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"Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my hometown, out on the edge of the prairie."—The traditional opener for the "News from Lake Wobegon" segment.
One of the more popular old-time Radio variety shows still in existence, A Prairie Home Companion was created by Garrison Keillor in 1974 and continues to broadcast faithfully from St. Paul 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.
- 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.
- 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!").
- 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 insane Ear Worm of a 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 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."
- '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.
- 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 music and general humor.
Tropes found in the radio show:
- 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.
- Catch Phrase ("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.)
- Celebrity Endorsement (For the Select Comfort SleepNumber bed, every episode since it was invented.)
- Defictionalization (Powdermilk Biscuit mix is sold at the Lake Wobegon store at the Mall of America.)
- 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.
- French Cuisine Is Haughty: Café Boeuf
- Filk Song (Frequently, for example a tribute to Leonard Bernstein to the tune of "Gee, Officer Krupke". When Marni Nixon (a great singer famous for having dubbed over many great movie musicals and never once getting credit) performed at the Hollywood Bowl, she sang a parody of "I Could Have Danced All Night," called "I Could Have Dubbed Myself."
- 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.
- 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.
- Harpo Does Something Funny: The Lake Wobegon monologues are totally unscripted.
- Hey, It's That Voice! (Once you've heard Garrison Keillor's voice, you can't forget it.)
- Ho Yay: Occasionally between Dusty and Lefty, the cowboys. They tend to say "my partner", which makes people think of the the newer version of "partner".
- 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.
- Keep Circulating the Tapes: It's one of the few public radio shows not archived in its' entirety online, due to music licensing issues. Comedy segments are available, however, and there are cassette and CD sets floating about.
- 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.
- Minnesota Nice: Often parodied. Appropriate, given the show's setting.
- Never Live It Down: The aforementioned "Penguin Joke" became a Running Gag because the first time Garrison Keillor tried to tell it on the air, he badly flubbed the delivery. They've been repeating his mistake word-for-word ever since.
- 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. 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") and the "Catsup Advisory Board".)
- 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.")
- Quirky Town (Lake Wobegon, natch)
- Real Song Theme Tune: "Tishomingo Blues", but with lyrics rewritten for the show:
Oh, hear that old piano, from down the avenue.
I smell the <insert city-related objects>, I look around for you
My sweet, sweet old someone, comin' through that door
It's Saturday an'
The band is playin',
Honey, could we ask for more?"
- 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.
- Strawman Political
- 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.)
- 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 way 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.
Tropes from the movie:
- All-Star Cast: Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Lindsay Lohan, and Virginia Madsen.
- Angel Unaware: Asphodel
- As Himself: Garrison Keillor. Actually, the character he playes is credited as "G.K.", with some notable personality differences: the Real Life Keillor doesn't have any problems with giving memorials on the radio, including moments of silence, and is only slightly less of a Cloudcuckoolander than his film equivalent.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Guy Noir most definitely and a lot of his clients; Garrison to a lesser extent.
- Dead Air: After one of the singers passes away backstage during the show, they briefly consider having a moment of silence for him on the show.
Garrison Keillor: Silence on the radio? I don't know how that works.
Lola Johnson: This isn't really going to be your last show, is it?
Garrison Keillor: Every show is your last show. That's my philosophy.
Rhonda Johnson: Thank you, Plato.
- Folk Music
- The Grim Reaper: Asphodel.
- Mood Whiplash: Done brilliantly when the Johnson Sisters' heartbreaking duet "Goodbye to my Mama" is followed up immediately by Dusty and Lefty singing "Bad Jokes" which is 4 1/2 minutes of pure, unadulterated Crowning Moment of Funny.
- Murder Ballad
- Never Say "Die": Averted; we're told outright that, at the request of Guy Noir, Asphodel caused the critic's car to plunge fatally over a cliff because it makes no difference in the end.
- Only Sane Man: The two stage managers, hustling around behind the scenes trying to make sure the show happens despite the talent.
- The Show Must Go On
- Sound to Screen Adaptation: Obviously.
- Straw Critic: The man in charge of closing the show.
- Those Two Guys: Dusty and Lefty
- Throw It In: When Guy Noir pops the champange bottle, the person who he accidentally hit (offscreen) was director Robert Altman.
- What Could Have Been: Lyle Lovett and Tom Waits were originally cast as Dusty and Lefty.
- George Clooney was offered the role of Guy Noir, but regretfully turned it down due to scheduling conflicts. Keillor jokes in the screenplay that he actually wanted Clooney to play him.
- While Rome Burns: The singers bravely put on one last show for the memories.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: "Well done daughter woman", more like. Guy Noir helps quite a few people with these issues.
- Woman in White: Pops up a few times in Guy Noir.
"And 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.