As I’ve already mentioned, I spent my Tuesday evening in Athens, Ohio listening to one of America’s greatest modern storytellers: Garrison Keillor. As a Miami alumna, there is a whole host of things I could say about spending an evening at Ohio University (OU and Miami are noted rivals), but I’ll try to take the high ground and admit I had a lovely evening.
The event itself, Garrison Keillor: Stories from Lake Wobegon, was amazing, just as is every event where Garrison Keillor speaks. The format and much of the program, however, wasn’t new to me. Keillor held a similar event at Miami last March, and told many of the same stories in Oxford’s Millett Auditorium. However, Keillor infuses his stories with a joy that is inescapable; with that iconic voice only a few feet away, him daftly wearing a suit and orange gym shoes, and the rapt crowd surrounding you, it’s hard not to be taken in.
With all this talk about Garrison Keillor lately, I’m sure many of you must be thinking I’m daffy over him. My dad and I agreed we must be southern Ohio’s most devoted GK groupies, driving three hours on a Tuesday evening to hear him speak. I’m not going to defend myself on that count. However, at both the Miami and OU events, and the Cincinnati performance of A Prairie Home Companion last year, I’m always disappointed at the lack of young people in attendence. Old people flock to Keillor, while people my age (early 20’s and older) tend to laugh him off. One of my Facebook friends posted a status one day, proclaiming her love for Keillor (she was reading Love Me). Someone then commented, asking whether she liked the fact that he was a Republican. Luckily, someone corrected that person by pointing out Keillor is a staunch Democrat, but the image of codgy old person seems to be the only thing young people know. The Prairie Home Companion movie doesn’t seem to have made one difference (although it was pretty bad and starred Lindsey Lohan…yuck). If young people were to give Keillor a chance, however, they would find someone as progressive, provacative and hilarious as the next hipster. Yes, Keillor is “folksy” and religion plays a part of his routine. But he is certainly not preaching (I would be tuning out if it were so). Instead, he gently satirizes the trappings and morals of everyday life, and because he’s so nice, is able to touch closer to the truth than any other comedian. He’s making fun of the old people in the audience, but he’s able to convince them to laugh at themselves.
I don’t know. Maybe my love of Keillor’s humor stems from our shared Midwestern upbringing. I may not be from Minnesota, but rural Ohio shares many things with Lake Wobegon. People from the Midwest are different than the folks on the coasts, and though we may be flyover country (or a bunch of weird rectangles), we have a shared culture. Garrison Keillor taps into that culture, makes us laugh at ourselves, and reminds us we’re important.