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Radio / A Prairie Home Companion

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Oh hear that old piano from down the avenue
I smell the onions note , I look around for you
My sweet old someone coming through that door
It's Saturday and the band is playing
Honey, could we ask for more?

- Garrison's opening song for every show

One of the more popular old-time radio variety shows still in existence, Public radio'snote  A Prairie Home Companion (re-branded as Live from Here in November 2017 after Keillor's firing, a year after handing over the reins to Chris Thile) 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 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 a 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. Keillor also wrote a novel about him, Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny.
  • 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 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.

In 2015, Garrison Keillor announced he would be retiring, again, following the 2015-2016 season, with "The America the Beautiful Tour" as his Grand Finale. He was replaced as host by Chris Thile, formerly of Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers, who has been featured on the show on-and-off for 20 years. (Keillor had already retired in the late '80s, then did annual reunion shows often enough that he just decided to resume doing the show on a weekly basis, and announced his retirement again in 2011, saying he would retire "within two years", only to change his mind once more, hence the word 'again' in this paragraph's first sentence.) Keillor's final broadcast from APHC's "home" venue (the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul MN) took place on February 27, 2016, while his final final show was recorded at the Hollywood Bowl on July 2.

Thile's tenure on the show has been characterized by increasing the focus on music while dialing back on the show's old-timey timelessness, the show is now more willing at making contemporary references and even joking about politics. Also, some of the segments, such as "News from Lake Wobegon," were retired as they were considered to be too intimately tied with Keillor's persona to survive a shift to a new host.

In November 2017, the show was renamed Live from Here after Keillor was fired from Minnesota Public Radio for allegations of workplace harassment. Furthermore, MPR stopped rebroadcasting all past shows starring Keillor and removed all his shows, including Writers' Almanac, from their online archive. In April 2018, MPR reached a settlement with Keillor and restored the archive. Because Keillor, not MPR, holds the rights to his shows, he has expressed interest in reviving them, especially Writers' Almanac.

The radio show was adapted into a film (famed director Robert Altman's last) in 2006 - starring an Ensemble Cast and Garrison Keillor As Himself - which was generally well-received. It has its own page here.

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.
  • Banana in the Tailpipe: See the Everybody Owns a Ford example.
  • 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???
  • Catchphrase: "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?"
    • Since Keillor's retirement, Chris Thile has started opening shows with a hearty "Ahoy!"—sometimes with another "ahoy" midshow, when he makes a Shout-Out to musicians celebrating their birthdays that week. It's still a little early to know whether it will stick.
  • Cathartic Chores: One "News From Lake Wobegon" story has stressed housewife Diane vent by beating the proverbial tar out of a rug. (Diane's story is in Lake Wobegon Days.)
  • 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).
    • Early installments of the Guy Noir segment are only a few minutes long, and feature Guy and his friend Pete acting out a film noir situation where they both shoot each other and die by the end.
  • 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.
  • Fictional Province: Lake Wobegon isn't just a fictional town, it's the county seat of a fictional Minnesota county called Mist County. Supposedly Mist County is what happened when the initial surveyors of Minnesota missed a chunk of land. The mapmakers didn't want to go back and redo all their work (i.e. putting Lake Wobegon on the map), so they fudged the map to ignore Mist County.
  • 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.
  • 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. Another episode introduces a son as well. Neither is ever mentioned in any other episodes.
  • 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") Mournful Oatmeal ("Calvinism in a box") and the Catchup Advisory Board.
    • 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.
    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!
    • The "Buster the Show Dog" segments were sponsored by Scotty's Cough Syrup for dogs.
  • Pocket Dial: In one episode of "Guy Noir: Private Eye", Guy gets a huge phone bill because he's been unknowingly "butt-dialing" somebody in Norway for months.
  • 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.
  • Punny Name: The editor of the local newspaper, the Lake Wobegon Herald-Star, is Harold Starr.
  • Quirky Town: Lake Wobegon, natch.
  • Rapid-Fire Comedy: The Joke Show goes through a lot of jokes in one sitting.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The parody commercials for Mournful Oatmeal tended to be this.
    Mournful Oatmeal is the cereal that makes you realize you're not as smart as your mother told people you were. You may have a certificate on the wall but you know you could never pass that examination again. You may think that spring means new life and a fresh start but not necessarily for you, buster. Mournful Oatmeal: No matter where you go, there you are.
  • Self-Deprecation: Keillor 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.
  • They Killed Kenny Again: Both Guy Noir and his rival used to get shot and left bleeding out near the end of every installment, but this was phased out over time.
  • 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.
  • Tropey the Wonder Dog: Back in the 80's, the long-running "Buster the Show Dog" segment (narrated by Keillor) was a parody of old time radio soap operas, following a group of misfits (including the titular Buster) trying against every imaginable obstacle to find their way home to Minnesota. One memorably surreal installment has them encountering and coming into conflict with Keillor himself, with all his Author Powers in play.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Lake Wobegon Days, Live From Here