3 Things I Learned Listening to Al Franken’s “Giant of the Senate”

Motivational Monday #1

Al Franken made our nine hour drive from Massachusetts to Virginia a pleasure. I enjoyed the self-effacing, deadpan humor I loved when he was on Saturday Night Live.  Franken also expresses the dark side of working at SNL, dealing with the substance abuse around him, the deaths of John Belushi and Chris Farley, his wife’s struggle with alcoholism.  The evolution from satirist to political leader is fascinating, as Franken moves from lampooning politicians to becoming a target.  It’s riveting. Here are a few important lessons learned while we navigated the New Jersey Turnpike in August:


  • Be curious and willing to ask for advice. Even though Franken is a huge star, he is willing to learn from anyone. He listened to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan during his yearly USO tours, and became a principled critic of war profiteering and the failure of military policy. Franken’s revealing chapter on visiting a Minnesota Native American reservation shows his vulnerability and willingness to engage people of a different culture, to take risks and be self-revealing in order to build trust. And despite his media savvy, Franken knows he is a political novice. He is willing to take advice and correction from other politicians, even 20-something campaign workers out in the campaign trenches. Learn from everyone!


  • Be authentic and true to yourself, especially under criticism. Franken’s Senate campaign opponent threw every dirty trick possible at him; using his years of satire to brand him as crude, juvenile, sexist and unfit for office. The worst criticism came from a satire piece written a decade ago in Playboy magazine about sex with robots, called “Sex-orama.” Few people could have weathered that storm. Franken’s political advisors urged him to apologize for the piece and move on. But Franken felt once he started apologizing for writing satire, it would not only undermine the whole point of political comedy, the potential criticism would never end.


At the Minnesota nominating convention, Franken gave a courageous speech:

“It kills me, the things I said and wrote, has given an impression to people in this state that I can’t be a champion for women…for all Minnesotans.  I’m sorry for that.  (At this point there was a collective exhale and applause.)

That is not who I am, I’m a husband, and “Franny” has been my wife for 32 years.  I’m a father who taught my two children to respect everyone.  For 35 years, I was a writer.  I wrote a lot of jokes.  Some of them were not funny and some were inappropriate, and even downright offensive, I understand that.  I understand that the people of Minnesota don’t want a Senator to say things that make them uncomfortable. but there are people who are in Washington who need to be made uncomfortable, and that is what I’m going to do as Senator.”



This speech is a great example of direct, authentic, straight talk that people respect.  He does not apologize for who he is, acknowledges that his work pushes the edges and can be offensive, and clarifies his deepest values and commitments.  Be authentic!


Be persistent. Franken’s success was never guaranteed by his talent. He is honest about his many low points; from a disastrous SNL season in 2005-06 when everyone said the show was dead, to going to Al-Anon to learn about his own responsibility as he dealt with his wife’s alcoholism, and doing the hard daily work to refine his craft. Obstacles are inevitable. How we handle them makes us who we are.

Don’t miss “Giant in the Senate.” This is exactly what you need instead of yelling at the stop and start traffic on the New Jersey turnpike, or in political congestion of our summer.  Listen in to Al Franken.

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