Photo by Jason Wheeler.
There’s a beauty to being disgraced, said Garrison Keillor at his first show since Minnesota Public Radio cut ties with him last year.
That’s when you find out the person you’ve been married to is the most wonderful person in the world who loves you even though you’ve been inappropriate and unseemly, Keillor said. It’s also when you find out who your friends really are, he added after the show.
“In the newspaper, they refer to you as a disgraced broadcaster. They refer to this as a scandal, but your true friends, and you don’t need that many of them, but you find out for absolute sure who they are in the first two weeks after all of this happens,” he said. “They write into you and they say ‘I know no matter what it says in the paper, or no matter what Minnesota Public Radio says I know who you are.’ And that’s a brave thing to say. Maybe I’ve got 15 people now that I know I could call on them in any situation.”
Hundreds filled the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center Wednesday night, Feb. 28, including Paul and Connie Ziebell.
“We used to go camping and then listen to him on AM radio on Sunday mornings,” he said.
Paul said the two of them weren’t sure if Keillor was going to be there that night due to the sexual harassment allegations against him which surfaced in November and resulted in his termination from his position as the head of “A Prairie Home Companion.” Every month as this week’s show got closer, they checked to make sure it hadn’t been canceled, he said.
In his first show since November, Keillor sang upon taking the stage and right before leaving, telling tales of, among others, buying a plot in the cemetery where his parents, grandparents and an old girlfriend are buried 12 miles from where he was born, his conversation with an obituary writer and where in the obituary they’ll fit his controversy and the poem he wrote to an old girlfriend whose funeral he attended. He also told a few limericks.
HIS STORIES AND THE LAUGHTER
When turning his experiences into stories, Keillor said he always starts with the truth. He really did buy a cemetery plot recently and many relatives of his are buried there, including his great-grandparents, his grandfather and others who were the inspiration for Lake Wobegone, he said.
“It makes sense to me that I should wind up there among people who interested me enough as a kid that I wanted to write about them,” Keillor said.
Hearing the audience’s laughter meant a lot to him as it always has, Keillor told The Daily Courier. He came from sober, somber people who weren’t “jokey” and he wanted to go in a different direction, he said.
Prior to “A Prairie Home Companion,” Keillor said he had a 6 a.m. radio show which started in 1969. At that time in the morning, it’s clear people don’t want to hear about troubles, they really want to laugh.
Further, 1969 was around the end of the Vietnam War and the beginning of the Nixon era, Keillor said. It started to get dark around 1972, he said, commenting on a friend who went to Vietnam and another friend going to prison to avoid the draft.
“In the midst of that, you felt an obligation to give people something to make them happy and make them laugh,” Keillor said.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT ALLEGATIONS
During the show, Keillor brought some humor to the sexual harassment allegations, joking about how it must be contagious due to him having been connected to others who have had scandals surrounding them, including Al Franken, Charlie Rose and Harvey Weinstein.
In November, Keillor made statements to the Minnesota Star Tribune that he put his hand on a woman’s bare back. In the show, he joked the spot he touched was where the woman was preparing to surgically attach a dorsal fin and blowhole.
In late January, the Washington Post reported that Minnesota Public Radio elaborated the claims included unwanted sexual touching, requests for sexual contact and sexually explicit messages that also involved a string of sexually suggestive emails.
Minnesota Public Radio released a statement in November that it will no longer distribute Keillor’s program “The Writer’s Almanac” and it would stop rebroadcasting “The Best of A Prairie Home Companion” and new episodes of the show itself would be given a new name.
After the show Wednesday, Keillor said he hopes the allegations are fading away because they are so insubstantial and he feels that Minnesota Public Radio made a grave mistake. Though people are able to apologize and take back what they do, organizations do not know how to do so, he added.
As for the emails, a person really has to read them, Keillor said, noting two reporters from the Associated Press and the Star Tribune went through 13 years of emails.
“You come away from reading the emails with an entirely different impression than whatever you thought before,” he said. “What you see from the emails, what anybody would see, was that these two people were friends to begin with and … this period started in 2003 and, starting around 2014, they went through a period of mutual flirtation without any specificity.”
It was a very adolescent sort of flirtation that ended in 2015, Keillor said. He retired in 2016, the person asked for a letter of recommendation which he wrote and she got a job as a school teacher, he said.
WHAT HAS HE BEEN DOING
In the three months or so since his dismissal from Minnesota Public Radio, Keillor said he’s never been so productive as he has been. He’s written a cowboy western play for six characters, a Lake Wobegone screenplay and a novella called “Unseemly Behavior,” based entirely on what happened surrounding the allegations, he said.
As for what’s next, Keillor said he’d really like to write for the stage and has a movie producer interested in making a movie with him. Though he doesn’t think he’ll write any more fiction, he is writing a weekly column in a few newspapers.
“Every Monday, I sit down and write 750 words,” Keillor said. “I’m trying to make this relevant to something in the news, but not opinionated.”
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