Al Franken's Senate Bid No Laughing Matter

Al Franken is best known as a funnyman, but this fall, he hopes to convince Minnesotans that he is dead serious about representing them in the U.S. Senate.

One obstacle in Franken's path: his past. Over his 35-year career, the Saturday Night Live alum and former Air America host has made more than a few off-color jokes.

"I'm very proud of my career, but there's a lot of stuff out there. ... Some jokes weren't funny, some jokes were inappropriate and some downright offensive," Franken tells NPR's Michele Norris.

Franken is seeking to dislodge Sen. Norm Coleman, a first-term Republican, in November. Minnesota Democrats formally endorsed the author and comedian's run for Senate at their state convention in Rochester on Saturday.

At the event, Franken found himself apologizing for past quips, including a January 2000 article he wrote for Playboy called "Porn-O-Rama." In the satirical essay, he used explicit language to describe virtual sex and a menage-a-trois. On May 22, the Minnesota Republican Party sent Franken a letter, signed by six GOP women, asking him to apologize.

But Franken says it's impossible for him to apologize ahead of time for all of the offensive material he has written over more than three decades.

"If I were to do a press conference and say, 'In 1980 in October, I did a Grateful Dead concert and I told this joke' — I can't put everything out there, and that's not what this campaign has got to be about," he says.

Instead, he says, his campaign is about education, the price of gas, and universal health care, among other serious issues.

But will Minnesotans be able to accept the comedian as a politician?

"I haven't spent the last 35 years just getting them to laugh; I've been spending the 35 years getting them to think," Franken says, citing his three New York Times best-sellers on politics. The books are "satirical, but they tell the truth," he says.

"I took on the [Newt] Gingrich revolution when no one else was doing it," Franken says. "And I took on the right-wing press and media, and I took on Fox [News] and they sued me, and I beat 'em. There are people who attend my rallies, who read my books, and said, 'You know, I was a Republican, but I read your books and I became a Democrat.' "

As Franken reaches out to the general electorate, he is measuring his words more carefully, but he says he'll probably continue to say what's on his mind more than "your typical politician."

"Sometimes I'm funny and sometimes I'm serious," he says. "There's a sort of evolution of going from a comedian to a satirist to a radio host to a politician. And I understand it. One thing I've discovered is there's a lot of politics involved in politics."

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