As first seen on Bankrate.com
Al Franken is probably best known for his bespectacled work as writer and performer on Saturday Night Live, creating the wounded but always-recovering Stuart Smalley and the conceited center of “The Al Franken Decade.” He projected Smalley onto the big screen, writing and starring in Stuart Saves his Family and conceived and helms political sitcom Lateline, which now runs on Showtime. NBC canceled it “because they’re idiots,” as Franken puts it. Franken is also a prolific author, having penned I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me, Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot (hit #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List and earned the description “mindless tripe” by conservative icon Jean Kirkpatrick), and his most recent, Why Not Me? He is also one of the premiere political satirists in this country, having covered the national conventions for CNN and Comedy Central since the 1988 Presidential elections.
Born in New York City in 1951, the normally shy Franken spoke to us from the upper East side of Manhattan, where he lives with Franni, his wife of 23 years, and their two children.
GREEN: So, do you have any projects since Why Not Me?
Al Franken: I’m writing a pilot for Fox about a nice guy who has very sick thoughts. I will not be acting in it, though.
Other than your extensive political news coverage, are you involved in politics in any way?
I am sort of a surrogate for Gore. I’m going to New Hampshire; I will be speaking to a group with the candidate.
Do you ever contribute money to politicians?
Never before this year, not until I gave to Hillary Clinton. I’m happy with some of the things Guiliani has done, I’m just not happy with him as a person.
How about charities? Are you involved in any causes?
I am on the board for the Congressional Hunger Center, started by Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio). It’s non-governmental now. We train hunger advocates to study hunger here and abroad and also coordinate with the U.S. military to feed people. We currently have 20 Fellows — kids out of college who spend 6 months in the field, such as on Indian reservations, and 6 months in Washington (D.C.) to deal with bureaucracy. They then are able to institute breakfast programs, etc. I myself just did a U.S.O. tour; it was an unusual grouping of people…the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Christie Brinkly, Terry Bradshaw. We went to several places, including Kosovo.
Well, we’re kinda obsessed about money here. Do you manage your own money, or do you have a guru?
We have an accountant, but my wife does the books — she learned on the job, but she used to run her own business. My corporation has a pension program for me. I invest like a retired school principal — conservatively.
Do you come from a wealthy backround?
No, it was sort of working-class/suburban. My dad was a printing salesman. But we were comfortable.
So, you are a Harvard grad. Did you find it hard, then, to fit in with the various clubs and houses?
No. I was still a suburban boy, and anyways, Harvard was becoming more of the meritocracy that it is now. As it should be. It’s full of people who test well.
Tell me something about your scroungiest days when starting out.
Well, I knew Tom Davis since high school (former comedy team partner). We worked summers together in Minneapolis. We hitchhiked to L.A. and stayed on Pat Croft’s (writer for Police Academy) couch. I’ve had to do jobs like be Santa Claus and Winnie the Pooh. That is not fun, carrying that honey pot — kids beat you.
When Tom and I played colleges, we got $500 a night, so that was good. When we started on SNL, we actually took a pay cut! We got $300 a week for the first 6 weeks to share. The Writers Guild of America treated us like one person. Then, we went up to $500 a week.
We got a lucky deal on an apartment. My grandparents left me a rent-controlled apartment with 2 bedrooms. When it went condo, I got first right to buy on it, and flipped it! I needed more room — I’ve got 2 kids now.
What’s a splurge for you?
We love to travel. I will be going to Italy for the second time soon. My brother lives in France, so we go to see him. I’ve been to Hawaii. I just got my daughter a car this year, but for years, we didn’t have one. We lavish on the children. My daughter has been to Europe many times; I didn’t go to Europe until my 20’s. She attends Duke and my son is in private school. I have the money, but even being frugal, it’s amazing how fast it goes. We had a country house, but the kids hated it. They had friends they wanted to see in the city. It was ridiculous, so we got rid of that.
We love going to restaurants, sometimes fancy restaurants. I take great pride in wearing clothes that have been given to me. My wife comes from a very poor backround, as a child. So, she is even more frugal than I am. And, that’s what I’d suggest. Marry either really rich or poor. If you marry rich, you’re taken care of. If you marry poor, then they have no expectations.”
Do you have any investment advice?
Don’t listen to me. I spend so little time thinking about investment.