Time slowed down for a moment Monday evening when radio host Garrison Keillor took the stage at Lisner Auditorium.
About a thousand people – mostly older District residents – came to campus for an intimate hour with the host of NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion.” Keillor was promoting his new book, “Pontoon,” which was published last month.
“A Prairie Home Companion” is a weekly variety show that features bluegrass music, poems and comedy routines. Keillor wore his signature costume on Monday: a coat and tie with bright red sneakers.
“Women who I used to lust after have now turned into their grandmothers,” said Keillor, reflecting on turning 65. He said he wrote his latest book in honor of reaching old age.
Keillor, a Minnesotan, is well-known for creating Lake Wobegon – a fictional Midwestern town where old-fashioned residents are constantly confronted with modern life. He has written several books on the subject and reads the “News from Lake Wobegon” every Saturday on his show.
Keillor said he does not see old age as a sad memorial.
“Why should we go into mourning because we turn a certain age people associate with retirement?” Keillor said.
The best comedy emerges from dismal situations, he said.
“Comedy to me is this act of transcendence over the bitter fact of life,” Keillor said. He added that in Stockholm, where life is ideal, “there are morose people sitting in dark corners, contemplating suicide.”
He also spoke extensively about growing up in a religious family, explaining that being a writer was equated with exhibitionism.
“To write fiction in my family – well, it’s not as bad as larceny, – but it’s in the same spectrum,” he said.
He reflected on the peaceful world of his childhood and how modern day life is hectic and irrational.
Keillor noted that Richard Reed, the shoe bomber, forced Americans to perform crazy acts like remove our shoes at the airport.
“Someday, someone will come to the airport with an underwear bomb. That’ll bring back train travel,” he said.
After the show, audience members said Keillor’s Midwestern humor was a pleasant reminder of simpler times.
“There were definitely references that I didn’t get because I’m not from Minnesota,” said Maria Fyodorova, a master’s student at GW. “But I do think the majority of his humor, his references and his stories are accessible even if you don’t share his background or age.”
The majority of Monday’s audience was familiar with Keillor’s humor. Arnie Gordon, a Rockville, Md., resident, said his appeal is widespread.
Gordon said, “Garrison Keillor’s an institution. If you go through life not hearing about him, you might as well be on Mars.”