Should funnyman Al Franken prevail in his race for a U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota, the win would be one for the history books. Betty Koed, an assistant Senate historian, let out a chortle when asked if a comedian had ever been elected a senator. She couldn't name one to our Katherine Skiba.
Entertainers, though, have come and gone from the world's greatest deliberative body, she says, naming actor and unsuccessful presidential candidate Fred Thompson, a Republican senator from Tennessee from 1994 to 2003—though it must be said that he was a prosecutor in real life before he played one on television's Law & Order.
Two generations ago, Californians gave the nod to the GOP's George Lloyd Murphy, an amiable Hollywood song-and-dance man who starred with the likes of Shirley Temple and Fred Astaire and was elected in 1964 to a single term in the Senate. "We can't expect America to win against its foes without someone in the Senate who can really tap his toes," said one observer.
Franken, who has never held public office, is in a tough fight against incumbent Norm Coleman. But the actor-comedian, author, and screenwriter, who is best known for his 15 seasons with Saturday Night Live, might point to his stint in radio (he was the headliner for the liberal network Air America) as proof he's primed for public service.
Other radio talkers who have served in the Senate: Republican Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Democrats Arthur Moody of Michigan and Wilbert Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel of Texas.
The flamboyant O'Daniel—a singing flour salesman, banjo picker, and popular radio host in the 1930s—was Texas's governor before entering the Senate. He is said to have inspired the governor in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?