The Ugly Duckling
Saturday, January 27, 2001
(GK: Garrison Keillor, TR: Tim Russell, SS: Sue Scott, TK: Tom Keith)
GK: The Public Domain Free of Copyright Non-Royalty-Paying Radio Theatre is proud to rip off Hans Christian Anderson's "The Ugly Duckling."
(QUIET CONVERSATIONAL QUACKING)
GK: Once upon a time a mother duck sat in her nest waiting for her eggs to hatch while the father duck sat and coached her on breathing.
TR: In five seconds, you should take a deep cleansing breath. Four, three, two, one, and----
SS: Put away the watch, sweetheart. All we do now is keep them warm until they hatch.
TR: You don't need a doctor?
SS: No, it's home delivery for me. Most of these duck doctors are quacks if you ask me.
GK: And then, one by one (EGG CRACKING) the eggs began to open and the heads of little ducklings (CRACKING AND CHIRPING) began to emerge (CHEEPING) and one by one the ducklings, which were downy and yellow, stepped out of their eggshells. Until one last egg remained. An odd egg. Larger, and its color was mottled gray.
TR: You sure this one's mine?
SS: Oh! Ducks mate for life. You know that.
TR: Last time we flew south, you went to that ballet and had a couple glasses of swampwater with those friends of yours. Anything happen that I should know about? And don't duck the question.
GK: And just then the big egg started to crack. (CRACKING) And with a mighty push, the new youngster forced his way into the world.
SS: ( CRACKING CONTINUES) I am so excited!
TR: Wow. Talk about a bad egg. What a honker. Is that a beak or is he eating a banana?
SS: Well, your family always did have big noses.
TR: Not like that beezer there. If my parents could see that, they'd roll over in their gravy. Looks more like a rhino than a duck. And it isn't yellow. It's grey! Grey????
SS: Oh dear. Maybe it's from something I ate during pregnancy.
TR: Maybe you inhaled too much secondary smoke.
(GRATING, RASPY HONK)
SS: What the heck is that? Is it choking?
TR: It's trying to honk.
SS: What a strange sound.
TR: Maybe you were around buses too much. (RASPY HONK)
SS: My dear, I hate to say this…..
TR: Go ahead. I'm thinking the same thing.
SS: Our child is what you might call a Special Duckling….
TR: Special, my foot! It's ugly!
SS: It's aesthetically challenged.
TR: C'mon, it's an ugly duckling!
SS: Well, it's a non-traditional duck, that's for sure.
TR: It's an eyesore! A monstrosity!
SS: I prefer the term "differently featured".
TR: Okay. Have it your way. Differently featured. But other ducks are going to look at our kid and think, "That duck is uglier than a mud fence. Somebody's been beating that duck with the ugly stick." People are going to look at our kid and yell HERE IT COMES! DUCK! (MUSIC BRIDGE)
TK: The ugly duckling grew up in the duck family and the parents took good care of it, but of course other ducks on the pond, whenever they saw the U.D., they couldn't help but laugh. (DUCK LAUGHTER) It had a long neck and it was so large and ungainly for a duck. The parents did their best to protect their child----
SS: Shut up!!!!! (DUCK LAUGHTER DIES OUT) I hope a snapping turtle gets you! I hope you swallow some fish line!!!!
TK: They were as good parents as they possibly could be.
SS: I got some books on duckling development and early duckling behavior. One of them ---- this one---- Your Duckling, 2-4 Weeks --- says that the development of large-motor skills may occur later and that lack of coordination may, in fact, be a sign of superior intellect.
TK: They took the U.D. to a pediatrician.
TR (M.D.): I wouldn't worry about the weight gain. That tends to even out as the child becomes more physically active. The neck, though. And the whiteness. I've never encountered these symptoms before. I think we'll just have to wait and see.
TK: They took the U.D. to a therapist.
SS (THERAPIST): The biggest problem isn't so much the length of the neck as it is the lack of neck flexibility. So we'll be doing some diving exercises. And also, to address the self-esteem issues, we advise that your child's feathers be dyed yellow.
TR (FATHER): Our biggest concern actually is that she's so slow to speak.
SS (MOTHER): Yes. All of the other ducklings have been talking for two weeks. From her, not a word!
GK: I'm not a her. I'm a he.
TR: It spoke!
TR: But what did it say?
SS: It said it's a he.
TR: Really???? How can a male duck be white????
SS: Isn't that what you said, dear?
GK: Yes. ---Is something wrong?
SS: No, nothing's wrong. Why?
GK: I don't know. Instinct just tells me that I shouldn't feel so alone like this. I ought to be part of a flock.
SS: (ANGUISHED) We've done the best we could! We enrolled you in play groups!! We sent you to swimming class! We got you a nanny!
GK: I know, but she was a goat. I don't have anything in common with goats.
SS: Honey, we've done everything for you that we possibly could do.
GK: I guess I'll just head off on my own, then. Bye.
TR: Goodbye, son. Stay away from Chinese restaurants.
GK: I will, Dad. (MUSIC)
TK: When I ran into him, he was with a carnival. They had him in a tent with a two-headed fish and an electric eel and a dog who did backflips.
TR (BARKER, ON CHEAP P.A.): Hurra, hurra, hurra, step right up, it's the Carnival Cavalcade of Animal Oddities, freaks of nature every one, every one absolutely natural, no fakes, no tricks, no reconstructions. We have the world's largest Mutant Albino Duck ----- that's right, it's albino and it's twice the size of a normal duck, plus it doesn't quack, it honks, the honking mutant albino duck, on our stage now….(FADING) Come right in, the show is continuous, the show never stops…..
TK: So I paid my 35 cents and went in. And I says to myself, That ain't no duck. I know ducks. I'm a duck hunter. That ain't a duck. So I worked my way backstage and I laid down a trail of corn from the tent to the parking lot and waited and pretty soon, here he came. (WEBBED FEET ON GRAVEL, SWAN SOUNDS, CHEWING) Pssssttt!
GK: What? Who is it? HONK. HONK. Oh. Sorry, you surprised me. Weren't you----- didn't I just see you in the tent?
TK: Listen, kid. I don't know what you're getting paid here but I can get you more. My sister's an agent.
GK: It isn't really money that I'm after. It's a sense of belonging that I need.
TK: Sure, sure, they all say that. Here. Here's her number. Give her a call. (MUSIC BRIDGE)
SS (AGENT): Listen. You ever do stand-up? I've handled a number of feathered comedians. Robin Williams. Jay Leno. Steve Martin. Peewee Herman. And you know I managed the Pointer Sisters too. And Barbara Mandrill. You ever try singing? (GK HONKS) No, I think comedy's the place for you. Try it. You'll love it.
GK: So----- great to be here. I just flew in from California and boy are my wings tired. (A FEW QUACKS) Anyway, this duck falls in love with a lady duck and he takes her up to his hotel room and then he realizes he doesn't have a condom so he calls down to the concierge and a minute later in walks the bellboy and he says, "Here's your condom, sir. Do you want me to put it on your bill." And the duck says, "Uh. No." (QUACKS) A guy walks into a restaurant and asks, "Do you have any wild duck?" "No," says the waiter. "But we can take a tame one and irritate it for you." (HONKS) Thank you. Thanks. You were great. I love you. (WALK-OFF MUSIC)
TR (M.C.): Hey, how about that guy? Love that guy! Love those pinfeathers! (FADING) Okay. Everybody having a good time????
SS (AGENT): You were beautiful out there. They loved you.
GK: They didn't.
SS (AGENT): They did. You were beautiful!
GK: I was?
SS (AGENT): With that overhead spotlight --- those white feathers of yours ---- maybe you're a dancer…..
GK: I don't know what I am. All I know is that I'm not like anybody else. I feel so weird everywhere I go.
SS (AGENT): Hey. It's a duck eat duck world out there.
GK: It's not that. I just have this longing --- call it instinct ---- this longing to be with creatures like myself. Is that wrong? Is that sick?
SS (AGENT): Listen. I got you a great engagement in Chicago. A week at the Drake Hotel. And I got you a convention.
GK: I don't do conventions.
SS (AGENT): This is a good one.
GK: I remember that convention of Impala dealers I did. I thought it was automobile people. Go on stage and look out at a herd of two-thousand hoofed animals grazing at the salad bar.
SS (AGENT): This one is in Minnesota.
GK: Too cold up there.
SS (AGENT): So get a goose-down jacket. ---Just kidding.
GK: I played Minnesota once and the audience booed me.
SS (AGENT): They weren't booing, they were mooing. They loved you.
GK: What's the convention?
SS (AGENT): It's for the Swanson Company.
GK: Swanson, eh? What do they make?
SS (AGENT): It's a modeling agency.
GK: Swanson. When is it?
SS (AGENT): Tuesday.
GK: Oh, I suppose. Who else is on the bill?
SS (AGENT): Is this a joke?
GK: Never mind. (MUSIC)
GK: So I flew up to Minnesota. Took me four days with that headwind and I was pretty tired when I got to the hotel.
TR (CLERK): You reserve a nest?
TR (CLERK): Single or double?
GK: A suite.
TR (CLERK): The Cygnus suite?
GK: That's it. (BRIDGE) I crawled in and slept and (PHONE RING) woke up, the phone was ringing, I'd overslept, it was showtime, I was late, I took a quick shower (SHOWER) and oiled my feathers (SQUIRT) and opened the window and (WINGS FLAPPING) flew over to the theater with no idea of what I'd do onstage and I walk out worried about what they'd think of me and------ there was no need to worry. (WEB FEET WALKING) I got a feeling from this audience I'd never gotten before. I looked out there and it was long necks and white feathers and black webbed feet wherever you looked. (GK HONKS, WITH AUDIENCE RESPONSE. REPEAT. REPEAT.) It was great. (HONK, AUDIENCE RESPONSE) My kind of crowd. And then they all stood up and they sang. The swan song.
Graceful handsome swans are we.
GK: I've always remembered that song. I've done a lot of shows since. Laid a lot of eggs, saw a lot of turkeys, had to eat crow more than once. But no matter what, I'll always remember the Swanson Company folks up in Minnesota. My people.
To our species true we shall ever be,
Proud and strong and elegant we
Rah rah rah for the elite
Long necks, webbed feet,
Rah for our progeny.
Graceful handsome swans are we. To our species true we shall ever be, Proud and strong and elegant we Rah rah rah for the elite Long necks, webbed feet, Rah for our progeny.
TR: Once more the Public Domain Clear of Copyright No Royalties Paid Radio Theater has ripped off another dead author with this version of "The Ugly Duckling" by Hans Christian Andersen.
(c) 2001 by Garrison Keillor