For 42 years, Garrison Keillor has infused the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” with his folksy Midwestern humor, often earning him comparisons to Mark Twain. Keillor retires from his post this year, leaving behind a legacy of shows featuring guests like Willie Nelson and Keillor’s fictional alter ego, detective Guy Noir. We talk to him about his career, and what he plans to do after leaving Lake Wobegon, the fictional town he created “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average.”

Garrison Keillor, creator and host, "A Prairie Home Companion," produced by American Public Media

  • Drago

    I listen to the show off and on. One thing that has been lacking in the sketches is much criticism of the egotism and hubris you see in Silicon Valley or the fraud you see on Wall Street.
    To what extent is the show more of a feel-good program rather than a platform for social commentary?

    • SurrenderDorothy

      I think the show has always been more of a feel-good program. Poke fun, but don’t say anything TOO controversial. With regards to Silicon Valley, the jokes might not be as largely understandable across the country as the references to Minnesota/small towns are. Wait–where did you get the idea that the goal of the show was to be a platform for social commentary?

  • John

    The show jumped the shark a long time ago, and Keillor’s faux folksy routine feels really phony and dated now.

    • woodwoman

      What a good way to put it! I stopped listening because it wasn’t very funny anymore.

  • NorcalGeek

    I came here as a graduate student from India and fell in love with PHC the first time I heard it on NPR in New Jersey. What is striking is that I could relate to his stories, the skits and the music even without having a clue of what Minnesota was like ! He created a mental image of Minnesota that I carry with me even after 20 years of living in the United States ! He will be missed.

    • emily

      I’m from MN- It’s nothing like the little myth that Keillor likes to spin. I am happy for his retirement and I’m ready for a more relevant voice to take his place.

      • NorcalGeek

        🙂 . I guessed as much ! But it was always nice to imagine a fictional place where everyone is above average 🙂

      • Robert Thomas

        My father was from North Dakota and my mother went to high school in Bemidji. I have cousins in Renville and Edina and Melrose and Red Wing and Duluth. I used to work closely with collaborators at CDC in Bloomington. The characterizations seem pretty spot-on, to me.

        • emily

          I’m from one of those “cities” you’ve mentioned. I’m sure the myth was very comforting and seemingly real if you were an Anglo-Saxon, which I am not. I had a very different experience. Minnesota has some very good qualities, but also there lurks a provincial, small-minded world view with a smug belief that all is good in Minnesota-land.

          • Robert Thomas

            My Norwegian Lutheran and Scottish Presbyterian relatives would startle at being called “Anglo Saxon” – or more than startle, after a few drinks. Else, I don’t see how “[In Minnesota] there lurks a provincial, small-minded world view with a smug belief that all is good” diverges at all from Keillor’s characterizations. “… [A]nd all children are above average.” Do you not get the joke?

        • LaMae Hensley

          I am curious about how many times Garrison has been married?
          I knew a gentleman once from Anoka who told me he went to school with Garrison. He said Garrison was always “different” such as walking to school backwards. He took me past Garrison’s family home because I have always been fascinated by Garrison. My Norwegian paternal family who homesteaded in North Western MN is a family of story tellers.

      • Bill Cater

        emily, your remark is so self-centered. Perhaps, someday, someone will rejoice that one of your favorite entertainers is retiring. Only then will you understand.

      • De Blo

        On the contrary, the characterization is spot on. Even for those of us who are United Church of Christ and not Lutheran, we recognize that Garrison Keillor truly captures Minnesota and much of America.

    • lardboy

      Emily – you miss the point. Santa is a myth but we still celebrate him. Same way, PHC might spin an elaborate myth but to a lot of us from outside the US or even the midwest, the myth is worth propagating and holding on to (especially when it makes you laugh so hard).

      • emily

        I never laughed, perhaps part of my problem.

        • lardboy

          I can empathize, must be hard to laugh when, in your mind, you are shaking your fists and going “but that’s not me or anyone I know”. I wouldn’t laugh either if there was a show on radio about small town India where the characters were fakirs, snake charmers and princes – commuting on their elephants all day 🙂 But then, who knows, I just might laugh at that too 😀

          PHC in a sense is similar, to me, to Seinfeld – because it’s comedy about nothing – made from alleged everyday humdrum life with no drama involved – except Seinfeld never tried to make any social commentary while Mr. Keilor often dabbles in it.

          • emily

            @lardboy:disqus I appreciate your empathy and your kind comment. My criticisms of Keillor and that show are more involved. But if you enjoy the show, enjoy it- I don’t really want to rain on your or anyone else’s parade. Goodness knows, there’s so much strife in the world – no point on dwelling on a radio show. If you really want to get more into it- you’re welcome to email me.

            But this is my last word! Have a good weekend!

  • Bill_Woods

    Apprehensive, not reprehensive.

  • Kate

    will the show continue with a different host or just die in reruns?

    • SurrenderDorothy

      This could be a great opportunity to do a similarly entertaining, feel-good radio show with a completely different feel from a different host. Maybe the humor could even be more biting—-though that might cut down on the “feel-good” aspect. Based on PHC’s audience, though, I think the host would probably have to be male.

      • OR public radio could move stuff like Snap Judgement or The Moth into a time slot where people might actually hear them. There is fresh, engaging talent on NPR, but they keep it to the margins, I guess maybe the most reliable subscribers are old white people who don’t like new stuff.

  • Robert Thomas

    Mr Keillor has made a number of observations that I think stand alone.

    • “Coffee is meant to be bitter because life is hard.”
    • “Do unto others as you wish they would do unto you if they weren’t jerks.”
    • “The basis of democracy is knowing that disaster is possible.”

    Thanks very much also, for giving me an insight into the personalities of my reticent relatives from Red Wing and Bemidji and Renville and Melrose.

    • SurrenderDorothy

      Love that second one.

      • William – SF

        Yes good, but I prefer …
        “Do unto others as they wish done unto them.”
        (I want to attribute it to Tallulah Bankhead … but …)

  • Tyler Stone

    I think it’s great how Mr. Keillor always thanks his production crew by name at the close of each show.

    • woodwoman

      That’s pretty standard in radio, it’s certainly not something he’s thought up on his own.

      • Shannon P. Duffy

        Oh, what a killjoy you are! Tyler thinks something is great and you feel compelled to tell him it’s really just ordinary. Why not make an effort to keep such balloon-popping remarks to yourself?

  • sstanley

    I have been listening for years and love the gentle humor . Such a wonderful change from the loud, in your face so called comedy.

  • SF Mama

    What is your favorite part of San Francisco?

  • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

    Echoing my hearty thanks on the air on behalf of many (including members of the STAR ALLIANCE foundation) for all the variety and delight and humor and imagination over the years! You and the show really HAVE been a companion, and thanks again for all the new or somewhat less-well-known artists you’ve brought to a wider audience — Keb ‘Mo and the Sonos Handbell Choir to name just two of so many.

    What more for the future?

    P.S.: I noticed a decrease in violent imagery in the storytelling in recent years. Much appreciated!

  • SFRussell1963

    I’d like to know what the show Post-Keillor will be like? Will Powder Milk Biscuits continue? Will the show still be variety focused with continuing stories and sponsors?

  • Jorge Sanchez

    Dear KQED’s Forum guest:

    I am very happy to be listening to Mr, Keillor as many of my questions about what this show represents in the psychic of the US culture are being answered. As an anthropologist I was likewise intrigued and bewildered why I both liked and was repulsed by the “Prairy Companion” show.

    It is clear to me that he is the voice the the White Anglo-Saxon identity of this country, where commonalites are shared by a like-minded audience. Critical political and social issues affecting our country are not confronted but instead downplayed in a llight-hearted way as to attract those that simply want to deal with the “half-full” side of the glass. It is not a bad thing; it is just what it is.

    Jorge Sanchez

    • SurrenderDorothy

      Seems maybe a little harsh. Though “lighthearted” and feel-good is the whole point of the program. I appreciate humor that happens to contain swearing and/or might shock/confuse my evangelical relatives. But we can happily sit together and laugh at PHC’s humor. Same for Car Talk–it transcends all types and ages.

      I’d love to see a similar show hosted by a small-town-America father who happens to be Latino.

      • Robert Thomas

        In the past, two former members of frequent PHC guest musical group Nickel Creek have hosted the show – Sarah Watkins about four years ago and Chris Thile, who hosted twice, last February.

        I understand that Thile is likely to be the host for at least a year following Keillor’s departure.

        • SurrenderDorothy


    • woodwoman

      It’s someone’s back porch, only broadcast to the nation. I guess you have to find funny whatever happens there.

  • Michael

    For a French living in Silicon Valley and still puzzled by this country, you have been a weekly cure of humanity and a long delightful common reference with my wife. We love the stories and the little details from week to week, like the changing descriptions of the tightness of garments of the sultry client of Noir. We remember so many stories allowing us to share so many very human moments. We saw you life several times, thank you for introducing me to the amazing voice of Heather Masse, and for the laughs with Dwaine’s mother sometimes very close to home…

  • lardboy

    I moved from India ten years ago, straight to the SF Bay Area. As much as I’d like to, I have no idea what life is like in Minnesota and surrounding states. Your show, other than making me laugh to tears and give some great insights into the human situation, also gave me a window into life in small town Minnesota 🙂 Thank you!

  • Bharat Singh

    Thank you Mr. Keillor.

    As an immigrant who landed in Buffalo NY in middle of winter, and later as I listened to you in my car in California, I loved to listen to your show just to understand America/Americans. It taught me so much about the cultural context of America and its subtle diversity between its regions. I solely hold prairie home companion in helping me see beyond the stereotypical image of the US as the land of Big Macs, New York, Hollywood and Las Vegas. I believe that when I get to file for citizenship, I will attribute my decision partly to you and your show.

    • lardboy

      +1, lot of Americans complain that Mr. Keilor spins an elaborate myth about the midwest but it’s the cultural context that I think is still very relevant and appeals to immigrants trying to decipher this nation – he doesn’t provide an answer to the whole riddle but he certainly does help, I think. Oh! and all along you get to laugh.

  • jojo

    We love Prairie Home Companion. I want to wish you all the very best and I will miss your voice.
    My sister was very ill with cancer, she passed away in November. She listened to your show every weekend….it was a high point of her week and made her smile. I thank you for that. I know her spirit walks the shores of Lake Wobegone.

  • anastay007

    While getting ready for church I crack up listening to Prairie Home Companion. I’ve also recommended the show to my student actors. Keillor has a casual approach that leaves it feeling natural and unintentionally funny.

  • woodwoman

    Thank God! His schtick is old and I stopped listening after he did his Guy Noir sketch entitled “Broadway Tourettes.” Tourettes affects mostly kids so the humor was at their expense.

    • Bill Cater

      If you don’t like what he does, listen to something else.

  • What will happen with a Prairie Home Companion? Will they retire the show, find a new host, or edit it into years of “new” episodes like they did with Car Talk, so that the grating frivolity need never disappear from the weekend airwaves?

  • LaMae Hensley

    Thank you Garrison! You will be missed. My daughter often feel asleep listening to your voice on tape…she loved “Tomato Butt” and the many many other stories! She grew up with a mother telling her stories of N MN and the “Moose River Gang” also a great Uncle that could tell stories even better than Garrison!

  • De Blo

    Brilliant show. I never miss it. We love you Garrison Keillor. The show is just as good for those of us in the Millennial and Generation X generations as it is for those in the Silent and Boomer Generations.

  • Danny Ray

    Please reconsider!!!

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