Al Franken, Giant of the Senate

The Book of the Week is “Al Franken, Giant of the Senate” by Al Franken, published in 2017.

Born in 1951, Al Franken grew up in Minnesota. His career as a comedy writer for the TV show Saturday Night Live spanned about fifteen non-consecutive years, starting with its first season in 1975. He also entertained American servicemen in the Middle East in the single-digit 2000’s.

Franken wrote that Norm Coleman put his own life and other American lives in danger because he failed to make sure that Americans stationed in Iraq in 2003 were provided with adequate protective gear. Coleman’s job was to oversee war contracting of equipment and hold hearings when he witnessed fraud, waste or abuse. He held zero hearings; Harry S Truman, who held a similar position during the United State’s WWII preparations, held 432 hearings.

Then, after decades in show business, Franken really sold out and entered politics. He eventually ran against Norm Coleman for the office of U.S. senator from Minnesota. Coleman, petty and litigious, contested the election results to the maximum– a recipe for sky-high legal bills and time-consuming nonsense; eight months to be exact… wait for it… Franken won.

Franken’s political opponents were masters at using misleading statistics. Fortunately, his sensitivity to liars was on high-alert. He pointed out that by 2016, the Republican landscape was littered with broken promises. They had failed to prove that Kenya was Obama’s birthplace, were unable to bankrupt Planned Parenthood by stripping it of subsidies, and failed to overhaul the new national healthcare system. Franken expressed his skepticism about replacing that last item. Ever.

Read the book to learn what it’s like to be a senator, what Franken was still seeking to accomplish politically at the book’s writing, and the (funny!) jokes he couldn’t tell in public (uncensored!).

A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin” by Kathy Griffin, published in 2009.

This memoir described the comedian whose shtick consisted of telling humorous, embarrassing stories about members of the entertainment industry. Or, as she characterized herself: “… someone who gets fired, stirs up trouble, and gets debated about on CNN for saying bad things on award shows.” Kudos to her for being an honest, amusing attention whore. She must have brought in sufficient profits for the entertainment industry to tolerate her behavior.

Born in November 1960 in Forest Park, Illinois, the youngest of five children, Griffin grew up in Oak Park, Illinois. At eighteen years old, she moved to Santa Monica, California to be an actress. She apparently had the talent, drive and creativity to get famous.

In the early 2000’s, Griffin performed sufficiently well at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles to double the length of her show to two hours. This allowed the cocktail waitresses to make sufficient money to pay their rent, “Plus they loved serving the gays, because they were well-dressed, respectful and tipped well.”

Griffin didn’t talk about Anna Nicole Smith right after she died out of respect. As Greg Giraldo would have said, “Too soon, too soon.” Griffin revealed deeply personal information– both of her parents were functional alcoholics, and her oldest brother was a pedophile and substance abuser.

Griffin tried to raise the alarm about her brother, but, as she joked– her parents thought “denial” was a river in Egypt. She admitted to two major errors in her life– poor judgment in both her marriage and in having liposuction. Read the book to learn the details of this and other episodes.

SERIOUS ENDNOTE: Griffin had no qualms about making political statements unrelated to the awards shows she attended. It is therefore not inappropriate to make a political statement unrelated to Griffin’s book, below.

This nation seems to be in denial about the amount of debt load currently carried by not only individuals and businesses, but by the federal government and local governments. It appears that bankruptcies of government entities is the next financial crisis in the offing; the reason why, will be explained shortly.

Within the last thirty or so years alone, the United States has seen greed fests and then busts with regard to junk bonds, savings and loan associations, derivatives, tech stocks, and subprime mortgages, just to name a few. Mortgage-backed securities used to be one of the lowest-risk investments around. Tax-free municipal bonds are presumably still one of the lowest-risk investments around.

BUT one small bond brokerage (and possibly others, too) whose website says it “specialize[s] in tax-free municipal bonds. That’s all we do.” recently changed the language on its customers’ monthly statements. It is forcing them to accept the words, “trading & speculation” (!) for their “Investment objective/Risk tolerance” or else they won’t be able to purchase bonds. It makes itself sound like a penny-stock broker-dealer of the 1980’s that churns accounts. Or a currency broker.

The brokerage is so phobic about covering itself legally that there must be bond issuers who are going to go belly up AFTER THE CURRENT PRESIDENT HAS BEEN REELECTED or has left office, whenever that is. (It might be recalled that Detroit took the plunge in July 2013, after Obama was reelected.) Or its brokers are getting greedy and unscrupulous. Or both. Good luck with that, all.

Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

The Book of the Week is “Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right” by Al Franken, published in 2003. This was a comedic look at news reporters, commentators, politicians and even media outlets who and that intended to deceive, and succeeded in deceiving viewers, listeners and readers via distortion, misleading statements, exaggeration, outright fabrication and all shades of falsity in between. Franken did his homework with the help of Harvard students, and called people to get information directly from “the horse’s mouth.”

First, the author provided credible research results showing that there was no liberal media bias at least up until the book’s writing. In fact, one of countless examples was that Al Gore was covered more negatively than George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. Further, after the Monica Lewinsky story broke, former President Bill Clinton was criticized nonstop by media people of all persuasions.

At that time, cost-cutting measures in the media had also taken hold. In-depth reports cost big money– compared to two pundits who read one tabloid article on a popular political issue, and then heatedly argue on camera.

Franken provided ample evidence that political commentator Ann Coulter produced little or no support for her supposedly factual statements on conservative issues mentioned in books she wrote. The few sources she mentioned were in hard-to-find endnotes.

Former president George W. Bush lied numerous times during his 2000 presidential campaign and thereafter. One particular set of lies was about past crimes he committed for which he never spent a day in prison: insider trading, cocaine possession, drunk driving, and going AWOL from the National Guard.  The author cited reliable sources– it wasn’t just tabloid gossip.

When the book went to print, a particular Fox political show with four commentators which claimed to be “balanced” actually featured “…two hard-core conservatives and two centrists.”

Bill O’Reilly (remember him?) prevaricated pathologically. He had a “… shopworn inventory of boorish tactics– bluster, bullying and belittling– in order to advance a thinly disguised conservative agenda.”

Dick Cheney contended that his and Halliburton’s profiting in an extremely, extremely large way through Halliburton’s secret subsidiaries was unrelated to the United States government. Yet his company was able to completely ignore the law to do business with Iran and Iraq, anyway. In July 2000, Cheney made known on ABC’s This Week that he was allegedly ignorant (willfully ignorant, if he was, which is unlikely) of Halliburton’s business deals in Iraq. This continued while America  went to war with that member-state of the “Axis of Evil.”

The Wall Street Journal also insulted the intelligence of Americans by giving credit to former President George W. Bush for the drop in crime during the years former President Bill Clinton was in office (!)  Dick Cheney tried to credit his boss’s administration for the effectiveness of the American military in Afghanistan and Iraq. But in August 2000, prior to the wars, he said “A Commander in Chief leads the military built by those who came before him.” That would be Bill’s Clinton’s lookout, not Bush’s.

Although Sean Hannity probably truly believed what he was saying, he meant to dishonestly sway his viewers:  “I think the weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq] will be found. I don’t think we don’t have any doubt about that.” He gives viewers the false impression that he knows something they don’t know. And they believe him; otherwise, they wouldn’t watch him. In late May 2003, speaking to TV viewers in Poland, President Bush announced, “We found weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq].” Rush Limbaugh uttered similar opinions in the same vein. The dishonest utterances just went on and on.

Read the book to learn of a boatload of people and entities who and that, twisted the truth on important issues; to name just a few issues: George W. Bush’s tax cut, his education program erroneously entitled “No Child Left Behind” and the horrible pollution of both hog farms and coal mining operations resulting from Bush’s relaxation of health and safety laws; and the adversely affected parties– taxpayers, students, and residents near the farms and mines.

Endnote: It’s a shame that this physical book lacked an index, which would have outed the liars in a comprehensive list, immediately. Since the author was already stooping to their level in name-calling, he should have gone all the way and saved his critics time by telling them where they were mentioned. Franken would not have had to reply to a significant additional barrage of inane online comments. Lazy, angry people who don’t do their homework are going to lash out at people who attack their side with factual research results, even if they have the most comprehensive research tools in the world.

Lastly, this was a book of jokes, but it actually covered lies about serious issues– life and death, money, education, etc. The nation is still lying about serious issues, and it appears that’s not going to change anytime soon.

Clinton and Me

The Book of the Week is “Clinton and Me, A Real Life Political Comedy” by Mark Katz, published in 2003. This is the engaging story of how an incurable wiseass used his comedic talent and skills in the political arena.

Born in 1963 in Brooklyn, the precocious author received a political education in his formative years, thanks to the Watergate hearings. He was a class clown in school, no doubt. Careerwise, he began as a low-level staffer for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Next he cut his teeth as an unpaid volunteer on the Mike Dukakis presidential campaign. “My year on the Dukakis campaign sensitized me to the outrageous, insidious and coded tactics…[of evil, mudslinging political consultants]” Of course, there is nothing new under the sun. Katz then did a stint copywriting in general advertising prior to the advent of the World Wide Web.

Finally, the author parlayed this foundation into a relatively brief but rewarding set of adventures writing jokes contained in speeches for President Bill Clinton. Read the book to learn the lessons the author learned, in making a living for a politician soliciting laughs.

Wired

The Book of the Week is “Wired, The Short Life & Fast Times of John Belushi” by Bob Woodward, published in 1984. This is a career biography of the performer best known for his sketches on “Saturday Night Live” (SNL), “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers.”

Born in 1949, Belushi started his career at an early age, thanks to a paternal high school drama teacher. Belushi formed a comedy troupe in college. At the youngest age ever (22), he  joined the improv group, “Second City” in Chicago.

Belushi’s brand of comedy was lowbrow and attention-whorish. He became the onstage focus when he joined such group-oriented acting companies as SNL and Second City; this irked his fellow performers.

Belushi met the younger and less experienced Chevy Chase when they performed in an Off-Broadway black comedy about death. Then came a National-Lampoon-produced radio show, and SNL.  Other roles included Bluto in the movie “Animal House” and comedian Dan Akroyd’s partner in the movie “The Blues Brothers.”

As is typical of talented yet insecure performers who hit the big-time almost immediately, behavior problems abound. But since the star is “the goose that laid the golden egg” his or her behavior is tolerated.

“… John could inflict remarkable chaos… There was no telling what was gone or broken or misused. It seemed that John had dipped his fingers into everything in the refrigerator” while attending a 1982 Super Bowl party at the home of his agent, Bernie Brillstein.

Toward the end of his life (which should not have been unforeseen), Belushi was surrounded by enablers to his cocaine addiction. He was provided weekly with $2,500 cash for “expenses” in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with his business associates. They allowed him to act like a spoiled child borne of their own greed, or out of trying to avoid the hypocrisy of being drug addicts themselves. They continued to believe in his talent even though the movies he did after Animal House were money-losers.  A major rationalization of that era was that cocaine was unavoidable backstage at SNL and it was uncool to decline to socialize with one’s fellow comedians.

Read the book to learn the details of how Belushi ended up the way he did.

 

Why Not Me?

The Book of the Week is “Why Not Me?” by Al Franken, published in 1999. This is a funny, imaginary account of what a presidential run and administration of Democrat Al Franken might look like.

The author created a composite parody of the sinful actions and behaviors in which presidential candidates and other politicians have engaged in recent decades. His (mock) diary revealed all. Warning:  there were some toilet jokes.

The very illegal activities included manufacture of drugs, assault, fraud, theft, prostitution, obstruction of justice, “dine-and-dash” from restaurants, defaulting on hotel bills, and interstate flight from New Hampshire and Iowa after committing some of said crimes.

Lesser wrongdoing included failure of the campaign to file timely or accurate financial disclosure forms with the Federal Election Commission; the laundering of donations from insurance companies (campaign donors) via “royalty payments” for a book the candidate had authored;  influence peddling; patronage; lying in speeches; and “Dishonest conduct toward your wife and numerous girlfriends.”

Franken also failed to read his campaign manager’s memos in a timely manner. On a military issue, he wrote, “Gay military. All gay military (??). No…” One serious consideration he had was “goal [:] no wars during my administration.”

Read the book to learn of the candidate’s major hot-button issue, and the other, lesser issues he seized upon (which would be Republican proposals); of the trouble he had controlling his drunk brother; the underhanded, gay-related scheme he executed against his main opponent (Al Gore), and the aftermath of his election victory.

inventing late night

The Book of the Week is “inventing late night (sic), Steve Allen and the original tonight show (sic)” by ben alba, published in 2005.  This slightly sloppily edited book tells how Steve Allen created the format for late night talk shows on American television, starting in the early 1950’s.

When television was in its infancy, Allen’s original ad-libbing and off-the-wall physical comedy made audiences laugh through the 1950’s.  However, since history is written by the most prolific propagandists, and Allen was modest and less than aggressive at self-promotion, other entertainment-industry moguls such as Johnny Carson and his ilk, bragged that they were the ones amusing Americans in an unprecedented way on their late-night talk shows. David Letterman was one of the few who attributed his show’s stunts to Allen’s ideas.

In autumn 1954, Pat Weaver, president of NBC, gave Allen free rein to do whatever he wanted on his new, unrehearsed, live (!) program, “Tonight!” What resulted was an unscripted variety show featuring insane stunts, a band, singers, celebrity guests, news and theater reviews. In planning each weeknight’s episode, Allen would loosely specify the number of minutes of each segment– but continue with a segment if it got a great audience response, and cut the next act on the spot. If the show was a bit slow, he would go into the audience to converse with them.  Every minute of airtime was unpredictable. The only segment that was usually predictable, was the music.

Unfortunately, episodes of the taped, live shows were later incinerated due to lack of storage space at the network. Shortly after the airing of the show, the only way for the general public and cast and crew to get a recording was to buy one– a kinescope for $160. The singers made about $300 a week.

Eydie Gorme had this to say: “All of us working singers would go the Brill Building [in Manhattan] and get all the new sheet music, which they gave you free in those days.” Other celebrities who appeared on the show and were interviewed for this book, lamented that of late, performers of recent decades have resorted to obscenity and vulgarity to elicit cheap laughs from the audience, because they lack talent and creativity. Sadly, most audience members are unaware that their intelligence is being insulted. Even so, the younger ones are unaware of how high Steve Allen set the bar for quality entertainment.

Even more impressive– Allen’s show had TWO writers and twenty band members, while nowadays, late-night shows have TWENTY writers and five or six band members.

Read the book to learn the specifics of Allen’s stunts, antics, routines and style, and what changed when he started a second talk show simultaneously with what became “The Tonight Show.”

David Spade is Almost Interesting

The Book of the Week is “David Spade is Almost Interesting, the Memoir” by David Spade, published in 2015. This ebook is about the life of the actor and stand-up comedian.

Born in the mid-1960’s, Spade is the youngest of three brothers. His father abandoned the family when he was little.

The comedian wrote about how he started his career in stand-up comedy, and achieved sufficient success to become a writer on the TV show “Saturday Night Live” for a few seasons in the early 1990’s. The show’s content-generators and performers were fiercely competitive because extra money and a big ego boost went to the writers who got a sketch on the air, or did more acting than others. When Spade’s sketches were rejected, his fellow cast members were “… quietly doing mental cartwheels because of the schadenfreude festival around the seventeenth floor [of Rockefeller Center in Manhattan].” He summed up his situation thusly: “I had such a massive chip on my shoulder about being an underdog from Arizona with no show business connections.”

According to Spade, the movie and television studios encourage actors to use social media to interact with their fans. He revealed that the studios might cast an actor for a certain role based on the number of followers he has on Twitter or Instagram.

In addition to describing the making of movies with fellow comedian Chris Farley, the author also included a chapter on his love life. He apparently believes all the male and female stereotypes and that is perhaps why is still a bachelor, as of this writing.

Read the book to learn of Spade’s antics and traumas.

What’s So Funny

The Book of the Week is “What’s So Funny?” by Tim Conway with Jane Scovell, published in 2013. This is the comedian’s autobiography. An only child born in December 1933 to an Irish father and Romanian mother, he grew up in a suburb of Cleveland. The former groomed horses and the latter made slipcovers for sofas at a time they were becoming popular in American living rooms. Conway is best known for acting on the Carol Burnett Show.

Conway started gaining experience in an entertainment career in his mid-20’s, at a Cleveland radio station. When he had “made it” on TV, he performed material he had written himself. In the early 1960’s, Steve Allen, the late-night talk-show host, told Conway to change his first name from Tom to Tim, because there was another performer named Tom Conway, so he did.

Read the book to learn of the antics Conway used to break into show business in his generation, and of the characters who populated his life.

Dean & Me

The Book of the Week is “Dean & Me” by Jerry Lewis and James Kaplan, published in 2005. This is a career memoir of one half of the super-successful comedy team, “Martin and Lewis.”

Starting in the mid-1940’s, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis did live shows of banter, singing and slapstick, and performed in movies, on recordings and on TV and radio. They hobnobbed with “The Rat Pack”– other night-club and casino comedians and singers who included Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis, Jr., in the late 1950’s.

Read the book to learn about Lewis’ complex, love-hate relationship with Martin, Lewis’ later solo career, and the nature of American comedic entertainment in the mid-twentieth century.