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A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor

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Radio script


Garrison Keillor: People often ask me how I got into radio, including a woman who walked up to me on the Lido deck yesterday and said she recognized me.

Sue Scott: I know you from somewhere. I could swear I've seen your face — Don't tell me. I know I know you. —Ah!—You're the author of— No. You couldn't be a writer. Not in television, obviously..... Not an athlete. — I doubt that you're a musician. — I give up. What is it you do?

GK: I'm in radio.

SS: Radio!!! You're kidding.

GK: No. I am. This is The Prairie Home Companion cruise. Ever hear of that?

SS: No.

GK: How'd you come on the cruise?

SS: My sister invited me.

GK: Oh. Well— I do a show called A Prairie Home Companion.

SS: Oh. — How'd you ever get into radio? (BRIDGE)

GK: How? I don't know. Why — I know the answer to that. It's because radio was our entertainment when I was a kid. I grew up in a sod hut in North Dakota, the son of illiterate Swedish woodcutters (TR SWEDISH) and I lived for Saturday nights when my favorite shows came on— first there was Broadway Bandstand brought to you by Bridgeport Brand Bromides, the quick easy solution to stomach acids caused by overindulgence, with Brad Brickhouse the hearthrob of mature women. (BAND NUMBER) And it was followed by.....

(THEME)

Tim Russell: The Mystery of Life — the show with a message — no matter how discouraged we may be, remember that nothing is impossible. You can accomplish your dreams — if you only believe. — brought to you by Texas Natural Gas. —

SS: I've doubted myself for too long. I want to open a restaurant and I'm going to do it. A French restaurant. Canton, Ohio. has never had a top-notch French restaurant. I'll bet people are just waiting for one to open. And how about I make it vegetarian — just to make it more special?

GK: I loved the show. The people on radio were fearless and they embarked on hopeless enterprises with great confidence.

FN: I am going to learn the tablecloth trick and once I do, I can embark on a career in magic. A table set with six place settings of expensive china and crystal and I take hold of the end of the tablecloth and with one powerful jerk of my wrists, I yank it out without moving a single plate or glass. Like this— (TO HIMSELF) it's all in the wrists—

GK: Radio opened up a whole world that I never knew existed. A world of danger and wild adventure......

(JUNGLE DRUMS)

TR (ANNOUNCER): Once again— it's time for SHEILA THE CHRISTIAN JUNGLE GIRL brought to you by Brainerd Brand Baked Beans, the family favorite!

GK (SINGS): Brainerd Baked Beans are delicious
And they're also good for you.
And if your system's clogged up
Our beans go right on through.
You'll love the baked bean flavor
And the music's lots of fun.
They will make you bigger, give you vim and vigor,
Brainerd Baked Beans No. 1.

TR (ANNOUNCER): As we join Sheila, she and Aunt Becky are making their way through a dark jungle — (BIRDS, PRIMATES)

Erica Rhodes: It's so dark, Aunt Becky. Why did we come here?

SS: We're looking for young Brad Shellbarger and so we can return the figure skates that we borrowed from him.

ER: I don't think we're in Minnesota any more— (PRIMATES)

SS: We must return things we borrow, dear.

ER: But Brad Shellbarger doesn't live in a swamp, Aunt Becky. He lives in Littleville.

SS: But whose tracks are those we've been following then? (ROAR) Oh oh. —

ER: I knew it—

SS: You better run for it, Sheila. I'll fight him off with this tree branch—

ER: That's not a tree branch, Aunt Becky. That's a—

SS: Oh no!!!! (SNAKE HISS AND RATTLE) (ORGAN STING)

ER: And vampire bats. (BAT WINGS) They're flying straight for our throats! (BAT LANDS ON HER THROAT, SHE STRUGGLES, SHE CRIES OUT AS SHE FALLS)

SS: Sheila—?

ER: (OFF) I fell into this deep pit, Aunt Becky.

SS: Oh no! (BIRD CRIES) Vultures. (BIRD SHRIEK) Maybe we should head back!

ER: I've been telling you that for hours, Aunt Becky. And now my foot is impaled on a sharp stick.

SS: Don't give up. Pray, honey! Pray, and if you have faith, we'll be back in Littleville and you'll be playing with your dolls again.

ER: I doubt it very much.

SS: You have to have faith, Sheila!

ER: Why?

SS: You can't give up!

ER: I have given up. A long time ago. (THUNDER, LIGHTNING) Aunt Becky!!!! (LIGHTNING) I see the path. Thanks to that bolt of lightning I can see where we are. We're near the Interstate. (SEMI, HORN, SPEEDING PAST) See? We're only fifty feet from safety—! (DEMENTED MUMBLING) Aunt Becky????

SS: Help!

ER: What is it?

SS: I'm in the grip of a crazy person. A demented supply-side economist.

TR: You see by this graph, if we eat more cake— bingo, more cake to eat—

ER: Run for it!!! (RUNNING FOOTSTEPS) (JUNGLE BIRDS, PRIMATES)

SS: I'm right behind you!!!

ER: I'm going to wave down that truck!!! — Help! Help! (TRUCK HORN, BRAKES, STOPPING)

SS: He's stopping.

ER: We're safe. (AIR BRAKES)

SS: Help us, mister. Please—

FN (VAMPIRE): You want me to help you? Of course I'll help you. (STING)

ER: Run! (SS SCREAM, RUNNING FEET) (BRIDGE)

SS: (CATCHING BREATH) Whew. Made it.

ER: Good we found this deserted barn when we did, Aunt Becky.

SS: Yes. — Sheila?

ER: What?

SS: Do you know what day today is?

ER: Sunday?

SS: It's my birthday, dear.

ER: Oh. — Happy Birthday.

SS: Is that all? — Is there no gift? Not even a card?

ER: We're lost in the jungle, surrounded by poisonous snakes and demented people, and I'm supposed to have a birthday card?

SS: Oh, it's always something, isn't it—

ER: And besides, it was your idea to go off looking for Mr. Shellbarger in the first place that got us lost—

SS: So you're saying it's all my fault—

ER: It is. It's your fault ..

SS: It's all my fault—

ER: Yes!

SS: You're blaming me? (GASP) What is that? Is that a— (COUGAR) it's a cougar— crouched— ready to leap— (THEME)

TR: Join us again tomorrow for SHEILA THE CHRISTIAN JUNGLE GIRL, starring Loretta Fantod as Sheila, and brought to you by Brainerd Baked Beans.

GK: I loved that show and I was thrilled years later when I met Loretta Fantod at a Golden Age radio tape collectors show. She was selling autographed pictures of herself for $15 apiece.

ER: No cameras! No tape recorders! Next! — Fifteen dollars, please. Correct change appreciated, I am all out of fives.

GK: She was older and hardened somehow, a cigarette dangling from her lower lip, a bottle of beer nearby, her hair bleached platinum, wearing a blouse that revealed far too much, and yet I couldn't hold it against her. Hi, Loretta — I grew up with you— you were the sister I never had—

ER: Fifteen bucks. Fork it over.

GK: Would you mind signing it "For Carson Wyler—"

ER: I don't do that. If I did it for you, I'd have to do it for everybody. (BRIDGE)

GK: I loved those thriller shows. I didn't care for homespun humor but I loved a good spine-tingling mystery. (THEME)

TR: And now Jensen's Medicated Gel brings you FAMILY MYSTERY THEATER......(OWL, GONG)

GK: Jensen's Medicated Gel
Is good for what ails you.
Prevents seizures, and distempers,
Episodes and syndromes too.
It's good for nervous breakdowns,
Bronchitis and gangrene
Cures warts and bumps, chicken pox and mumps,
And it leaves breath fresh and clean.

(ORGAN)

(NIGHTTIME AMBIENCE, CRICKETS, DISTANT HOWL)

SS: I'm not sure this is a good idea, Bob. Walking down this dark road, looking for a gas station at one o'clock in the morning with that desperate killer on the loose…..I'm scared—

TR: That's because you're a girl. Come and stand behind me and whimper and I'll get us out of this fix. Whoops. Batteries in the flashlight are just about dead, Elaine. How about you wait here and I'll walk over and see what's in that deserted barn over there. (CRICKETS, FROGS) I'll be right back. (FOOTSTEPS AWAY)

GK: I loved that sort of show, people walking into what everybody but them could see was deep trouble....(SURF)

ER (KID): (DRIPS) Dad said never to go down this deserted mineshaft and yet — I can't help but wonder what's here. (DRIPS) I'll just go a little ways and then come back. — Hello? (ECHO) Looks like some of the supporting timbers have rotted away and there's been a rockslide or something. Oh well. (FOOTSTEPS)

GK: I was a cautious kid. My dad was always warning me not to go anywhere (TR SWEDISH), and so this sort of radio show thrilled me. People oblivious to danger, walking right into it.

TR: Haven't flown this old Curtiss bi-plane for awhile. (STARTER, ENGINE COUGHING, MISSING) But she'll probably be okay. (ENGINE COUGHS AND STARTS, ROARS) Boy. Lots of black smoke and it seems like the engine is dripping oil. Oh well— it'll probably clear up once I get in the air. (REVS UP ENGINE) Thunderstorm moving in but I can fly around that, I'm sure.

GK: People walked into mineshafts, they flew poorly maintained aircraft, they got into unwise relationships.

SS (BREATHY): I know we've only known each other for three hours, Blaine, but they've been three of the most beautiful hours of my life. You do something to me. Let's get married. Tonight.

GK: So for me, radio was a way to safely get into trouble. To expose myself to danger without getting hurt in any way. It certainly wasn't because teachers encouraged me. Hardly.

TR: You're here for the radio course, Mr.—

GK: Wyler, sir. Carson Wyler. Yes, I am, sir. My dream is to become a broadcaster and to act in radio dramas.—

TR: I see. We also have an excellent course in statistics.

GK: I'd prefer radio, sir.

TR: Have you considered a career in retail food labelling? Putting price stickers on things?

GK: No.

TR: Mr. Wyler, I like to be honest with my students right up front.

GK: Yes, sir?

TR: I don't like to take students who I feel are just spinning their wheels.

GK: Yes, sir.

TR: Radio is an entertainment medium, Mr. Wyler. You were aware of that?

GK: Yes.

TR: It requires a certain — verve—gusto—panache — a certain je nez sais quoi — you know what I mean? Personality, Mr. Wyler. Pizzazz. Sex appeal. Ya da da da — da da da da. Yada yada hey hey hey. (POSE & GRIN).

GK: I was thinking more along the lines of singing the traditional songs of the American people and telling homely tales of small town life in mid-America.

TR: It's a prescription for poison, Mr. Wyler. It'll never work. (TR REPEATS "IT'LL NEVER WORK" FOUR TIMES TO INCREASING REVERB. TIME PASSAGE CHORDS)

GK: His words seemed to reverberate in my head. I was determined to prove him wrong. And that's when I met Margaret Montaigne. It was at a party and (BOISTEROUS PARTY SOUNDS) I never did well at parties and I went off to a dark corner and she was there, too. She smelled lightly of persimmon.

ER: It got too loud for me — I felt like I needed to get away so I could think—

GK: Oh— I'm sorry — I don't mean to interrupt you—

ER: It's okay.

GK: But if you want to be alone—

ER: I just needed to get away from them—

GK: I could find another dark corner to sit in. Or I could throw myself in front of a bus.

ER: No. Don't.

GK: I don't want to interrupt your thoughts.

ER: Then don't.

GK: Okay. What are you thinking about?

ER: I'm thinking about how, in our rush to be cool and sophisticated and wear elegant clothes and gain wealth and fame, we so easily forget what truly truly makes us happy.

GK: And what is that?

ER: Singing songs with another person.

GK: Duets.

ER: Right. On the radio.

GK: But you're young and exquisitely beautiful and radio is for lumpy mishapen people. Why would you want to sing on the radio?

ER: It's hard to explain what makes you happy — you just have to do what you have to do. (BRIDGE)

GK: And a week later we were doing a show called Melody Lunch on WLT

(TO TUNE OF "BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP")

ER & GK (DUET): Welcome to the Melody Lunch
The gang's all here, the whole darn bunch
A salad for you
A salad for me
A bowl of soup and a cup of tea
And carrots and celery, crunch crunch crunch
Glad to have you at the Melody Lunch.

TR: And now it's Melody Lunch with our WLT songsters Margaret Montaigne and Carson Wyler, brought to you by Johnson Frosted Chocolate Cherries, by Thompson Tooth Tinsel for brighter, more festive teeth, and by the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation — help us kick Myasthenia Gravis once and for all.

GK: We sang a bunch of songs and had a good time, and there were complaints from some sponsors—

SS (ON PHONE): This is Pamela Fontaine from the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation. Those two are terrible. More of that and you can kiss Myasthenia Gravis goodbye. (STING)

GK: But we kept going and we tried to sound cheerful—

ER: Hi everybody. Hope you're having a great day because Carson and I sure are. And how about we sing another song for you?

GK: Great. Let's. ER & GK (DUET):

(SEGUE INTO)

TR: Join us again tomorrow, same time, same station, for Melody Lunch as your friendly neighbors from down the block on Maple Street regale you with their homespun songs and stories. (BRIDGE)

GK: And soon the fan mail started to come in—

SS (LISTENER, WRITING): Dear WLT, The Melody Lunch has brought a ray of hope into my troubled life. It has been a comfort to me, since I am a prisoner in my own home, suffering from an addiction to cheese, as a result of which I must maintain a cheese-free diet and avoid any contact with those who have eaten cheese in the past three weeks. This has made for a lonely life, and (CROSS-FADING INTO FOLLOWING) the one bright spot in my day has been....

TR (FADING IN): As a man who suffers from the fear of squirrels, a rare phobia that has made me a prisoner in my own home, I have learned not to expect compassion from the world, until I began listening to Melody Lunch. They are the first persons who seem to understand me. (CROSS-FADING) and that show is the bright spot in my entire day....

FN (FADING IN): My name is Lurleen Blunt, spelled B-l-u-n-t, and believe you me, if you're from Athens, Georgia, and living in Piscacadawadaquoddymoggin, Maine, you feel like an alien from another galaxy — but at least there's one spot on the dial that plays my music, and that's the Lunchtime Melody Jamboree. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

GK: The only person it didn't help was me. I was still lonely as a hoot owl. And I realized that radio was my substitute for having actual social skills. Margaret tried to teach me how to be elegant.

ER: It's a matter of paying attention to detail. Here's an example of a crude sentence: "The dog threw up on my shoe, I about barfed in the JellO." And here's an elegant sentence: "I threw my shoe up in the air for the dog, and my scarf got caught in my cello." See?

GK: Such a slight difference.

ER: Here's the wrong way: "We have plumbing problems, the toilet was plugged, it stank to high heaven, I lost my lunch." And here's the right way: "The plum blossoms smell like toilet water, they're heavenly, let's have lunch." (BRIDGE)

GK: I tried to learn but the fact was, I could only talk to people if I couldn't see them. I brought this up with my therapist, Dr. Flexner. .

SS (FLEXNER): So— what's happening with you, Mr. Pyle? .

GK: My name isn't Pyle, Dr. Flexner, it's Wyler.

SS (FLEXNER): Oh— okay.

GK: It's an important point, Doctor — I've been seeing you for ten years—

SS (FLEXNER): I have a great many patients, Mr. —

GK: Wyler.

SS (FLEXNER): I have a great many patients—

GK: You couldn't look in my file before I come in here—?

SS (FLEXNER): I don't keep a file.

GK: You don't—? You don't write anything down?

SS (FLEXNER): No, of course not.

GK: You mean, I've been pouring out my heart to you for ten years and you never bothered to write down a word of it.

SS (FLEXNER): I didn't think it was that interesting.

GK: It was interesting to me.

SS (FLEXNER): Maybe that's your problem.

GK: What?

SS (FLEXNER): Narcissism.

GK: Narcissism!!

SS (FLEXNER): I knew it the moment you walked in here ten years ago. Classic narcissist.

GK: You couldn't have said something then and saved me the trouble?

SS (FLEXNER): I have two kids in college, I can't afford to turn away patients.

GK: How can I be a narcissist if I'm Lutheran?

SS (FLEXNER): What does that have to do with it?

GK: It has everything to do with it. I was brought up to be of service to others, to sacrifice for the happiness of others—

SS (FLEXNER): Making lutes is a sacrifice???

GK: Lutes??

SS (FLEXNER): You said you were a luthier.

GK: Not luthier. Lutheran.

SS (FLEXNER): Sorry. I'm a little hard of hearing.

GK: So I've been talking to a stone wall all these years. All those years I talked about my love of radio as a compensation for lacking social skills and being unable to talk to people in person because I feel I'm not good enough.

SS (FLEXNER): Okay. I'm writing it down. (WRITING) "Consumed with sense of inadequacy........which, may.....or may not......have basis in fact." Okay. Any dreams?

GK: I've been talking about dreams for ten years and you've never told me anything.

SS (FLEXNER): What did you want me to tell you, Carson?

GK: Never mind. I brought you this present, Dr. Flexner. It's an anniversary gift.

SS (FLEXNER): Oh?

GK: Ten years.

SS (FLEXNER): Uh huh. And how do you feel about that?

GK: Open it.

SS (FLEXNER): Okay. (UNWRAPPING PAPER, QUIETLY) I must you're the only patient who's ever given me an anniversary gift and I'm very deeply touched by your— (BIG BOINNNNGGGGG, SS SCREECHES, AND SHE STANDS, BREATHING HARD, REGAINING HER COMPOSURE)

GK: Are you all right, Doctor Flexner?

SS (FLEXNER): You gave me an exploding snake, Carson. Why?

GK: It was a joke.

SS (FLEXNER): Jokes are not without meaning.

GK: I'm sorry you took it badly.

SS (FLEXNER): I took it badly???? You give me a snake that leaps up in my face and you put the blame on me????

GK: Yes, I do.

SS (FLEXNER): What were your thoughts as you watched me unwrap the package that you knew was apt to cause me shock and dismay, Carson?

GK: I guess I was hoping you would wet your pants..

SS (FLEXNER): That's what you were thinking?

GK: Yes.

SS (FLEXNER): Why you miserable loser— (SHE STARTS TO BEAT GK WITH THE SNAKE, BOINNGGGING) There! Take that! Jerk! You know what I'm feeling right now, Carson? I'm feeling intense pleasure!!! (BOINGGING) (BRIDGE)

GK: Being struck by a woman therapist — being beaten over the head — was a turning point for me. I realized then that life is a mystery. It doesn't have to make sense. Knowledge can lead to sorrow, and small surprising things can make you happy.

(THEME)

TR: Life Is A Mystery.....the show with a message: and the message is, Never give up.

ER: So — there were two penguins standing on an ice floe. And one penguin looks at the other and says, "You sure look nice today." — No. That's not how it goes. — Two penguins are standing on the ice in the Antarctic and one penguin looks at the other and says, "Where did you get that tuxedo?' And the other——. No. —-- So these two penguins are standing on an iceberg and it's a really cold day and one penguin says to the other penguin, "You look like you're wearing a tuxedo." — That's it. — "You look like you're wearing a tuxedo." And the other penguin says, "I am." — No. —— Two penguins are standing on an ice floe, and it's the Antarctic, and they're standing there, and one penguin says to the other— "You look like you're wearing a tuxedo." And the other penguin says—

GK: The other penguin says, "Did you hear the one about the grasshopper who walks into the bar, and the bartender says, Hey, we've got a drink named after you, and the grasshopper says, "Why would anybody name a drink Bob?" — It was a great joke when I heard it on the Broadway Bandstand brought to you by Bridgeport Brand Bromides, the quick easy solution to stomach acids caused by overindulgence, with Brad Brickhouse the hearthrob of mature women. (BAND NUMBER)

A Prairie Home Companion Cruise is produced by Prairie Home Productions, presented by American Public Media Group


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