was chosen and did a good job. Finally Kevin left, and the Norm guy got it. I felt I'd earned it just by virtue of years of service to the show. I think the decision wasn't fully Lorne's. I'm not in a position to say what the case was. I was disappointed, and I left the show after that, in 1995. Norm Macdonald did a great job. I thought I'd be at SNL doing "Update" for several years, which ended up not happening, so I tried to develop a career in something else. The movie When a Man Loves a Woman helped my screenwriting career. The utter commercial failure of the Stuart Smalley movie hurt it. It gave me the strong feeling I'd never star in a movie again.
Playboy: When a Man Loves a Woman was a serious film about addiction and recovery that you co-wrote. Was that a change of pace after years of writing for laughs?
Franken: It started out as a dramedy. What I thought was funniest about codependency was that a codependent acts out as much as a drug addict or an alcoholic. I figured the journey of the codependent realizing that he's as sick as the alcoholic would be a great movie. It went through the dehumorizer.
Playboy: Were you disappointed with that?
Franken: Yes and no. It was successful. I'm proud of the movie, and I'm told it's shown as an instructive film by rehab counselors and therapists. They also show Stuart Saves His Family. Stuart Smalley was born as this character who at first blush seems like an idiot but who has a lot to teach through his vulnerability. It was a way for me to talk about recovery and 12-step programs. I started doing it on SNL. I'd gone into Al-Anon, which is for friends and family members of alcoholics. Tom will say that I thought he had a problem. We broke up over that. We're good friends, and every once in a while he performs on my show. Again it was nutritional candy. My wet dream is that when Limbaugh was in rehab, he was made to watch Stuart Saves His Family with his wife.
Playboy: We take it you have a great deal of affection for the Stuart character.
Franken: I love Stuart Smalley, and I love doing him. Occasionally he appears on the radio show. He is a caring nurturer but not a licensed therapist, which he is very careful to explain because it's powerful stuff. Stuart is the one character I've wanted to do commercials with. He's a perfect character to do commercials for frozen waffles.
Playboy: Not long ago Tom Davis remarked that Al Franken wants to be president of the United States.
Franken: I don't want to be president. He might have said the same about my wanting to play center field for the Yankees.
Playboy: How serious are you about running for the Senate?
Franken: I won't make a decision about that until 2007. After the Limbaugh book a lot of people told me I should run for office because I know a lot about politics, am fairly articulate, have been married once and am very goodlooking. I thought it would be funnier to write a book about my thinking that I should run for office. Why Not Me?, in which I run for president, is my funniest book. It's fictional. It didn't do particularly well, but every one of my failures has a cult following.
Playboy: Assuming you do run for office, where will Republicans hit you hardest?
Franken: They'll print my interruption from the beginning of this interview. "He slept with a Playmate." Then it'll be "Franken has no government experience. Franken was raised in Minnesota, but he spent most of his adulthood outside the state." When I lived in New York I considered myself a Minnesotan and a New Yorker. Now I consider myself a Minnesotan.
Playboy: You admit to having used cocaine during your SNL years.
Franken: Yes. When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible. But we know the president used cocaine, because he basically admitted it. If people were okay with Bush doing it, I'm not sure why what I did in my youth would matter. Also I've written two movies about addiction disease--more about alcoholism than chemical dependency--both of which are shown in rehab programs. I know a lot more about this area and have better ideas for what we should do about drugs than most political figures in this country. The way the drug war is being waged is ridiculous. There are people who have been in prison for way too long. We don't prepare people to make a transition into society after prison so they can lead productive lives without going back to crime.
Playboy: That sounds like a bite from a forthcoming stump speech.
Franken: It's not. It's simply talking. We talk about a lot of stuff on the show. We've talked about education and getting more pay for teachers who work in high-risk school districts. Often we have people on, and I have no idea what their political bent is. Anyone who listens to my show knows that's what I do. I find it ironic that people who don't listen to the show criticize it for being all Bush bashing.
Playboy: Even before you established residence in Minnesota, you visited there often. Have you attempted to replicate Hillary Clinton's New York State listening tour?
Franken: I would like to talk to her about it. I've traveled from Duluth to Moorhead and from Moorhead down to Rochester and over to Mankato and up to St. Cloud.
Playboy: And no doubt you've versed yourself in local issues.
Franken: I would push for wild-rice labeling. That's important, because the wild rice that's marketed as wild rice isn't real wild rice. Minnesota Indians had that right in a way, and they lost it. The labeling of wild rice is a political issue. That's one of the reasons I'm looking at running for the Senate--because you can do lots of things like that. Franni and I have been sent wild rice. We haven't cooked it yet.
Playboy: If elected to the Senate, you know constituents will call Al Franken to help them solve problems.
Franken: It's important. You make sure your office knows that veterans' benefits and Social Security checks are priorities. Then there's facilitating some problem someone may have with the government . My cousin Adlai--he's named for Adlai Stevenson--runs a fabric company in Kansas City. He had all these raw goods from China sitting in a Brooklyn warehouse, and Customs wouldn't release them. He didn't know where to get help. He called me, and I called the office of a senator friend of mine.
Playboy: Will fellow Democrats hit the campaign trail with you? We're sure you have some IOUs to collect from your own political appearances.
Franken: I do. I've been there for Democratic candidates around the country--for the Wisconsin party and for Senator Russ Feingold, for Senator Kent Conrad in North Dakota. I've appeared for a lot of progressive groups in the Midwest.
Playboy: Has Senator Clinton given you any advice about your future plans?
Franken: She promised me we'd sit down sometime.
Playboy: Do you suppose we might ever see Senator Clinton appear on the campaign trail alongside a comic turned political candidate?
Franken: Yeah, she'll come out to Minnesota for me. She totally gets it. She's got a great, goofy sense of humor.