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Franken: USO tour in Iraq 'very moving'

Franken: "The USO invited me, and when they did, I said yes immediately."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Comedian Al Franken, known for his criticism of President Bush, recently wrapped up a tour of Iraq, where he entertained U.S. troops.

Franken discussed his USO tour with CNN's Paula Zahn.

ZAHN: Let's tell our audience a little bit about what you had the pleasure of doing. You've lighted Hanukkah candles in one of Saddam's palaces. Is that something you thought you'd be doing someday when you were growing up?

FRANKEN: No. Oddly enough, no. The second night of Hanukkah, we were in Baghdad -- oh, there's a picture of it, great.

ZAHN: That's you.

FRANKEN: That's my brother with me. And we were in one of Saddam's palaces in Baghdad. And lit the Hanukkah candles. ... He has in one of his palaces, he has a big -- I think it's in a palace or it might be a central command center -- has a big mural of Scud [missiles] going and destroying Israel. So I thought this would be fun.

And we were not that far from where Saddam was. I asked to meet him, but they didn't ...

ZAHN: Didn't send him over there to ask him questions?

FRANKEN: We went to Tikrit, and I asked to go to the hole [where Saddam was found hiding], and they wouldn't let me to go to the hole, either.

ZAHN: Let's talk a little bit about the reaction of the troops to your visit and your reaction to them.

FRANKEN: Well, this is my fourth USO tour, and I love doing the tours. This is my first time in an active theater of battle. I was in Kosovo in '99, but it was very different.

It was very moving, to see these guys who are -- and women -- who are in harm's way. And also very moving to see -- like on the first show we did in Kuwait, we sang "God Bless America" every night at the end of the show. And looking at the guys in the front row, I saw there was a black soldier with his arm linked with a white soldier, with a woman, and going back and -- and swaying back and forth, and really, this was America to me. And thinking that, you know, the military can really teach a lot of college campuses a lot about affirmative action.

ZAHN: Can teach us all a lot of things.


ZAHN: Let me ask you this: You've been highly critical of the president, as this march to war went on. What do you say to the folks who in spite of your history of doing these USO tours, found your appearance in Iraq disingenuous in some way?

FRANKEN: I don't know anyone who has. I know that the USO invited me, and when they did, I said yes immediately. They don't know me. I mean, I support our troops. I'm from the Vietnam generation. I didn't serve. This is my way of serving. I tell a few jokes and leave very quickly. I was there eight days. These guys are there for nine months.

The soldiers themselves -- and there are soldiers who came up to me and said, I don't agree with anything you say politically, but I really appreciate your coming. And that, you know, then I say, well, it's my honor. And they'd say, no, it's my honor. And then I'd say, no, no, no, it's my honor. And they'd say, no, it's my honor. And it went on like that for hours, until I said, let's stop it.

ZAHN: You can see from the pictures how moved they were and how moved you were as well.

FRANKEN: Well, I was more moved -- I don't know if they were moved. They appreciated it, and they laughed. And we did a very, kind of Bob Hope, very -- I brought Andy Breckman, who is a great comedy writer, who was a colleague of mine on "SNL" and did "Monk," and we wrote a very Bob Hope-type variety show, and we went with -- there were country singers, Darryl Worley, who's great. And I had a fantastic time.

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