U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken

Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune file

Franken conversation may have sparked 'SNL' McCain skit

  • Article by: PATRICIA LOPEZ
  • Star Tribune staff writer
  • September 22, 2008 - 11:42 AM

What may have started as a phone call to an old friend has spiraled into the latest controversy to dog the U.S. Senate campaign of Democratic candidate Al Franken.

 Franken, a political satirist known for his biting humor, was the catalyst for a sketch on the most recent "Saturday Night Live," which sharply lampooned Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

The story, first reported by the national website Politico just as the show was airing, quoted two inside sources at NBC who said Franken, who worked on "SNL" for 15 years, had inspired the skit and was credited as a co-writer for it as recently as Wednesday.

The story appeared to take the Franken campaign by surprise, prompting campaign spokeswoman Colleen Murray to at first say Franken did not write the skit, but later acknowledge Franken had a role in its development.

On Sunday, Murray told the Star Tribune that Franken had spoken with "SNL" producer and longtime friend Lorne Michaels early last week about his experiences taping mandatory approval tags for candidate ads. Murray said Michaels was interested but that Franken had no knowledge that a skit would result. Later in the day Murray acknowledged that Franken had also received a follow-up phone call from "SNL" head writer Seth Meyers.

At a campaign event Sunday in St. Paul, Franken acknowledged that he had talked to Meyers. Franken insisted that "I didn't write a word'' and that he "didn't know'' it would become a sketch. "I thought he might write it but I didn't know. I didn't know anything about it,'' Franken said.

Franken noted how candidates must say they "approve this message'' in their ads -- and editorialized that he thought it must be a difficult task for McCain, whom many Democrats and pundits have accused of leveling dishonest charges against Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.


In the sketch, which led Saturday night's show, McCain is played by "SNL'' veteran Darrell Hammond. While recording campaign commercials, McCain is forced to say that he "approves this message'' over a series of increasingly vicious and ludicrous attacks against Obama.

By 9 a.m. Sunday, Cullen Sheehan, campaign manager for Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, accused Franken of "helping attack the next president of the United States," saying that Franken had proven he was more interested in entertainment than public service and been caught once again "ridiculing those with whom he disagrees."

Franken's style of humor has been an issue throughout the campaign, with opponents regularly resurrecting some of the more profane and crude pieces that he has performed and written over the years.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288

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