Why I used to like Garrison Keillor.

G. Keillor - an entertainer who is no longer entertaining
G. Keillor - an entertainer who is no longer entertaining

I love things that are funny. I’m kind of an equal-opportunity fan of humor…I love everything from lowbrow slapstick comedy to very cerebral, sophisticated humor. In 1894, I discovered Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion. I was enthralled. Here was a show and a writer/comedian who was witty in a very subtle, self-mocking way, that struck a chord in me that had heretofore been silent. I immediately sought out as much as I could find on Keillor – his books, recordings,et cetera . A couple of years later, when I heard he was taking his show on tour, I contacted the show and finagled a trip back to Baton Rouge, so I could see the show, live, and interview Keillor.

During the press conference on that Friday afternoon before the first show, I asked Keillor, “how does it feel to be in the buckle of the Bible Belt?” He looked very thoughtful and quiet, and said, “I’ll have to think about that.” Friday evening, as I sat in the audience, Keillor stepped up to the microphone to begin his monologue and said, “this morning, someone asked ‘what does it feel like to be in the buckle of the Bible Belt?’ That question was also on the mind of Senator K. Thorvalsen…”

You coulda knocked me over with a feather. Lil’ ol’ me had given Keillor the idea for one of his famous monologues. Waaaaay cool. As I recall, the monologue revolved around Thorvalsen attending a high school reunion and meeting a woman for whom he had a crush, and rekindling a relationship. Didn’t think much about it then, as I’d spoken to Margaret Moos, Keillor’s live-in girlfriend/producer of the show. Weeks later, I heard that Keillor had dumped Moos and taken up with his own high school crush. Now you really can’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his mukluks, but I have to admit I was disappointed in Keillor.

Gradually, I listened less and less, until finally he killed-off the show. I continued to buy and read his books, and when his show went back on the air, I listened occasionally. But it wasn’t quite the same. Keillor has begun to express his political views, and he just wasn’t as funny – or subtle. A lot of the charm was gone.

Over the next few years, Keillor’s public pronouncements became more and more radically liberal. I stopped listening. For old times sake, I rented his movie A Prairie Home Companion. I thought it was awful. Profane. Juvenile. Even boring and self-absorbed.

Keillor was – and is – at his best when he pokes gentle fun at the day-t0-day lives of people, hypocrisy, and human nature. As he became more political, his comments became more mean-spirited and less funny.

Don’t get me wrong. Everybody has a right to their opinions, right or wrong, conservative or liberal, right or left. However, I’m kind of old school on this – I think that entertainers should subscribe to the concept of noblesse oblige, where they keep their personal opinions away from their public persona.

Here’s a smattering of Keillor’s public statements that have caused me to lose interest in him and his brand of entertainment, courtesy of Answers.com:

In May 2008, Keillor wrote a controversial article entitled “The Roar of Hollow Patriotism”, criticizing the “Rolling Thunder” parade in Washington D.C. on Memorial Day.[31] The “Rolling Thunder” parade is an event that honors and commemorates all United States veterans, and is sponsored by Rolling Thunder, Inc. – a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization that participates in veterans charities and legislation lobbying for military veterans and personnel.[32] The article depicts the biker subculture with negative imagery. He describes the participating bikers as “fat men with ponytails on Harleys” and further depicts them as “grown men playing soldier, making a great hullaballoo without exposing themselves to danger, other than getting drunk and falling off a bike”.[31]

In 2006, after a visit to a United Methodist Church in Highland Park, TX, Keillor created a local controversy with his remarks about the event,[24] including the rhetorical suggestion of a connection between event attendees and supporters of torture and a statement creating an impression of political intimidation: “I walked in, was met by two burly security men … and within 10 minutes was told by three people that this was the Bushes’s church and that it would be better if I didn’t talk about politics.” The security detail is purportedly routine for the venue, and according to attendees Keillor did not interact with any audience members between his arrival and his lecture.[25] Prior to Keillor’s remarks, participants in the event had considered the visit to have been cordial and warm.[26]

Here are some excerpts of Keillor on Conservativism and Talk Radio:

The reason you find an army of right-wingers ratcheting on the radio and so few liberals is simple: Republicans are in need of affirmation, they don’t feel comfortable in America and they crave listening to people who think like them. Liberals actually enjoy living in a free society; tuning in to hear an echo is not our idea of a good time.

They are evil, lying, cynical bastards who are out to destroy the country I love and turn it into a banana republic, but hey, nobody’s perfect. And now that their man is re-elected and they have nice majorities in the House and Senate, they are hunters in search of diminishing prey.

[W]hen it comes to radio, I prefer oddity and crankiness. I don’t need someone to tell me that George W. Bush is a deceitful, corrupt, clever and destructive man–that’s pretty clear on the face of it. What I want is to be surprised and delighted and moved.

It’s sad to see someone as talented as Keillor fall prey to the bile-spewing hatred of those like his fellow-Minnesotan/Liberal bomb-thrower/Senate candidate AlFranken . Keillor used to be entertaining. He used to be engaging. He used to be funny. But not any more. Not when you have to wade through and step around his constant flogging of his radical liberal beliefs.

And that’s why I count myself as a former fan of Garrison Keillor.

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  1. Well said. I came across this while trying to confirm my recollection of Keillor’s girlfriend’s name. (Someone had never heard of a person with the last name “Moose.”) I started listening about the same time you did and listened religiously until he said farewell in 1987. I loved the gentle, affectionate satire of Keillor’s Wobegon monologues, as well as the music (Butch Thomson Trio), spoof ads (Bertha’s Kitty Boutique, in the Dales), and skits (Buster the Show Dog). He had some great guests, too, like fiddler Johnny Gimble, Michael Doucette, and Doc Watson. He introduced Bob and Ray to a new generation of radio fans.

    Things were different after his comeback, and his pronouncements became increasingly divisive and bitter, perhaps reflecting the bitterness of his personal circumstances. I stopped listening.

    A couple of years ago, I was given a pair of tickets to his appearance at Oral Roberts University. It was a birthday gift from a relative who remembered that I had been a big fan of his. To my pleasant surprise, he told Lake Wobegon stories and stayed entirely away from politics. Maybe he’s relearning how not to poke his paying customers in the eye.

  2. Well written. I never was a fan…scarcely ever heard him here on the west coast. As a fan of radio, and especially old time radio, I had heard of him. I listened to him a time or two, briefly, and was disappointed. I looked him up because an acquaintance of mine said she was a big fan… and I wanted to make a counterpoint. She posted his pic on my FB page. I hid it.

  3. I was amazed at his change to radical liberal. Read his early books over and over and laughed every time. Then saw him doing a poetry reading at Lisner Auditorium and he went on a Liberal rant and I nearly walked out. Changed my opinion of him peemanently.

  4. I started listening when I was 16. I’m 47. I’m sitting here bawling listening to the show, the man even sent me on my way to college in a small way. (Long story). but let’s get one thing straight: he’s never been as good as he was with Moos. I wish I could thank her, too.

  5. Been listening since the very beginning. He’s brought me and my family HUGH laughs and smiles. Indeed he is a genius. But his liberal politics did diminish his attraction to many of us.

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