May 2002

Al Franken

Al Franken’s world-leery advice for graduates
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Somewhere between Dr. Seuss and Dr. Ruth, funnyman Al Franken’s <B>Oh, the Things I Know!</B> offers this year’s graduates a far more pragmatic approach to life’s ups and downs than they’re likely to hear on commencement day.

Even a cursory glance at the chapter titles gives graduates fair warning that it’s a funny, funky jungle out there: <LI> Oh, Are You Going to Hate Your First Job! <LI> Oh, the Bad Investments You’ll Make (And the Good Ones You Won’t)! <LI> Oh, If You’re Involved in Hardcore Bondage and Discipline, You Should Have a Safeword’! <LI> Oh, the Nursing Home You’ll Wind Up In! Commencement advice is much on the mind of the former <I>Saturday Night Live</I> comedian and best-selling author of <I>Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations</I>. With a junior in high school and a junior in college, Franken will be sitting in the bleachers twice next year, listening to learned speakers deliver the very homilies and platitudes he takes such delight in skewering in his send-up of graduation-themed self-help books.

Franken admits there’s little chance those august robe-and-mortarboard wearing sages will borrow heavily from chapters like Oh, the Drugs You Will Take! That’s probably something you won’t hear in most commencement addresses; maybe some of the parents would have a problem with that, he muses. But in defense, I do talk about SSRIs, which are basically Prozac and Zoloft, which a good many of the people who read this book will be on already. The advice within ranges from the semi-practical ( If an investment sounds too good to be true, Kenneth Lay is probably involved. ) to the quizzical ( When you encounter seemingly good advice that contradicts other seemingly good advice, ignore them both. ) to the utterly hilarious (Choose a bondage safeword that is easy to remember and pronounce, unlike Schadenfreude. ).

I give some bad advice too, to sort of keep you on your toes, he adds.

Franken sharpened his wicked wit by reading two earnest commencement favorites, Maria Shriver’s <I>Ten Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Went Out into the Real World</I> and Anna Quindlen’s <I>A Short Guide to a Happy Life</I>. He takes aim at both repeatedly in <B>Oh, the Things I Know!</B> Maria Shriver’s was fine, I thought, if you’re sort of a young women starting out. It did have some weird advice like Make your own money,’ which was like number 10 or something, and I was like, huh? Number one or two with her is Pursue your passion,’ which I make fun of with Kenneth Lay and Josef Mengele. Some people <I>shouldn’t</I> pursue their passion, he chuckles.

He came away from his limited research with some valuable tips on how to succeed in the dog-scold-dog field of self-help through shameless self-promotion. For starters, he awarded himself an honorary Ph.D.; though he is a graduate of Harvard College, in behavioral sciences no less, the honorary sheepskin is an outright fabrication.

He also courts the great and powerful Oprah with cheerful abandon, from the simple dedication ( To Oprah ) to this closing acknowledgment: I have no idea whether <B>Oh, the Things I Know!</B> will be an Oprah Book Club Selection. If it is, believe me, I’ll be thrilled. Thank you, Oprah. You’re <I>a class act</I>. Take that, Jonathan Franzen.

The world-leery advice-giver here bears little resemblance to Stuart Smalley, Franken’s unfailingly optimistic New Age cable host and star of the comedy album and book, <I>I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough and Doggone It, People Like Me</I>and the 1995 film, <I>Stuart Saves His Family</I>.

Stuart Smalley could actually be a good commencement speaker, he says. This is a little bit harder-edged stuff than Stuart’s stuff. The character I assume in this is someone who will just say anything, no matter how offensive, so there are a few things that are kind of designed to be completely tactless. (See also: Oh, Just Looking at Your Spouse Will Make Your Skin Crawl! ) You’ve been warned: this is not <I>Tuesdays with Morrie</I>.

No, I didn’t get a chance to have a professor die and write about it. Readers may not snuggle up with this over a cup of coffee. Maybe they’ll <I>laugh</I> over a cup of coffee. Maybe the coffee will come through their nose. Al Franken or should we say Dr. Al Franken prepares graduates with his hilarious guide to success. Or at the very least, happiness.

<I>Jay Lee MacDonald is a writer based in Naples, Florida.</I>

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