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Franken for Kerry? What a shocker

Air America host tongue-in-cheekly endorses Democratic candidate.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Al Franken a Kerry man? On Friday he formally endorsed John Kerry for president!

“Like most of our listeners I’ve struggled with this decision,” said Franken on his radio show, reading in sonorous tones. Calling the election “too important for me to continue to be an impartial observer,” he solemnly announced that he was unable to support President Bush.

“I have studied Kerry’s record closely,” Franken went on, “and though I would take issue with his family’s ownership of three SUVs,” a close examination found Kerry to be “the better man for the job.”

This declaration, of course, was a grand display of ironic understatement.

Since the Air America network started in March, Franken has devoted much of his weekday talk show — indeed, most of his waking hours — to pillorying Bush.

Proud to be a leftyFranken an impartial observer? Even in the noisy world of on-air punditry, Franken rises above the racket with partisan zeal. This lefty satirist-advocate has made getting Bush out of office and getting Kerry in his personal crusade.

“This week I was in Washington twice,” he reports between spoonfuls of yogurt at a nearby coffee shop after Friday’s broadcast (which airs noon to 3 p.m. ET). “I’m going to Maine tonight, Chicago on Sunday, doing fund-raisers, rallies, get-out-the-vote stuff. Then Sunday night I’ll be back to do the show.”

Since Labor Day, Franken’s exposure has been amplified by an hourlong TV version of his radio show airing weeknights at 11:30 p.m. on cable’s Sundance Channel.

Here viewers get a peek inside the Air America studio occupied by Franken and able co-host Katherine Lanpher as well as their occasional guests. Visuals and graphics are added, and three hours boiled down to one, during a breakneck post-production session each evening.

“On the TV version, we generally use the first two segments of the radio show, where I talk about the news. And we’ll use any guest who’s in the studio” — Franken flexes his froggy grin — “unless it’s really bad.”

Planned from the start to run only through the presidential race, Franken’s Sundance show will conclude Nov. 5. But a return engagement is likely.

“We couldn’t be happier with it,” says Larry Aidem, president of the premium network that claims more than 20 million cable subscribers. “Al is a perfect fit for people we regard as our core audience. We will sit down with him after Nov. 5” to discuss when Franken might be back on Sundance’s schedule, Aidem says. “And we’ll pay for the meal.”

A taste for topical comedyIt was on late-night TV that Franken, 53, got his start three decades ago, writing and performing topical comedy as a charter member of the “Saturday Night Live” troupe.

During his 16 seasons on “SNL,” Franken says he “never felt the job of the show was to have a political ax to grind. But when I left in ’95, I felt that was my chance to let my own political views be known, and to use them as a satirist.”

That was when he wrote his best seller, “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot,” which he calls “the start of my becoming an activist.”

He upped the ante by writing “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.”

“As I researched that book, I got really angry,” he says, and ticks off a litany of grievances against the Bush administration. When he got the offer to be part of Air America, he was ready to get his message out as a radio talk-show host.

“I had been on radio as a guest a lot,” he says. “Part of the reason I brought Katherine in was, I had had fabulous fun with her whenever I was a guest on her show (on Minnesota Public Radio). I figured, if worst comes to worst, we could do our show as if she’s just interviewing me, and I’m my own guest.”

Earlier this month, “The Al Franken Show” hit the campaign trail, broadcasting from cities including San Diego, Denver, Minneapolis, Columbus and Miami. These all happen to be among Air America’s 37 affiliate markets, which also include Boston, where his show will originate on Election Day. (In addition, it can be heard on both Sirius and XM satellite radio.)

Franken figures on continuing his radio show “for a while. There’s a lot of work to do.” Even if Kerry wins, he’ll need defending — the opposition “is going to go after Kerry tooth and nail.”

Not that Franken is taking a Democratic win for granted. Is he on pins and needles? “Yeah, sometimes,” he admits. “But mostly, I’m thinking of the next thing I have to do.”