Keillor will be cheerful in Omaha as he leads the singing

Garrison Keillor will be at the Holland Performing Arts Center today for “An Afternoon With Garrison Keillor.” He is the creator and host of the long-running “A Prairie Home Companion” on public radio.


Storyteller Garrison Keillor has a valentine for Omaha.

He’s bringing his road show, “An Afternoon With Garrison Keillor,” to the Holland Center today.

Keillor introduced Americans to the fictitious town of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, on “A Prairie Home Companion,” the public radio show he has hosted almost continuously since 1974 and from which he plans to retire in July. More than 4 million listeners tune in each Saturday. In Omaha, it’s broadcast on KIOS-FM.

He also has a short radio program, “The Writer’s Almanac,” heard daily on KVNO-FM.

And he’s a best-selling author, with more than two dozen books to his credit.

We had the chance to ask him a few questions via email, and we figure the best way to present answers from a famous wordsmith is in his own words.

Q. What do you like best about performing?

A. I like launching into a story and changing course midway through. Confusion is stimulating. I like reciting long poems like “Annabel Lee” and “Sergeant Musgrave and Lord Barnard’s Wife.” But most of all, I love to get an audience singing a cappella “America the Beautiful” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” and maybe a few others. People hardly ever get a chance to do this, and they are so appreciative and they sing so beautifully, in four-part harmony, or at least two-part. It’s very sociable.

Q. What keeps you going?

A. I like writing. You sit in a quiet room with a couple of lines in mind about when you were 12 and were sent to swim class because your cousin drowned and before long you have a couple of pages of a monologue about a girl named Maggie.

You go out and perform it because it’s funny and you want to be there while people enjoy it.

If it really is good, you’re not nervous at all. You feel invisible, completely tied up with the details of the story. It’s all about the story — it’s not about you.

Q. What can people expect from your Omaha show?

A. I will give them a chance to sing, and I will be cheerful. I am not one of those humorists who complains about his wife.

Omaha is a city that people in Minneapolis make fun of, which I guess makes them feel better. But I live in St. Paul. So maybe I’ll talk about the sense of inferiority that we grow up with in the Midwest and how it makes us empathetic, kinder and sturdier — we travel well because we know how to be insignificant and observant and we don’t need a lot of maintenance.

Or maybe I’ll talk about my so-called career in radio and how a Sanctified Brethren boy got over his sense of certainty and learned to live with doubt. I’ll be sure to recite some limericks and sing a few sonnets and maybe a good murder ballad. Nothing like a good murder ballad to lighten the mood.

Q. What’s next for you — what do you see doing in the next year or so?

A. I wrote a Lake Wobegon screenplay, “Homecoming,” that now I want to rewrite. It’s been sitting around for a couple of years and I’ve figured out what’s wrong with it. The whole first third of it needs to be hacked off.

I’m working on a memoir, which is fun and rather illuminating — I’ve learned that I never wanted to go into radio, it just happened by accident. I’d like to resume writing a weekly newspaper column.

And I plan to ride some of my favorite trains and see America.

Q. What humorists today do you admire, and why?

A. I’m fond of (Peter) Benchley, (S.J.) Perelman, P.J. O’Rourke, the classic guys. I don’t just admire them — they actually make me laugh out loud. I hardly ever do that, so it’s quite an accomplishment on their part.

I also think my wife is very funny, though I wish she would keep the thermostat up above 65 degrees and I wish she would throw away the copper souffle pan that hangs from the rack in the kitchen that I keep whanging my head on. We never use it. It’s purely decorative. It’s one reason I go on the road, to avoid the pain.

Q. What advice would you give someone today who’s starting down the path you took?

I don’t think the path exists anymore — broadcasting and publishing have changed so much — so my advice is rather general.

Try to sit down and write every day, even if only for an hour or two. Resist taking work you don’t like that doesn’t teach you anything.

Be smart about alcohol and drugs — they’re an occupational hazard and they easily get out of hand and you wind up walking around with a knapsack full of rocks.

An Afternoon With Garrison Keillor

What: Storytelling and music

When: 3 p.m. today

Where: Holland Center, 1200 Douglas St.

Tickets: $20 to $60

Information: ticketomaha.com or 402-345-0606

Contact the writer: 402-444-1267, elizabeth.freeman@owh.com

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