Wednesday, July 1, 2009

When I Met Al Franken

Now that Minnesota's senatorial election has at long last been settled, the truth can finally be told.

I met Al Franken in 1980, when we were both supporting a Republican candidate for President. I was a junior at St. Olaf College, a Lutheran liberal arts college across Northfield, Minnesota from Carleton College. Minnesota's presidential caucuses that year would be held on the same day as the New Hampshire primary; then as now, New Hampshire got the overwhelming majority of the media and candidates' attention. After all, local party members around Minnesota were only electing delegates to the next round of state caucuses.

Like many college students that winter, I supported John Anderson for president. Canvassing for the Republican party, I found very few Republicans who supported the eventual nominee, Ronald Reagan; in fact, some Republicans told me they were horrified at the prospect of his nomination. College students, particularly St. Olaf students, overwhelmed the Northfield caucus on election day, producing a lopsided supermajority for Anderson. (George H.W. Bush came in second, Reagan a distant third.) By the time the state caucus was held, Republicans who didn't live in college towns turned the state delegation solidly for Reagan, but that's getting way afield of this story.

Back to preparing for the caucuses. While Anderson, Bush, Reagan, John Connally, Howard Baker and Phil Crane were busily campaigning in New Hampshire, they sent surrogates to Minnesota. Anderson's surrogate to college campuses was Al Franken, a Minnesota-bred writer on Saturday Night Live. He appeared on the show in a deconstruction of comedy team conventions, playing Costello/Lewis/Tom to the Abbott/Martin/Dick of Tom Davis. The bit would open with an animated caricature of the Franken and Davis duo.

The guys running the St. Olaf campaign for John Anderson approached me in advance of a visit to the campus by Al Franken to ask me to draw a poster advertising the event. The obvious idea to me was to draw a take-off of the Franken & Davis cartoon, substituting John Anderson's head on the lankier Tom Davis body. My problem was that when Saturday Night Live was broadcast that weekend, there was no Franken & Davis bit on the show. And with no internet, Hulu, or even video casette to refer to, I had to draw the cartoon completely (except for the easily found pictures of Anderson) from memory.

My fellow students thought my cartoon was just swell anyway, and got the idea that when Franken came to campus, I should present the poster to him. They arranged for the presentation to take place at lunch in the school cafeteria. What any of us thought Mr. Franken would want with the black marker drawing on 3.5' by 2' blue poster board is anybody's guess. What happened was this.

Franken took a look at the poster and made a comment that it was almost, but not quite right. With a magic marker, he then drew an e-NORRRRRRR-mous phallus protruding from his crotch, right across John Anderson and into the advertising copy.

I'm pretty sure he didn't keep the poster. I know I didn't. Maybe somebody in the Students for Anderson group held onto it for a semester or so. We certainly didn't bring it to the caucus.

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