May 10, 2003

AL FRANKEN
"Hello, I'm Rush L., and I'm an overeater."
By MARK SCHAPIRO

Al Franken, late of "Saturday Night Live," joined the ranks of bestselling authors last week when his unexpectedly popular and predictably hilarious work of political satire, "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations," hit number four on the New York Times Bestseller List. Franken's book lampoons the full range of conservative punditry and politics, taking the piss out of everyone from Pat Buchanan to George Will. But it is Limbaugh, media ringmaster of the Republican Revolution, who gets the biggest noogies. Franken, who spent the bulk of last summer at the unenviable task of listening to Limbaugh's show "three hours a day, five days a week," probes the facts behind the expansive radio personality's outrageous accusations, sometimes marshalling statistical research and sometimes relying on data of a more anecdotal nature. Responding to Limbaugh's roundhouse charge that feminists ("feminazis") believe that all heterosexual sex is rape, Franken offers the following: "I know a lot of women, almost all of whom consider themselves feminist, and I know only one who actually holds this belief. And we've been married nearly 20 years."

Limbaugh himself has yet to acknowledge Franken's book, but the comedian has won grudging laughs from other conservative quarters. The most memorable reaction from the Right sprang from Franken's own fevered brain. In a preface to his book, Franken imagines a stinging review from Jeane Kirkpatrick in the New York Times: "My goodness. If this is the kind of mindless tripe that passes for political satire these days, I fear for this nation!" Continuing the satire, in a "letter" to the Times Book Review editor, Franken questions the ethics of assigning a book review to a "former lover":

"As anyone who was familiar with the Manhattan '80s club scene knows, Ms. Kirkpatrick and I endured a somewhat stormy and all too public affair during her tenure as our country's U.N. Ambassador."

"I don't know what this horrible, horrible man is talking about," an outraged Kirkpatrick responds in the letters column. "During the time I served as ambassador to the United Nations, I was far too busy defending the people of America including (unfortunately) Mr. Franken, against the dark forces of Soviet Communism to cheat on my husband, let alone 'go clubbing' as Mr. Franken suggests."

We sat down for breakfast last week with Franken at Sara's Kitchen, a cozy eatery on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The comedian sized up the Republicans' eccentric presidential field, discussed Democratic entreaties he has received to become the liberals' Rush Limbaugh, and at one point morphed into Stuart Smalley, the enthusiastic 12-Step character he developed for "Saturday Night Live," who urged Limbaugh to get into a recovery program for overeaters.
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