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Al Franken: Oh, The Things I Know! A Guide To Success, Or, Failing That, Happiness


Oh, The Things I Know! A Guide To Success, Or, Failing That, Happiness

Author: Al Franken
Publisher: Dutton

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In previous books like Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot, And Other Observations and Why Not Me? The Inside Story Of The Making And Unmaking Of The Franken Presidency, Saturday Night Live veteran Al Franken seemed to struggle with the issue of whether he wanted to be a poor man's Steve Martin or a poorer man's Michael Moore. His latest, a tiny humor book called Oh, The Things I Know!, seems to decide the issue by making him into a poor man's Dave Barry. Taking a large helping of cues from Dr. Seuss' Oh, The Places You'll Go!, Franken presents a graduation-to-grave life manual, devoting roughly four pages each to such topics as "Oh, The Drugs You Will Take!," "Oh, The Politicians Who Will Disappoint You!," and "Oh, The Nursing Home You'll Wind Up In!" Unfortunately, the chapter headings provide much of the book's humor. Franken isn't quite playing the role of his most famous character, sad-sack self-help guru Stuart Smalley, but he comes close at times, as he veers between the mock humility of a self-aware B-list celebrity and the mock hubris of a name-dropping success. In both cases, he sticks with light absurdism as he addresses topics from bad jobs to bad marriages to bad investments, mostly with silly "advice," sillier anecdotes, occasional deconstructions of conventional wisdom, and Barry-like diversions off topic. Among other things, he advises readers to fantasize about other people during sex: "Sure enough, before you could say Claudia Schiffer, I was actually looking forward to my weekly sexual encounter with my wife, instead of dreading it." He suggests that picking a religion, "any religion," will give readers a crutch in times of stress, and helpfully provides a clip-and-save list of world religions, "from best to worst." He offers general relationship advice: "Having an actual income can expand your romantic horizons toward the more appealing end of the spectrum." Mostly, he just meanders through the topic of life, dispensing pallid tongue-in-cheek humor which often turns on conflicting statements about his own success. (In some cases, he presents The Things I Know! as the proof of his literary importance, while in others, it's portrayed as a desperate attempt to dig his way out of the poverty caused by his Enron-related investment losses.) When Franken has a fixed topic, as he did in Big Fat Idiot, or a suitable satirical target, as he did in Why Not Me?, his humor can be cutting. But here, the targets are mostly the concept of celebrity, the typical self-help book, and Franken himself, none of which are particularly in need of a gentle, punches-pulling comedic skewering. Franken's humor takes no prisoners, but that's because he doesn't capture any.