Garrison Keillor gets political post-“Prairie Home Companion”
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