His best-known character was Stuart Smalley, a self-help/group therapy addict with low self-esteem who summed up the 1980s’ cultural obsession with psychobabble. Smalley was based on Franken’s real-life venture into Al-Anon, a 12-step program for friends and family members of alcoholics. In Franken’s case, the friend was his longtime writing partner, Tom Davis. The friendship and working relationship ended because of Davis’s addictions and, according to Davis, because Franken’s career was taking off more quickly.
As Stuart Smalley, Franken wrote the best-selling book “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me,” and even made a film, “Stuart Saves His Family” — which tanked, as most “Saturday Night Live” character-driven films do.
Franken’s focus shifted from comedy to political satire as he grew older. His 1996 book, “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot,” camped out on The New York Times Best Seller List for 23 consecutive weeks and made Franken a household name across America. In 2003, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them” made him a household name in China when Fox — whose cable news network’s slogan is “fair and balanced” — infamously sued him for copyright infringement. Both books were also sold as audio CDs, and both won Grammy Awards for Best Spoken Word Album.
Today he is one of the leading political talk show hosts on Air America, a successful radio network with a liberal bent; originally called “The O’Franken Factor” in teasing homage to right-wing talk show host Bill O’Reilly, “The Al Franken Show” runs three hours every afternoon.
Like O’Reilly, Franken doesn’t pull punches when it comes to criticizing his rivals. But he also doesn’t shy away from praising those whose work he admires. Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central “hosts the best political satire show on the air on TV,” Franken said, “in the tradition of Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce, and these are people I looked up to as a kid.”
Evidently, hosting his own daily radio show, writing for “Saturday Night Live” on occasion and speaking across the country is not enough for Franken. He is now considering a run for the U.S. Senate — no kidding.
Although currently he is based in New York, Franken and his wife are looking at property in Minnesota. Franken was close to late Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone, and hopes to keep Wellstone’s idealistic vision strong there. Were he to run and win Minnesota’s Democratic nomination, his 2008 opponent would be first-term Republican Norm Coleman, who is also a New York Jew transplanted in Minnesota.
Franken isn’t afraid of battling the Republicans head-on. He already has worked out a strategy for defeating them: “continuing to reveal the truth about them.”