Al Franken's affirmation: Who knew recovery could be so funny?

January 20, 1993|By Orlando Sentinel

"I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!"

Anyone who watches "Saturday Night Live" will recognize those stirring words as the mantra of Stuart Smalley, the coifed, co-dependent character invented by comedian Al Franken.

For three years now, Mr. Franken has starred in a "SNL" skit called "Daily Affirmations With Stuart Smalley," in which Stuart, a creature of the recovery movement -- the vast array of 12-step programs based on Alcoholics Anonymous -- looks lovingly into a mirror and mouths the affirmations that remind him he's really OK.

Now those words are also the title of a book by Mr. Franken.

A friend suggested that he develop the character into a book, Mr. Franken said in a phone interview. In doing so, Mr. Franken had one overriding goal -- to make people laugh.

But Mr. Franken had several other goals as well.

"I don't think you could read the book and not learn something about recovery," he said. "If you're in recovery, it'll be the shock of recognition all over the place. People who aren't in recovery have a lot of preconceptions about it. To some extent Stuart uses their preconceptions to suck them in and help them understand what it really is."

"I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!" (Dell, $8.99) is a whimsical, yet often poignant, look at the recovery movement, which became a nationwide phenomenon starting in the early '80s.

Today there seems to be a 12-step program for every compulsive behavior, and Stuart frequents several -- Adult Children of Alcoholics, Al-Anon, Overeaters Anonymous and Debtors Anonymous.

With daily entries beginning Jan. 1, "I'm Good Enough" chronicles a year in the life of Stuart and his circle of dysfunctional friends and family.

In his four or five "SNL" appearances each season, Mr. Franken has fun with the recovery movement through his Stuart Smalley character, so he has a ready-made audience for the book -- including many 12-steppers.

"He's an invention," Mr. Franken said, "but there are some people in program that are like him in that they take it a little too seriously. And then there's a lot of Stuart in me."

Note his use of recovery lingo -- "in program." It comes as naturally to Mr. Franken as it does to Stuart.

In fact, Mr. Franken is quick to acknowledge that Stuart Smalley is sort of his alter ego.

"There's a part of me that's definitely Stuart -- it's present all the time," Mr. Franken said. "There's a part of me that's very lame, that worries I'll never live up to my expectations for myself and that I'm a lousy father. I worry about all sorts of stupid things I don't need to worry about.

"I have a real love for Stuart, and for me there's something really funny about him. And I think what's funny about him is just externalizing all this lameness I have inside me."

However, he says the book is aimed at a general audience, not just people in recovery.

"I was trying to write in such a way that you wouldn't have to have any experience with this stuff at all to understand every word of it," he said.

Besides, "the jargon and concepts have leaked into the culture so you don't really need any special knowledge to understand the book."

Nevertheless, he said, the strongest reaction to the book has been from people "in program."

"I've been getting really great reaction from everybody, but every once in a while I get someone who's confused by the book. Instead of accepting the fact that it's both funny and serious, they're confused by it."

The confusion stems from the different approaches Mr. Franken takes with the character. On "SNL," Stuart is played mostly for laughs, while in the book, he emerges as a more multidimensional character.

In Mr. Franken's book, the events in Stuart's life regularly veer between the too-funny and the touching, as does Stuart's perspective on them.

Stuart's sense of humor is part of his charm, of course, and his ability to laugh at the pain in his life (when he's not taking to his bed with a case of Sara Lee poundcakes) is heartening.

"Part of my approach to humor my whole life has been that I do a lot of comedy about serious things," Mr. Franken said.

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