Al Franken

The Al Franken Show Party Album

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So Al Franken used to be a staff writer for Saturday Night Live, right? Back when it was actually groundbreaking and consistently funny (you know, the John Belushi/Dan Aykroyd/Gilda Radner/Bill Murray era?). Well, you might not guess that after listening to The Al Franken Show Party Album, a disc drawn from comedy sketches Franken wrote and performed on his radio show for the Air America network. On his show, Franken is a good interviewer and a better-than-average commentator, while his books on politics are frequently hilarious, but most of the routines featured on this album fall painfully flat, especially when strung together on CD for 78 minutes. A few of them are good ideas played out far too long (like the opening bit of an elected official who turns into a werewolf or the interview with the pillow used to smother Yassir Arafat), while others are flabby and just never get off the ground (like the puzzling, punch line-deprived bit on the Bush daughters joining the Marines or the "audio crawl" accompanying George W. Bush's 2004 post-election speech). It's also significant that the stuff that works best is the routines where Franken gets some help from others -- Tina Fey kick-starts a playfully rude sketch on "abstinence-only" sex education, Don Novello is in fine form as guest correspondent Father Guido Sarducci covering the papal elections, Bebe Neuwirth adds just the right touch of vitriol as a conservative pundit who keeps insisting she's being interrupted, and Bradley Whitford is hilarious as a short-tempered political candidate who can't stand babies. And the disc closes with an inspired sketch in which a right-wing Christian talk show host spars with a Native American historian over what kind of creationism should be taught in schools. About a third of The Al Franken Show Party Album is solidly funny, but the rest confirms this guy is at his best when he has some talented friends on hand to bring his material to life and help give it shape -- on his own, Franken is no funnier than the average radio talk show host, and that's a sad statement for a guy with Franken's résumé.

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