Stuart Smalley

You're Good Enough, You're Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like You!

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Self-help fanatic Stuart Smalley may have a preference for baby-blue cotton sweaters, but he packs a mean comedy album. ^You're Good Enough, You're Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like You: A Healing Journey Through the Dysfunctional Forest and Other Guided Visualizations is masqueraded as a relaxation album, but like the Saturday Night Live sketches it is inspired by, the album plays for straight laughs, although it does contain a few surprisingly touching moments. Al Franken, longtime SNL writer and performer and best-selling author and screenwriter (When a Man Loves a Woman), developed Stuart Smalley in the late '80s. The concept behind Stuart is that his own life is a complete mess and, as he reveals continuously, he has been a member of several 12-step programs. Most of them have probably failed him to one degree or another, but that hasn't stopped him from preaching everything he has learned from them to help others. Stuart makes the definitive statement, "Remember, only you can help you," and it is by Stuart helping himself that he also helps others. Whether discussing his overdrinking ("big stinking drunk") father or his own weight problems ("I used to weigh 300 pounds, you know, before I got into Overeaters Anonymous"), he lays the painful truth out on the line. The great entertainment from the album is due to its amateur style. To be sure, it is so clever it must have been pre-written, but sounds as incidental as a child talking into a recorder. Stuart tries, oh how he tries, to get listeners to relax at the start. But he is such a perfectionist that when he has listeners lying down and feeling each of their body parts, from head to toe, on the "earth below us," he feels terrible when he avoids a particular body part. Just as listeners are relaxing, he stops and disrupts the peace. "OK, I skipped the butt," he says, "Feel your butt, mashing the ground below." It is hard to pick the best parts from the album, but many are certainly found on the second half (side one ends as Stuart takes a break due to depression). Side two is a long story about "The Dysfunctional Forest," a place that grows a "nasty fungus" and is home to many animals, each with its own emotional or psychological disease. Stuart acts out a dialogue among all of the animals, like a flaming Robin Williams, in a sequence of hilarity that ends in an emotional high point that is as sweet and as honest as Stuart is. The album is a companion piece to Franken's book by the same name, and if you like this you will also like Stuart Saves His Family, the 1995 film that was greeted by critical acclaim but hardly seen. This album earned a Grammy nomination for best comedy record of the year. It did not win but, in Stuart's own words, "Progress, not perfection."