More on Minnesota’s Angry Humorist: We aren’t through with the unfunny one yet. Our reader Brian Ward is the proprietor of the Fraters Libertas blog. Brian’s excellent account of Norm Coleman’s visit to the Wild game at the Xcel Center in St. Paul the Saturday before the election, an account from which we quoted extensively, provided a genuine indicator of coming events. Brian is a long-time observer of the unfunny one, and has written us to assert that the unfunny one’s unfunniness is not a recent development:
“Regarding the humor of Garrison Keillor, I’ve listened to PHC for about 10 years and I must say that its never been particularly amusing. He does attempt a lot of jokes and delivers punch lines all the time in his monologs, but they typically aim (and land) somewhere in the space between cornpone Hee Haw gags and Boone and Erickson style ‘Ole and Lena’ jokes. And the content of the sketch comedy rarely rises above the level of a 4H club skit (though I will say some of the performers are genuinely talented).
“Part of his inability to be funny may be the lack of critical review he receives, either professionally or from his audience. Since ratings (relative to commercial radio) don’t matter on NPR, he’s under no pressure to appeal to a wide audience (who would demand that he actually be funny before they tuned in). Furthermore, the relatively small segment of the population that does appreciate his radio antics seem to be of the type who just appreciate his political stances and are apt to give courtesy laughter to anyone whom they presume is fighting the good fight. I’ve attended performances of PHC and overwhelmingly the laughter that comes from the audience is courtesy laughter, not a spontaneous reaction to what’s being said. It’s the kind of laughter that says ‘yes, I recognize what you’re doing is an attempt at humor (particularly since I’ve seen the punch line coming since you started the bit) and since I agree with what you’re attempting and I want to support you, I’ll make sounds with my throat commonly recognized as laughter.’ It’s the kind of laugher you hear at the punch lines during your kid’s high school production of ‘The Music Man’ or heard coming out of urban sophisticates at Uptown [Minneapolis movie theater] showings of ‘Bowling for Columbine.’
“This is the reason that Garrison can tell the same two jokes during every performance and get the same reaction. ‘People in St. Paul don’t like people in Minneapolis’ (roar of laughter from crowd)…’I like to call Minneapolis…the Paris of the Midwest…’ (roar of laughter, followed by an explosion of applause).
“The strength of PHC is the music (and not the Keillor sung torch ballads, mind you- -these range from quaint to outright embarrassing). The guest artists he attracts, from genres as diverse as classical to jazz to bluegrass to country are consistently outstanding. And his reports from Lake Woebegone are often nuanced and beautiful and I’ve gotten a lot out of hearing them over the years.”
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