Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Comedy writer Franken skewers conservatives in a book that spent 23 weeks on PW's bestseller list. (Nov.)
Had your fill of liberal-bashing since the dittoheads and the Newties came to power? Ready for some skewering of right-wing foibles for a change? Then you'll love comedian and writer Franken's pin-pricking of one particular bag of hot air, Rush Limbaugh, and his conservative cohorts, Bob Dole, Phil Gramm, Pat Buchanan, etc. No, there is nothing subtle about the humor here, but it is very well written and sure to be a big seller, especially since it is scheduled for heavy publicity plus serialization in Playboy and George magazines. If you share Franken's political views, you'll love it; if you don't, buy it anyway, because library patrons will be asking for it.
Okay, so maybe Ditto Heads won't like this book, but Republicans with a sense of humor might find it amusing, and Democrats will be holding their sides and falling on the floor laughing. Franken, long-time Saturday Night Live writer (and Stuart Smalley alter ego), puts on another of his hats here, political satirist, and it fits extremely well. Many people think that Limbaugh and his radio and television commentaries have received a free pass for far too long. He does seem to misstate facts with alarming frequency: in 1991, he claimed that Styrofoam was biodegradable and paper wasn't. In his book, See, I Told You So, he wrote, "There are more acres of forest land in America today than when Columbus discovered the continent in 1492." Franken makes it his personal mission to clear up all these pesky inaccuracies, having some fun with Limbaugh along the way: a sidebar answers the lingering question, "How Fat Is He?" Limbaugh, however, is not the only politician who gets his facts checked here (note the "other observations" part of the title). In 1994, Franken points out, Newt Gingrich claimed that 800 babies a year were being left in dumpsters in Washington D.C. He was only 794 off. One hysterical chapter has Ollie North leading a platoon of guys who never actually made it to Vietnam through the rice paddies. That would be Phil Gramm (deferments), George Will (deferments), Clarence Thomas (4-F), Pat Buchanan (bad knee), and Gingrich, who didn't go but says sometimes he regrets it. Funny would probably be enough here, but Franken's book is more. He also offers plenty of solid information -- from the maligned liberal position, for a change -- about GOPAC, the economy, health care, and other issues of the day. Watch out, Republicans -- Franken proves humor is the best revenge.
Move over P.J. O'Rourke! From Al Franken, America's premier liberal satirist, comes a hilarious homage to the wonderful, awful, and always absurd American political process that skewers a whole new crop of presidential hopefuls -- just in time for the 1996 presidential election. "(Franken is) responsible in part for some of the most brilliant political satire of our time".
New York Post
Read an Excerpt
January 7, 1996
RUSH LIMBAUGH IS A BIG FAT IDIOT AND OTHER OBSERVATIONS
By Al Franken
288 pp. Delacorte Press:
by Jeane Kirkpatrick
IT REMAINS a mystery why the New York Times would ask me to review this dreadfully foul little book. I am an expert on geopolitical strategic paradigms, not on the sort of cheap, mindless mockery that seems to be Mr. Franken's forte. It is almost as if this were the result of some awful mistake by the Times. Why, for example, would humorist P. J. O'Rourke be assigned this very same week to review Nigel Hodgeson's wonderful tome The Falkland Islands War--Six Hundred Years in the Making? Is it possible that because O'Rourke and I have the same agent, some simple mix-up occurred? Perhaps P.J., our agent, or I should have tried to sort this out. But I have simply been too busy trying to slog through this repugnant collection of vile, unfunny essays.
Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations is not just unfunny. It is confused. While Mr. Franken decries "the loss of civility in public discourse," he himself is a most egregious offender, not just calling Rush Limbaugh "a big fat idiot," but Newt Gingrich "a big fat jerk," and House majority leader Richard Armey "a big dick."
Mr. Franken seems to want to have it both ways, criticizing Limbaugh for "demonizing" those who disagree with him, but all the while attacking his enemies with invective and scurrilous assertions that remain totally unproven. For example, nowhere in the 288-page screed does Franken actually show any real evidence that Limbaugh is indeedfat. There is not one footnoted reference concerning Limbaugh's body weight, and Mr. Franken seems to be relying on sheer guesswork. Indeed, on page 45, he refers to Limbaugh as "a three-hundred pound blimp," while on page 117, he refers to a "size-78 suit squeezing Rush's some six-hundred pound frame like so much sausage casing." Which is it? Three hundred or six hundred?
One begins to wonder if Franken isn't just inventing things out of whole cloth. After a careful reread of The Bell Curve, nowhere in its 800-plus pages did I find Murray and Herrnstein refer to jazz as "the music created by morons." And similarly, Newt Gingrich's Contract with America did not "promise to make it easier to sue for divorce a spouse with cancer."
Occasionally Mr. Franken does succeed to amuse. When discussing the Senate Banking Committee's Whitewater investigation, he writes, "Having Al D'Amato lead an ethics investigation is like asking Bob Dornan to head up a mental health task force." I must admit that one made me chortle; Bob Dornan is dangerously unstable. Yet only thirty-seven pages later Mr. Franken, for all intents and purposes, repeats the joke. "Having Al D'Amato lead an ethics investigation is like asking Ross Perot [my emphasis] to head up a mental health task force." Again, funny. But which is it? Bob Dornan or Ross Perot?
As one labors through Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations one quickly concludes that Mr. Franken chose the title simply as a craven device to attract readers. Yes, the book's opening essay is "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot." But in it Mr. Franken negates the whole premise of his book, when in referring to Limbaugh's enormous success, he writes: "All right. I guess Limbaugh is not an idiot. But you have to admit, he's big and fat."
In fact, one of the author's goals seems to be to draw Limbaugh into some kind of public feud, as if that would enhance the sales of his book. Calling Limbaugh "a fat bully" who is "too scared to engage in open debate with anyone other than pre-screened callers," Franken gratuitously taunts the talk radio host: "Limbaugh is able to attack women and keep the audience's sympathy for one reason and one reason only. He is clearly a sad, fat loser wounded by a pathetic history with the opposite sex." Again, Franken offers no proof, other than to cite that Limbaugh met his third, and current, wife on CompuServe.
Will Limbaugh rise to the bait? Franken seems to hope so, writing on page 187, "I hope he rises to the bait." Even so, Franken admits that Limbaugh would probably prevail in a one-on-one encounter. Franken, who insists that Bill Clinton is "by far" our best post-war President, admits to being a part of "the fuzzy-headed liberal middle" and that mano-a-mano he would be no match for Limbaugh's clearheaded, "well thought out," right-wing doctrine. "Besides, I'm a comedian," is his weak defense. Franken's plan, as revealed in his chapter "I Have Smart Friends," is to lure Limbaugh into a live debate on ABC's Nightline, then act sick, getting Michael Kinsley to fill in for him at the last second.
As reprehensible as I found this strategem [my word], I was even more appalled by the flippant, smart-alecky tone of the non-Limbaugh chapters, including one entitled "If Abortions Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Abortions." My goodness. If this is the kind of mindless tripe that passes for political satire these days, I fear for this nation!
He Said, She Said
To the Editor:
It was with great horror that I picked up Sunday's Times to see that you had assigned Jeane Kirkpatrick to review my book, "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations" (January 7). It had been my understanding that in the interest of objectivity your paper has had a long-standing policy of not assigning an author's former lover to review his book. As anyone who was familiar with the Manhattan eighties' 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. Even then Ms. Kirkpatrick, though my lover, had no discernible sense of humor. In fact, a primary cause of our breakup was her almost obdurate unwillingness to understand irony, an unwillingness which is woefully apparent in her uncomprehending review of my very funny book. Come on! Be fair. Next time get someone who isn't my former lover to review my book!
Ambassador Kirkpatrick replies:
I don't know what this horrible, horrible man is talking about. During the time that 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" (my phrase) as Mr. Franken suggests. After careful examination of my appointment calendars from that period, I admit that I did on one occasion step foot inside Studio 54, but I can assure you that once I saw what was going on in that place, I quickly turned on my heel and left. I can assure you as well that Mr. Franken will be hearing from my attorney, as will the New York Times. How on earth the Times could print his letter and take part in this abhorrent calumny is beyond me.
The editors reply:
It is our policy to allow authors to respond to reviews in the manner they see fit. Since Mr. Franken's claim of an affair between Ms. Kirkpatrick and himself comes down to a matter of "he-said, she-said," we felt the Ambassador's denial was insufficient to prevent us from printing his response. We did, however, edit Mr. Franken's letter, omitting a number of gratuitously lurid descriptions which were entirely irrelevant to his complaint. And, yes, it is our policy not to allow a former lover to review an author's book. Our apologies to Mr. Franken.