"Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my hometown, out there, on the edge of the prairie."One of the more popular old-time radio variety shows still in existence, NPR's A Prairie Home Companion was created by Garrison Keillor in 1974 and continues to broadcast faithfully from St. Paul (or Minneapolis, and various other locations in the U.S. and abroad) every Saturday to a totally loyal audience. It's popular for several reasons, chiefly nostalgia for the good old days of radio—which this is very, very evocative of—and Keillor's distinctive comedic style.Though the guest stars and location vary, the segments almost always included are:
The traditional opener for the "News from Lake Wobegon" segment.
- The News from Lake Wobegon: Garrison relates the goings-on in his (fictional) hometown of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota; as noted above, while it's always been a quiet week, a lot manages to happen quietly, considering the Eccentric Townsfolk. This is the most beloved feature, and Keillor has written books about Lake Wobegon. The monologues are actually partially or entirely improvised based on an scenario or outline, which is why some end up as Shaggy Dog Stories and some dogs turn out shaggier than others.
- Guy Noir: Private Eye: An Affectionate Parody of, and homage to, the radio serials of the Thirties and Forties (and, of course, Film Noir in general), delivered in Private Eye Monologue by Garrison and the inevitable Love Interest with invariably tight clothing ("jeans so tight I could see the mint mark on the quarter in her pocket," for instance) as he tries to solve various cases of missing persons, pets, and items.
- The Lives of the Cowboys: A humorous look at the archetypal cowboy and what his life would be like in the modern era. Dusty and Lefty reassure others that they mean "partner" in the old sense, ponder selling out, and occasionally get an off-the-wall episode such as "the free-range chicken" ("Look out! He's got a six-shooter!").
- Sound Effects Man Challenges: Not a named segment, but Keillor often relates a story requiring the sound-effects man to improvise ever more elaborate wacky sound effects. Sometimes included in one of the parody commercials, usually for Beebop-A-Ree-Bop Rhubarb Pie.
- Parody Commercials: Though they also advertise real products, they also always present a humorous fake product or two for sale, the most well known of which (because of its insane Ear Worm of a Jingle that the band always turns into a Dixieland jam session) is "Powdermilk Biscuits - Gives shy people the strength to get up and do what needs to be done."
- The Catchup Advisory Board: A spoof public service announcement informing the listeners about the "natural mellowing agents" of ketchup, done as a serious dialogue between an average homeowner and his wife, Barb. The intentional mispelling of Ketchup is meant to be a pun, nothing more. It always comes down to the Spoof Aesop "eat more ketchup". (Ketchup! Ketchuuup~!)
- Beebop-A-Ree-Bop Rhubarb Pie: In a similar vein to the Catchup Advisory Board, usually involves a long and drawn-out tale of failure and humiliation, up until the edge of complete ruin. Narrated by Garrison with appropriate sound effects. Always finishes with the catchy jingle and the phrase "Nothing gets the taste of humiliation out of your mouth like Beebop-A-Ree-Bop Rhubarb Pie."
- Powdermilk Biscuits: This takes place at the bottom of the first hour. Keillor introduces the sponsor, then the band launches into an extended bluegrass jam session (which is always the same). Many local stations use this music as a "bed" for station identification. At the end, Keillor finishes the song with a brief vocal jingle:Has your family tried 'em? Powdermilk!
Has your family tried 'em? Powdermilk!
If your family's tried 'em then you know you've satisfied 'em
They're a real hot item, Powdermilk!
- Café Boeuf: An elite restaurant with Maurice the maitre d', who tends to be especially snooty, sometimes even insulting customers that do not meet their standards of class. Discontinued after the death of sound effects man Tom Keith, who played Maurice.
- Bertha's Kitty Boutique: A pet store selling gear allowing cats to participate in all sorts of improbable activities, such as ice fishing or skydiving.
- Shout-Outs: Before the show, people in the audience write down their hellos and personal messages to their loved ones. Post-Intermission, Keillor tries to read as many as he can. (Example: Mick and Sharon want to say hi to Ed and Doris: Congratulations on the baby, Doris! Sorry we can't enjoy the cranberries and stuffing with you this year, but we'll see you next Thanksgiving, God willing. We promise to bring the oyster stuffing, and we also promise not to bring the dog!) This was actually a fairly common thing to do in the early days of radio, when not everyone had access to a telephone, they would listen to the radio at a set time to hear the announcements to and from various people.
- There is also always lots of folk and gospel music (largely by guest performers) and general humor.
Tropes found in the radio show:
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Guy Noir runs into a president of a company who tells him a long-winded story containing LOTS of this... only for it to fall apart when it turns out all he was asking was if Guy Noir knew where to get rhubarb supplements.
- Affectionate Parody: Much of the source material, especially Guy Noir and The Lives of the Cowboys, based respectively on old-time private eyes shows like The Shadow and lesser-known radio Westerns, respectively. The Lake Wobegon skits are all parodic takes on nostalgic small-town media.
- BFG: A parody commercial for a Texan big box store featured a deer rifle that will penetrate two-inch armor. What kind of deer are you hunting???
- Catch Phrase: "Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." It's even given rise to an eponymous psychological effect.
- Powdermilk Biscuits: "Heavens, they're tasty... and expeditious."
- "Wouldn't this be a good time for a piece of rhubarb pie?"
- Celebrity Endorsement: For the Select Comfort SleepNumber bed, every episode since it was invented.
- Down on the Farm: Lake Wobegon
- Early Installment Weirdness: The early years were much more music-oriented. "The News From Lake Wobegon" started off as a more overtly comical "letters from home" routine, and Keillor would sometimes skip it entirely (it became a permanent Once an Episode segment in 1978).
- Eccentric Townsfolk: Nobody is quite normal in Lake Wobegon, not even the clergy.
- Everybody Owns a Ford: Non - Product Placement variation; Every Lutheran drives a Ford; every Catholic drives a Chevy, the local dealers being members of those two churches respectively. Oh, and don't even think of buying the wrong make (or, heaven help you, foreign), lest you fall victim to a potato up your tailpipe.
- Expospeak Gag: This episode of Guy Noir has a young enterprising startup woman tell Guy all about platforms that facilitate user-generated content, exchange of said content along with intercultural exchanges, and automatically curate said content. In other words: platforms you step on and talk to other people.
- Filk Song: Frequently, for example a tribute to Leonard Bernstein to the tune of "Gee, Officer Krupke". When Marni Nixon (a great singer famous for having dubbed over many great movie musicals and never once getting credit) performed at the Hollywood Bowl, she sang a parody of "I Could Have Danced All Night," called "I Could Have Dubbed Myself".
- Foreigner for a Day: Lake Wobegon regards itself as part of Minnesota (and the United States) despite not officially being part of the state because of a cartographer's error when Minnesota was officially surveyed.
- Foreign Queasine: Lutefisk, lutefisk, lutefisk. Prepared in the trunk of the local seafood store owner's car, since it kills all his other business if he makes it in the shop and his wife won't allow it in the house.
- French Cuisine Is Haughty: Café Boeuf
- Ice-Cream Koan: The following joke is a Running Gag, because it has no real meaning:Two penguins are sitting on an iceberg, when one penguin turns to the other and says, "You look like you're wearing a tuxedo." The first penguin says, "What makes you think I'm not?"
- If I Had a Nickel: In a Guy Noir sketch set in New York:Sue Scott's character: If I had a nickel for every time I have seen people talking on the phone while they drove today, I could buy the Taj Mahal. Or a studio apartment in Brooklyn.
- Key Under the Doormat. Howie Humde, inventor of the Cow-Pie Key Hider, is a sponsor of the show.
- Kung-Foley: To insane amounts; besides the "Fred Feral" animal noises routine, the Foley men (normally alternating, but occasionally dueling) have in the past simulated a helicopter hovering over a house being torn apart by an earthquake as pterodactyls close in. Occasionally lampshaded and lampooned - Guy Noir sometimes runs into people who think they can do pretty good sound impressions.
- Long Runner: Celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2014 (but it was off the air from 1987-89). Season 41 will be Garrison Keillor's last, but the show will go on.
- Luke, You Are My Father: One Guy Noir sketch has Guy meet a young woman in a bar who turns out to be the daughter he didn't know he had, via a woman he'd dated decades ago.
- May I Borrow a Cup of Sugar?: Well, flour actually, in one "News From Lake Wobegon" segment. Keillor tells a fictional account of how his mother got addicted to the Tournament of Roses Parade. At the time they didn't have a television set, but she had gone to a neighbor's house for a cup of flour. The neighbors were watching the Parade on television, and she was so mesmerized that she watched the whole thing standing with the cup of flour in her hand.
- Minnesota Nice: Often parodied. Appropriate, given the show's setting.
- No Communities Were Harmed: Lake Wobegon is a representative small rural Minnesota town. Keillor has admitted that he used two towns where he lived as models: Freeport (a half-hour's drive west of St. Cloud) and Marine-on-St. Croix (about 40 miles northeast of Minneapolis-St. Paul). Freeport makes a big deal about this connection. They replaced an abandoned stretch of railroad with a hiking trail and called it the Lake Wobegon Trail. Also there's a Keillor-sanctioned photo book called In Search of Lake Wobegon featuring pics of various tiny central Minnesota towns that could be viewed as real-life Lake Wobegons (such as Holdingford and Saint Rosa).
- Nostalgia Filter: Much of what keeps the show going; even remarked on in The Movie.
- Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: Averted — Lake Wobegon is in the middle of nowhere, and not that much that's really exciting ever does happen there; it's always "a quiet week in Lake Wobegon." Most of the humor relies on small, strange day-to-day events. There's a big stir when one of the townswomen goes to Hollywood and comes back.
- Parody Commercial: The aforementioned "Powdermilk Biscuits" routine, "Beebop-A-Ree-Bop Rhubarb Pie" ("Sweetening the sour taste of failure throughout the generations") and the "Catchup Advisory Board".
We advertise on this show because we find the listeners tend to make good candidates for Raw Bits. About fifteen percent of you make it. Raw Bits: it's not just a cereal; it's a moral statement!
- In addition to the long runners, other parodies have come and go, like "Cafe Boeuf", "Bertha's Kitty Boutique". the "National Association of Organizations" and most recently, the "Professional Organization of English Majors (POEM)",
- Back in the day, they also had "Raw Bits" cereal, with the tag line "Do you qualify for Raw Bits?" (poking fun at a then-current Grape Nuts slogan, "It's not 'Are Grape Nuts good enough for you,' but 'Are you good enough for Grape Nuts?'"). Potential customers had to go through an application process to see if they were good enough for Raw Bits.
- Private Eye Monologue: Guy Noir speaks entirely in this—"She wore jeans so tight I could read the serial number on the wrench in her front pocket."
- Product Placement: A Toyota Prius was mentioned as a prize in a Life of Bob sketch, Toyota having underwritten the show at that time.
- When Ford was underwriting the show, he performed a folk tribute to the brand, it being one of the few makes that had been already established as being driven in Lake Wobegon.
- Keillor slams Powdermilk Biscuits on behalf of Bisquick.
- Quirky Town: Lake Wobegon, natch.
- Rapid-Fire Comedy: The Joke Show goes through a lot of jokes in one sitting.
- Real Song Theme Tune: "Tishomingo Blues", but with lyrics rewritten for the show:"Oh, hear that old piano, from down the avenue.
I smell the [insert city-related objects], I look around for you
My sweet, sweet old someone, comin' through that door
It's Saturday an'
The band is playin',
Honey, could we ask for more?"
"Well, look who's coming through the door
- Prior to that, it had been "Hello, Love," by Hank Snow
I think we've met somewhere before
Hello love, hello love
Where in the world have you been so long?
I've missed you so since you've been gone
Hello love, hello love"
- Self-Deprecation: Keilor pokes a lot of fun at midwesterners in general and Minnesotans in particular, public radio and the kind of person who listens to public radio, and America in general and Americans as people. Sometimes with an edge, often not. And whenever the show goes on the road he also makes sure to work in some humor at his host city's expense.
- Shaggy Dog Story: Every single "Beebop-a-Reebop Rhubarb Pie" commercial. Some Guy Noir stories end up like this.
- Slice of Life/Life Embellished: Lake Wobegon, a take-off on nostalgic anecdotes you read about all the time.
- Spiritual Successor: The American Radio Company of The Air, Keillor's return to radio in 1989, was officially supposed to be one, but other than being New York-based, it was essentially the same show as APHC. When Keillor relocated back to Minnesota a few years later he gave up the pretense and went back to calling it A Prairie Home Companion.
- Tongue on the Flagpole: Garrison Keillor suggests that the ability to hypnotize children into doing this is an innate ability of pump handles and other metallic objects.
- Wacky Sound Effect: Consistent with the style of the radio shows of old, they are made live on stage to punctuate the story segments. Mostly done "by mouth" by Fred Newman and, prior to his 2011 death, Tom Keith.
- Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Lake Wobegon is in central Minnesota, but doesn't appear on any maps because the state was charted by four surveyors, starting at opposite corners and meeting in the middle, and Lake Wobegon is right where the maps they'd made overlapped. True story.
- Furthermore, the "hole" in the map consists of Mist County, of which Lake Wobegon is county seat. The only reason they have any train service at all is because the tracks were laid there by mistake. And you have to petition for each and every train to come there, because nobody has heard of the place.
- The small town of Freeport, Minnesota claims to be the "real" Lake Wobegon. Keillor often describes Lake Wobegon as the place where the city meets the prairie, and Freeport is just a short drive west of Saint Cloud, where traffic into the Twin Cities from the west begins to get congested. The local cafe, Charlie's, is adorned with Prairie Home Companion memorabilia, and is a popular tourist attraction, bringing in people from all over the state, including a visit from Keillor himself.
"That's the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good lookin', and all the children are above average."
The traditional closer for the "News from Lake Wobegon" segment.