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Al Franken

He's good enough, he's smart enough, and, doggone it, most people like him

Al Franken has reason to smile these days. His second book, Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot (New York: Delacorte Press, 1996), shocked both Limbaugh and Franken by soaring to the top of bestseller lists. The book, a series of essays poking fun at Limbaugh and other like-minded conservatives, elegantly demonstrates just how effectively political satire can take the wind out of windbags.

Born in 1951, Franken grew up in Minnesota and performed stand-up in high school and college. In 1975, he landed a job at a fledgling comedy show called "Saturday Night Live." Twenty years later, he left, having written some of the show's most enduring material. (Who could forget the satellite dish-toting reporter on "Weekend Update," or Stuart Smalley, the 12-step addict?) Then came the Comedy Central show "InDecision '96," in which he and conservative Arianna Huffington teamed up to provide an ironic take on politics. Franken's newest venture is NBC's "Lateline," a wicked send-up of the TV news business. Franken co-writes the show -- scheduled for midseason release -- and stars as Al Freundlich, a well-meaning but slightly clueless reporter. It's a role that helps explain Franken's longevity: No matter how much he makes fun of others, he hasn't forgotten how to laugh at himself.

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Q: I hear you had an interesting time at the Christian Coalition's "Road to Victory" conference.

A: I just returned from my second annual visit. Last year, Ralph Reed came up to me and said, "Hi, Al, I'm a big fan." And I said, "Well, can I talk to you for five minutes sometime?" He said, "Sure, talk to Mike Russell, my press guy."

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