​Al Franken: Most of what Congress does isn't sexy


The former "SNL" cast member and current U.S. Senator says comedy was the perfect route to Capitol Hill.

CBS News

It seems just about every politician is running for president -- but Rita Braver has some Questions and Answers for Al Franken, a Senator who says he couldn't be happier with the job he already has:

"Every once in a while, I say to myself, 'I can't believe I'm a Senator!'" said Al Franken. "But then every once in a while I say, 'I can't believe I'm a Senator!'"

Nor can a lot of people. After all, how many United States Senators have been regulars on "Saturday Night Live," pranced around as Mick Jagger, or held forth as self-help guru Stuart Smalley:

"'Cause I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me."

It CAN get a little old. "I'm introduced as 'He's good enough, he's smart enough ...' That thing," said Franken. "And also when I started running was, you know, 'Al Franken, running for Senate -- no joke.' 'Franken elected -- no joke.'"

"I'm going to have to watch that in writing this story," said Braver.

"Yes, that right, that's my warning to you."

So, okay, no joke: 64-year-old Al Franken has established himself as a straight-talking, hard-working lawmaker who actually shows up for committee hearings, and is willing to reach across the aisle to get things done.

"The first day I got here, Jim Demint, the Senator from South Carolina -- who's now head of the Heritage Foundation, very, very, very conservative -- said to me, 'How are things on the Extreme Left?' And I said, 'They're great! How are things on the Nutcase Right?' And he laughed. And we were friends ever since!"

He makes friends his own quirky way, creating a Senatorial Secret Santa gift swap, and he hosts an annual hot dish competition for the Minnesota Congressional delegation. "Tim Walz is going for a three-peat here," said Franken, "which is kind of obnoxious."

He was raised on a middle-class street in suburban St. Louis Park, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis.

"We had no quality time in my house -- we didn't go skiing or anything like that," he said. "But we had a lot of quality time, and a lot of that was watching comedies. My dad loved to laughed."

Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) with correspondent Rita Braver. CBS News

His dad was a printing salesman, his mom was a homemaker and real estate agent.

"I became interested in politics when I was about 11, 12, 13 years old, during the civil rights movement," he said." We were watching them sic dogs or club demonstrators. My dad would go, 'No Jew can be for that, no Jew can be for that.' That was probably when it crystallized to me how important public affairs are."

And Franken's fascination with both politics and comedy is actually on view in an unexpected place in his current house in Minneapolis: His "Nixon bathroom," featuring Elvis' letter to the president.

"My favorite sentence is, 'I have an in-depth study of drug abuse and Communist brainwashing technique and I am right in the middle of the whole thing.'"

Franken zeroed in on comedy as profession during college at Harvard. In 1975 he joined "Saturday Night Live," where he loved performing. But writing was even better.