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Franken's broadcast stays left of the dial

He’s good enough, he’s smart enough, and doggone it, people like him.

Al Franken, famous for his Stuart Smalley character on “Saturday Night Live,” attracted an audience of about 300 Wednesday afternoon as he broadcast his liberal political radio show live from the Student Union auditorium for three hours.

He also had some help from his friends. Chapel Hill Town Council member Mark Kleinschmidt and Carrboro Mayor Mike Nelson were among the guests who joined the author and commentator for talks on subjects ranging from North Carolina’s death penalty to reviled conservative icon Rush Limbaugh.

But first, Franken had to mention UNC’s recent sports successes.

“Can’t be here without mentioning the Tar Heels and the championship and mention how badly Duke sucks,” he said. “What an enormous dick Coach K is. I know how to pander, don’t I?”

Franken visited Memphis earlier this week and will broadcast next from Charleston, S.C.

“We decided to do a little Southern tour. I like this area of the country, Chapel Hill specifically. We are in some blue counties in some red states,” he said.

While UNC was just one stop on Franken’s tour, his road there was a long one.

Franken started his career as a performer, writing and acting with The Comedy Store in Los Angeles after graduating from Harvard University in 1973.

He soon was approached to write for “Saturday Night Live” and joined the staff as a writer, but later began performing on the show. His most famous character was the supportive Stuart Smalley, host of “Daily Affirmations With Stuart Smalley.”

Franken said the concept for the self-help guru came from his own observations of avid fans of the practice.

“Stuart came out of that. I learned that you could learn something from people who weren’t smarter than you,” he said.

Franken always had an interest in politics, and at “SNL,” he was able to pen politically tinged sketches.

“When I left the show, it was my chance to talk about my own political beliefs, and at the time, the (Newt) Gingrich revolution was ascending, so I listened to a little Rush (Limbaugh) and said, ‘You can’t get a more perfect target than this,’” he said.

While students were able to drop in, many people from the area anxiously awaited the broadcast, including Rich Dingee from Raleigh.

“I work in the car all day, so I have nothing to do but listen to the radio, and he tells the truth where a lot of people are afraid to because they’re bound to a party,” Dingee said.

Franken channeled Limbaugh by beginning his show with a dead-on impression, eliciting laughter from the full auditorium.

He also didn’t waste time letting listeners or audience members figure out his agenda. He blazed through topics ranging from nominated U.N. envoy John Bolton and Britney Spears to North Carolina’s current debate surrounding the death penalty.

Franken said while doesn’t have a problem killing people who did something terrible, he’s also “seen too much evidence that the death penalty is unfairly carried out.”

Whether he’s writing, broadcasting or embodying characters on “SNL,” what matters to Franken is the quality of his product.

When asked what the best aspect of his career is, Franken found it hard to choose.

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“I’m lucky to do things I believe in and care about,” he said. “I care about the product, and the best time is when the product is good.”

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