Tom Davis, the comedy partner of current Minnesota senator Al Franken, passed away yesterday at his home in Hudson, New York following a bout with throat and neck cancer, his wife Mimi Raleigh told the New York Times. He was 59.
A friend of Franken’s since high-school, the two bonded over comedians such as Jack Benny and Bob and Ray and helped shape each other’s rebellious sense of humor. Davis, however, always remained somewhat of a second fiddle – so much so that he referred to himself as the Sonny to Franken’s Cher.
The duo joined Saturday Night Live in 1975 as the show’s first two writers, with Davis bringing his quirky brand of improvisational comedy to the show. He was one of the co-creators of the wildly popular aliens the Coneheads, and he collaborated with Dan Aykroyd on his famous Julia Child impersonation. Franken and Davis also appeared as a comic duo on the show, doing routines like “The Brain Tumor Comedian,” where a bandaged Franken attempts to tell jokes but can never get out the punchline.
Davis won three Emmys for his writing on SNL, and a fourth for his work on The Paul Simon Special in 1977.
According to Franken in a recent interview, Davis’ improv experience complimented Franken’s own knack for structuring a routine. Noting Davis’ sarcastic, often biting and cynical humor, he added that it retained a “sweetness and a Minnesota outlook.”
Davis first left SNL in 1980, but he returned to the show from 1986 to 1994; during that period he both wrote and produced. He also helped write the Coneheads film, as well as co-writing and co-starring with Franklin in the 1986 flick One More Saturday Night. As recently as 2003 Davis was writing again for Saturday Night Live.
More recently, Davis worked with a friend on a book about the Grateful Dead’s soundman/LSD supplier Owsley Stanley, sought out objects like barn doors and stones to make sculptures, and worked with Aykroyd on a script for a possible Ghostbusters III flick.
While the Franken/Davis team split in 1990, with the former tiring of the latter’s drug use, they reconciled 10 years later. Davis delayed publication of his rather candid memoir until after Franken won his senatorial election. In the book, Davis wrote: “I love Al as I do my brother, whom I also don’t see very much.”