Garrett Morris Says Al Franken Stole Credit for the ‘White Guilt Relief Fund’ Sketch on ‘Saturday Night Live’

The OG ‘Saturday Night Live’ cast member still has an ax to grind from a plagiarism incident in Season One
Garrett Morris Says Al Franken Stole Credit for the ‘White Guilt Relief Fund’ Sketch on ‘Saturday Night Live’

Founding Saturday Night Live cast member Garrett Morris has accused former senator and SNL writer Al Franken of stealing credit for a sketch Morris wrote — which is a nice change of pace from those other allegations made against Franken.

On the most recent episode of Dana Carvey and David Spade’s podcast Fly on the Wall, the SNL veterans hosted an OG who still holds a grudge that started all the way back in Season One. Morris made an allegation of joke-stealing against a former coworker, who remained nameless for about 30 seconds before Carvey and Spade identified the plagiarizer as Franken. Morris claimed that the sketch “White Guilt Relief Fund,” in which Morris offered to absolve white viewers of their race-related shame for the price of a charitable donation, was one of his first worthwhile attempts at comedy writing — before Franken took the idea and the credit for himself.

If only there was a phone number for Franken to call in order to pay off the guilt…

“I am an actor who was in a comedy show many many years ago, and I have been suffering ever since,” Morris said in his self-introduction, eliciting laughter from his hosts. “Everywhere I go, people want me to be funny, and as my ex-wife will tell you — well she used to tell me all the time — ‘N word, you ain’t funny,’” Morris added as he sanitized his language and definitively proved his ex wrong.

A Juilliard School of Music graduate, Morris had a successful stage career pre-SNL — the actor was a mainstay in Broadway productions and at the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School in Harlem throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Morris was also a budding playwright during that time, and his writing talent caught the eye of SNL’s godfather Lorne Michaels who initially recruited Morris to join the show’s inaugural writing staff. “I was a playwright, right? So, I brought Lorne my play. He read it and liked it, because there’s a couple funny things in it,” Morris began. However, the adjustment from stage play to sketch was not easy on Morris, who said, “I didn’t know that just because you can write a play that’s about two hours, doesn’t mean you can write 30 seconds.”

Morris spent the first few months of his new job struggling to adjust to an unfamiliar medium before he had the idea to take a joke from one of his plays and repurpose it for a sketch. In the play, a group of Black Panther-esque activists realize that their fundraising events only make money “when there’s a lot of milky white liberals in the audience.“ Morris pitched the idea that became “White Guilt Relief Fund” to director Tom Schiller, who, without Morris' permission, passed it along to Franken. In his story, Morris refused to name Franken and identified him only as a “Harvard wrestling star,” but Carvey immediately solved the riddle and called out the culprit.

Shortly after Schiller passed along Morris’ idea, Franken had the script for the sketch fully written without Morris’ name anywhere on it. “That was the only thing that I did that I thought was worthwhile,” Morris said of the sketch. “I was so mad; I was so angry about that — I took a couple weeks to stew over that, and I was going to make a serious mistake.” Morris planned on starting a physical confrontation over the alleged plagiarism before Michaels inadvertently diffused the fight between Morris and Franken before it had begun. 

The very day that Morris planned to fight Franken, Michaels offered Morris an audition to join the cast, which he performed with Gilda Radner to smashing success. Thus, Morris became the first Black cast member on SNL and earned the opportunity to perform his own idea in the 15th episode of the show’s inaugural season. Considering Franken’s alleged grabbiness, it’s doubtful that Morris was the last coworker of Franken’s who wanted to kick the senator’s ass.

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