Delacorte, 1996, 351 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-440-22330-X
It must be *so* easy to be an American political humorist. As a Canadian used to multiple political parties, a tradition of compromise and moderate politics across the board (with occasional curious results, like Conservatives selecting our first female prime minister and Liberals balancing the federal budget!), the American political landscape appears curiously simple, a matter of conservatives (“Republicans”), liberals (“Democrats”) and a gaggle of very small parties (“Weirdoes”).
On the other hand, this clear American right-versus-left dichotomy has allowed for a strong tradition of partisan political humor. It’s in this context that Al Franken steps in.
Al Who? You probably don’t recognize the name, but you may remember the character. Franken was a writer for Saturday Night Live, and incarnated -among others- the happy self-help guru Stuart Smiley, latter writing and starring in the so-so film STUART SAVES HIS FAMILY. It’s not really a surprise to find that the acerbic humor displayed in Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot… and Other Observations is far removed from his goofy Smiley character.
Because, you see, Al Franken really does think that Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot. And he spends a suitable portion of the book proving it, with show excerpts, counter-arguments and an illustrated chart of Limbaugh’s weight. Sweet. Small wonder that there’s another book out there titled Al Franken Is a Buck-Toothed Moron, by Republican humorist J. P. Mauro.
Is it funny stuff? Absolutely. Remember that Al Franken was writing for Saturday Night Live well before it got boring. He unleashes the standard array of humor-writing tactics on Limbaugh and other assorted Conservatives, going from hyperbole to plain lies, strung along Franken’s testimonies of political events (which might of might not be true, but who am I to tell?) Suffice to say that unless you’re particularly sensitive about a particular person or issue, there’s bound to be worthwhile material in here. (And if you’re offended, well tough because this book has something in it to offend nearly everyone.) Don’t skim over the index.
But don’t make the mistake of assuming that if the book is funny, then it’s inconsequential. Like all smart satirists, Franken means every word he writes. And, as the French-Canadian humor magazine “Croc” used to trumpet, it’s not because we laugh that it’s funny. Franken’s dissection of Limbaugh’s most ridiculous claims (Chapter 22: “The Regan Years: Rush Limbaugh is a big fat liar”) are worth a read, if only as an exceptional primer on how statistics can be twisted, resampled and plain hammered in order to support the arguments you’re making.
It doesn’t stop there: The chapters about Environmental Regulation, Tax, Health Care and Legal Reform are written in carefully modulated anger, barely covered by dripping sarcasm. It’s obvious that Franken didn’t conjure up these jokes out of spite and thin air; an extensive underlying research carefully supports each argument. It’s smart, and it smarts.
All in all, Rush Limbaugh is a Fat Idiot and Other Observations is a mordant, offensive, funny book about American politics. Sure, it occasionally isn’t very subtle. But it’s always clever, and that counts for something.
For Canadians, the carnival-like atmosphere of American political target-shooting is an added bonus.