It seems inevitable. You read anything about Al Franken and there’s bound to be a reference to his years spent as a cast member on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. The writer will probably go on to tell you all about Franken’s most famous SNL character, the toe-headed, lispy, eminently loveable Stuart Smalley. What you might not understand about Franken, however, is that behind the quips and trademark Stuart Smalley grin, there’s a sharp wit that seems more New York Times than it does Mad Magazine.
His latest book, which hit shelves last Monday, is entitled Oh, the Things I Know. For those of us familiar with children’s literature, the title is an echo of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go — a book that tends to sell well at graduation time due to its overarchingly positive interpretation of a concept we call “the future.” As a cheeky text that follows the archetype of the after-graduation-guide-to-life, (a genre epitomized by Ingrid Meyer’s Your Own Two Feet (And How to Stand on Them): Surviving and Thriving After Graduation, and Maria Schriver’s Ten Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Went Out into the Real World), Franken’s book is equal parts parody, Johnny Walker Black, and good ol’ heard-headed advice.
There’s no doubt that as long as new college graduates are listening to Ingrid Meyer and Maria Schriver, they’ll welcome the opportunity to read something as humorous as it is pointed. If there’s one lesson that a college graduate should learn, perhaps it’s that they shouldn’t take themselves so seriously. This is one lesson repeated severally by the Schrivers of the world. Yet, what makes Franken’s book different is the fact that it practices what it preaches … well, sort of. Franken’s book is a sharp-tongued hypothesis, an outline of sorts, a projection that depicts a variety of possible futures. Recently, daze got to ask Franken about the new book, his political convictions, and his career.
daze: What was the inspiration for writing a book with a title that both echoes the Dr. Seuss title Oh, The Places You’ll Go and is simultaneously being released right at graduation time for most colleges?
Al Franken: You noticed.
D: So, was that your idea, or your publisher’s?
AF: The idea was actually the publisher’s. I was not aware of this genre of book, which was sort of the advice book pegged to college graduates — pegged to graduation. And so, my publisher gave me a couple, Maria Schriver’s and Anna Quindlen’s. And I sort of looked at these and they seemed pretty ripe for, not necessarily parody, but to take off from. It seemed to me that a lot of the advice that people give at graduation and at commencements and that are in these kinds of books tend to sugar-coat things a little bit. I noticed also a theme which was, in reading their books and looking at speeches from other very successful people, that they tend to talk about how fraudulent success is, and how sort of I felt that,