Friday, November 21, 2008

Waiting on the Franken-Coleman recount: Part 2

The recount in the Franken-Coleman Senate race in Minnesota continues into Day 3, and the latest word shows that Franken has whittled Coleman's lead down to 136 votes, with over half of the 2.9 million ballots still to be counted.

While we wait on that nail-biter, here's another Franken story from his early SNL days, this one set in May, 1976:

Al Franken and Tom Davis, to their relief, also broke through on the Madeline Kahn show. For most of the first season they'd submitted so much material and gotten so little on the air that their apprenticeships as writers were considered tenuous by some on the show. They bought some time with a long parody of The Untouchables in December, but it wasn't until they wrote a sketch called "The Final Days" that they established themselves.

"The Final Days" was based on the just-published book of the same name by Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, their follow-up to All the President's Men. The temptation to gloat about the book's sensational revelations of Nixon's decline was irresistible for Franken and Davis, who'd been hammering away at the ex-President for years in their comedy. Surprisingly, though, after hours wracking their brains they still failed to come up with a sketch. Finally, exhausted at three o'clock on a Wednesday morning on the 17th floor, trying to keep going and looking for inspiration, they took some LSD. As the sun came up they were both stalking around their office with hunched shoulders and waggling jowls, two demented Richard Nixons trading lines and laughing hysterically.

The basic outlines of the sketch were written that night, although in the course of the week it would go through some changes. [ . . . ]

Ann Beatts suggested that the piece be restructured as a diary recollection by Pat Nixon, to be played by host Madeline Kahn. Garrett Morris, at Lorne's request, was written in as Sammy Davis, Jr. On air, Dan Aykroyd did his impression of Richard Nixon for the first time; John, his first Henry Kissinger. The sketch opened with Pat Nison, obviously tipsy, recalling the final days of the Nixon White House. Nixon was then seen talking to a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. "Well, Abe, you were lucky. They shot you." David and Julie Eisenhower, played by Chevy and Gilda, entered and suggested that the President get some rest, and Nixon, in an aside, remarked, "Ugh, he does look like Howdy Doody."

Asked if he planned to resign, Nixon declared himself an optimist and relayed an anecdote. "Remember that Army hospital I visited in Vietnam? There was a young enlisted man from Des Moines, Iowa. He had been hit in the eye with a surface -to-air missile. And he only had four pints of blood left in his body and, as you know, a man normally has eight pints of blood in his body. Now, the pessimists in this country would say that that boy was half empty, while I like to think he was half full!"

"That's right, Mr. President," David replied. "You know I was talking to two reporters from The Washington Post this morning, and they said they thought you were half crazy, but I told them I like to think of you as half sane."

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