Gar­ri­son Keil­lor gets po­lit­i­cal post-“Prairie Home Com­pan­ion”

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By John Wen­zel

Gar­ri­son Keil­lor’s folksy per­sona, honed over his nearly five decades in pub­lic ra­dio, took a sharply po­lit­i­cal turn in the run-up to the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Best known for cre­at­ing and host­ing Min­nesota Pub­lic Ra­dio’s “A Prairie Home Com­pan­ion” va­ri­ety show, 74-year-old Keil­lor has been us­ing his guest col­umns for The Wash­ing­ton Post (most of which have been syn­di­cated in The Den­ver Post) to wryly spec­u­late and ex­pound upon Amer­ica’s iden­tity crisis.

“Raw ego and proud il­lit­er­acy have won out and a se­verely learn­ing-dis­abled man with a real char­ac­ter prob­lem will be pres­i­dent,” Keil­lor wrote in his Nov. 9 col­umn. “We lib­eral elit­ists are wrecks.”

How­ever, Keil­lor pays no mind to fans who may have been turned off by sen­tences like that — and head­lines like “Mak­ing Amer­ica pro­fane again” (from his Nov. 29 col­umn). After decades of trav­el­ing the coun­try, record­ing dozens of

elab­o­rate stage shows each year and oth­er­wise tak­ing the pulse of oft-mythol­o­gized Mid­dle Amer­ica, Keil­lor has noth­ing to apol­o­gize for, and noth­ing to hide.

We caught up with Keil­lor via e-mail in ad­vance of his Dec. 1 stage show at the Para­mount Theatre about his post-“Prairie” life, pol­i­tics and more.

Q: Hav­ing stepped down as host of “A Prairie Home Com­pan­ion” ear­lier this year after more than four decades, how would you char­ac­ter­ize this phase of your life?

A: It’s not re­tire­ment; it’s a phase I’d call “in­de­pen­dence,” in which you step away from or­ga­ni­za­tion and meet­ings and the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process and you sim­ply do what you want to do, which in my case in­cludes stand-up sto­ry­telling/com­edy, a weekly news­pa­per col­umn, a mem­oir, a screen­play for a Lake Wobe­gon movie, and a mu­si­cal. Lots of pots on the stove. I travel around do­ing shows, I write in airports and ho­tel rooms, and it feels very free and easy.

Q: What’s most sur­pris­ing to

you about post-“Prairie” life?

A: I’m sur­prised at how eas­ily I walked away from ra­dio. If they asked me to do the show next week, I’d love do­ing it, but I don’t miss it. Odd, con­sid­er­ing I’d done it for all those years.

Q: How did it feel to end your run on the show in July at the Hol­ly­wood Bowl? Was that your largest live au­di­ence ever?

A: It was all rather anx­ious and last-minute, hur­ried re­hearsal, re­vis­ing stuff at the last minute. But I loved singing duets with Heather, Aoife, Sara, Sarah and Chris­tine, and then after the show, the au­di­ence and I stood around and sang a capella for an hour or so, and then I stood in the crowd and peo­ple pressed up close and wished me well and I hugged chil­dren and it was very in­ti­mate. You feel rather alone on stage and it’s a rev­e­la­tion to get down in the throng and put your arms around them.

Q: Do you feel you’ve lost any fans as a re­sult of your re­cent po­lit­i­cal col­umns, or do you think most of your read­ers/lis­ten­ers al­ready know your po­lit­i­cal bent?

A: The re­sponse is about what you’d ex­pect, some peo­ple thank­ing you for the col­umn and other peo­ple wish­ing you’d be struck by

light­ning. The vul­gar­ity and bit­ter­ness of the Trump­ists is some­thing I haven’t seen since high school. The lan­guage starts with “id­iot” and goes down from there. Def­i­nitely not my kind of peo­ple.

Q: Do you ap­proach writ­ing about pol­i­tics in a fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent way than other sub­jects?

A: The col­umns are more about lan­guage and cul­ture than about pol­i­tics. I don’t take pol­i­tics that se­ri­ously. I never held the gov­ern­ment re­spon­si­ble for my life and hap­pi­ness — I only hoped for a high stan­dard of ba­sic de­cency and fair­ness and also a grandeur be­fit­ting our na­tional ideals. Q: Are lib­er­als’ fears jus­ti­fied fol­low­ing the elec­tion?

A: I fear the coun­try is in danger but I don’t talk about it. I’m not in the fear business. At my age, one is ob­li­gated to be an op­ti­mist.

Q: What are the best things you’ve read, lis­tened to and watched this year? Or if that’s too neb­u­lous, this month? Or week?

A: I took a train from Los An­ge­les to Seat­tle to St. Paul and watched the rolling grass­lands of Mon­tana and North Dakota and found that rather im­pres­sive. I lis­tened to a stun­ning women’s vo­cal trio called I’m

With Her sing at a crowded club in the East Vil­lage, a room in which I was ab­so­lutely the old­est per­son. I read a mem­oir by Ed­ward Hoagland and a novel by Carl Hi­aasen, a bril­liant in­ven­tive funny writer whom I envy. I saw “Aida” at the Met. One thing after an­other. Q: What can peo­ple ex­pect from your Den­ver ap­pear­ance?

A: I’ll talk about Lake Wobe­gon, of course, and I’ll talk about be­ing old, which I am and which I en­joy be­ing. I will rag on young peo­ple, their weird habits, the tex­ting non­sense, the weird­ness of Twit­ter. Peo­ple like to sing songs a capella so I give them a chance to do that. I don’t rant about pol­i­tics. I talk about the good­ness of life. I talk about my par­ents. I re­cite poems. It gen­er­ally goes for about two hours and peo­ple seem to have a good time. Q: What have you been want­ing to do that you haven’t had

time for in the past — and sud­denly do now?

A: I want to fly to Den­ver and take the Cal­i­for­nia Ze­phyr out to San Fran­cisco, the great­est train ride in Amer­ica. I want to fin­ish this mem­oir. I want to spend more time with my wife. Life is rather full th­ese days and I’ve put away many many things I don’t have time for, such as fin­ish­ing “Moby Dick” — I’ve been stuck around page 47 for years and have de­cided to give up. Q: Any clos­ing thoughts? A: There was a news­pa­per, The Post, In­ter­viewed a ra­dio host, Which turned out rather dry Be­cause he was shy And not brought up to rant or to boast.

Gar­ri­son Keil­lor, for­mer host of “A Prairie Home Com­pan­ion,” is now busy with stand-up sto­ry­telling/com­edy, a weekly news­pa­per col­umn, a mem­oir, a screen­play for a Lake Wobe­gon movie, and a mu­si­cal. Pro­vided by Amer­i­can Pub­lic Me­dia

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