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Stuart Smalley Is Not Dead: See What Has Sen. Al Franken Laughing These Days

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In the Franken home, there’s at least one point of contention.

“Stuart Smalley is in heaven,” says Franni Franken. “He was such a sweet man, he died peacefully in his sleep.”

“No!” protests her husband, Al Franken. “He’s not dead.”

In an interview with PEOPLE for this week’s issue, Al, the U.S. senator from Minnesota who earlier spent 15 years as a writer, a performer and, yes, as Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live, explains that his most iconic character from the show is aging gracefully—out of sight.

“I’ve got the wig and I’ve got the sweater. I just don’t bring Stuart out. But he’s getting exactly as old as I’m getting,” says Franken, 66. In his new memoir, Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken, Smalley is described as “the healing nurturer and member of several 12-step programs.”

Al Franken as Stuart Smalley in 1991
Raymond Bonar/NBCU

The senator’s most popular character these days is his personal rendition of Silly Grandpa—to the delight of his grandson Joe, 4, and Avery, 8 mos., who live just two blocks away from their grandparents in Washington, D.C.

Al Franken and granddaughter Avery Greenwald
Martin Schoeller

“He likes to joke that the kids call him Senator,” says daughter Thomasin Franken, 36. From teaching Joe to blow raspberries to giving horseback rides to making clown faces over Avery’s baby food, Franken is the same as grandpa as he was as dad, Thomasin tells PEOPLE.

When she and her brother Joe were young, Franken would put each of them to bed with songs and silly stories starring a character he called Stupid Daddy.

Sen. Al Franken, his wife Franni, their daughter Thomasin Franken, and grand children Joe Greenwald, 4 and Avery Greenwald, 8 months, at Thomasin’s house in Washington DC on May 11, 2017.
Martin Schoeller

“Stupid Daddy was always doing something stupid. And he had a story about a girl whose really long hair could sneak into the the closet and feel her Christmas presents while her parents were sleeping,” recalls Thomasin.

And the songs? “Y.M.C.A.” by The Village People was one. “When we were in high school,” she clarifies.

Yes, Franken was still putting his kids to bed with stories and songs when they were teenagers—”even when we could come back from college,” she says.

“It’s a nice bonding time and something he does now with my kids. He tickles Joe’s back until he falls asleep.”