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Al Franken in 1976 interview: ‘I just don’t like homosexuals’
Matt Klaber / CCL
For a lawmaker who considers himself a champion of LBGTQ rights, it is strange to hear Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) use the word “gay” with a negative connotation. He reportedly used the adjective just this year to describe Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s opposition to marriage equality as “very gay,” and when Senate Republicans failed to appear at a hearing to debate the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, Franken says he fought the urge to say, “I think it’s a shame that none of the gay members of the committee showed up.”
While the comedian-turned-legislator’s disambiguation can be forgiven as a snarky misuse of irony, there is no mistaking the cruel gay-bashing statements eagerly employed by Franken some 41 years earlier. Interviewing with The Harvard Crimson in 1976, Franken admitted, “I just don’t like homosexuals,” before he glorified the death of a gay man in Philadelphia.
The Crimson piece focused on Franken’s breakout years with the now-iconic Saturday Night Live (SNL) comedy trope.
The discussion evolved naturally to the curly-haired, cherub-faced comedian’s artistic performances at his Alma Mater, and Franken was noticeably resentful that one particular comedy show shunned him.
One passage from the decades-old profile stands out. Crimson writer Richard S. Lee wrote:
[Franken] recalled writing a skit called “Seamen on Broadway” that was rejected from the Hasty Pudding show “by some preppie so they could take some other preppie’s skit.” Franken started to smile again, but his tone was serious, too serious. “It’s not preppies, cause I’m a preppie myself. I just don’t like homosexuals. If you ask me, they’re all homosexuals in the Pudding. Hey, I was glad when that Pudding homosexual got killed in Philadelphia.” The smile became so broad it pushed his eyes shut. He couldn’t stand it any longer. “Put that in, put that in,” Franken laughed, leaning over the desk. “I’d love to see that in The Crimson.”
Franken’s coarse homophobia, spoken during a different era for LGBTQ Americans, languished as an unobserved stain in the Crimson archives until novelist Peter Schweizer resurrected the forgotten words in his 2005 bestseller, Do as I Say (Not as I Do): Profile in Liberal Hypocrisy. Schweizer scrutinized Franken’s appetite for the politically uncouth as a writer for SNL, describing his disturbing attempts to produce racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic material.
According to Schweizer, Franken wrote one skit about policemen who shoot homosexuals, a performance that the author says alarmed gay rights groups at the time. Other examples of Franken’s forays into the unfunny included a talk show about people who wanted to assassinate Ted Kennedy, and a “breast cancer” skit about a husband who laments having sex with his postoperative, single-breasted wife.
Franken even took a stab at the unholy grail of political incorrectness with jokes about the Holocaust that, fortunately, never aired on SNL or any other program.
“He’s not afraid to be ugly,” observed fellow SNL writer Dave Mandell in a discussion about Franken’s comedic success.
Despite this apparent homophobia, the liberal Democrat who won his 2008 election by just 312 votes has repeatedly run on platforms that championed LGBTQ rights. It seems the senator experienced a major social metamorphosis at some point in the last several decades, or else he has some explaining to do.
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