Satirist Al Franken, best known for his appearances on Saturday Night Live, got instant attention by titling his new book Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot. "I wanted to call it Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Hypocritical Liar, but I felt that was just too confrontational," says Franken, 44, whose collection of essays is No. 2 on the New York Times bestseller list. "It's doing so well that I may be for the flat tax very soon." So far he's gotten no reaction from Rush Limbaugh. "I asked the publisher to send him the book and a letter: 'Dear Rush, Al thinks it would help sales if you mentioned the book on your show,' " he says. "But I haven't heard from him." A liberal, Franken has little in common with the conservative talk show host who has written two bestsellers of his own, including See, I Told You So. Says Franken: "If I write a sequel, maybe I'll call it See, I Told You He Was a Big Fat Idiot."
Tracey Ullman, one of England's funniest exports, has returned to American TV with Tracey Takes On..., an ensemble sketch series for HBO in which, she says, "I'm the ensemble." As she did on her Fox TV show from 1987 to 1990, Uliman apes characters culled from her observations on both sides of the Atlantic. "I have an American sensibility and an English sensibility since I live in both places," says Uliman, 36, adding that she and her husband, producer Allan McKeown, spent the last two years in England, where they felt the schools offered their children, Mabel, 9, and John, 4, a better education. "In L.A., when I went to talk to the teachers," says Uliman, "I said, 'My daughter can't read very well. Why?' Their answer was 'Your child is a rose, and we can't force the petals.' In England, she learned how to learn. Now we're back in L.A., and on the first day of school, she called someone a pillock, and he didn't know he'd been insulted. These days she just calls everyone a jerk and she's fine."
Playing the title role as a country singer in Georgia earned Mare Winningham her first Oscar nomination and revealed a talent mostly hidden since she made her debut, at age 16, on The Gong Show. "I came out dressed in the worst hippie outfit and these horrible glasses," says Winningham, 36. "You could see everyone waiting to gong me." She picked up her guitar and sang, and the next thing she knew, she was holding a check for $500. Even so, she chose acting over a singing career. Says Winningham, a mother of five, ages 7 to 14, with husband Bill Maple: "I used to be very competitive and obsessed with work, but no more. Now I just want to do all the breakfast dishes and find one or two good parts a year. I only make movies that I would pay to watch."
Former L.A. Raider Howie Long, 36, tackles his feature-film debut in the hot new thriller Broken Arrow: He helps John Travolta's embittered Air Force major swipe two nuclear warheads. Long, who's also an analyst on Fox NFL Sunday Pregame Show, preferred to do his own stunts. One scene called for the 6'5", 265-lb. athlete to hang off a speeding train. "I was hanging by my left arm," he says. "And my left shoulder is practically gone from playing football. By the 14th take I motioned to the cameraman to come over, and I said, 'Get the shot!' He did." Does Long, who just signed a three-picture deal with 20th Century Fox, now plan to study acting? "Nah," he says, "I'll do that later."