Penguins
Saturday, February 1, 2003
Listen


(GK: Garrison Keillor; SS: Sue Scott; TR: Tim Russell; TK: Tom Keith; FN: Fred Newman)

(MUSIC)

GK: One of my favorite jokes is the one about the two penguins, a joke that was told to me by a beautiful woman aboard an ocean liner heading toward Rangoon (LINER HORN), and we were in the captain's lounge (COCKTAIL CROWD) and the band was playing (SAXOPHONE) and she leaned over and said---

SS: So these two penguins are standing on an iceberg.
One penguin says to the other: You look like you're wearing a tuxedo. The other penguin replies: Who says I'm not?

GK: Nice.

SS: You like it?

GK: I love it.

SS: I love it when you crinkle your nose that way.

GK: Oh? Well----

SS: Kiss me, you fool. Kiss me and don't ever stop kissing me. Kiss me and kiss me and kiss me. (LINER HORN, BRIDGE)

GK: Anyway that's a whole long story in itself, but that's where I heard the joke, and ever since then, I've told the penguin joke sometimes and usually people are able to restrain their enthusiasm. They stand there, waiting for the rest of the joke (SILENCE, SOME TEACUPS, A THROAT IS CLEARED, AND THEN ONE ATTEMPT AT LAUGHTER WHICH SOON DIES) but then once I told it at a dude ranch around the campfire after a long day's ride (SOME CROWD BONHOMIE, CAMPFIRE, HORSE WHINNY) and maybe my timing was better, but I told the joke and those people absolutely fell apart (LAUGHING, CHOKING, BREATHING DISTRESS, GASPING AND WHEEZING), and they were all practically having heart attacks, and even the dogs were laughing (DOG HILARITY, GUFFAWING) and the horses laughed (WHINNYING) and the sheep were rolling around (SHEEP LAUGHTER), and the cows (COW LAUGHTER) laughed so hard that milk came out their noses, and for years whenever I ran into one of those people,--- (SOME CROWD MURMUR)

FN: Hey---- (CLINK ON GLASS) hey everybody--- let's have it quiet ---- thank you. Listen. I want you to meet an old friend of mine over here ---- stand up, Eddie! ---- I want him to come up here and tell you this joke he told a bunch of us a couple years ago--- I'm telling you, this was hilarious ---- this is the (HE STARTS TO BREAK UP) ---- this is going to kill you, folks (HE IS CHOKING AND WHEEZING) ---- this is absolutely going to kill you.


GK: So of course I tell my joke and nothing happens ---- there is just this great void (VOID, VASTNESS OF SPACE, SLIGHT WIND), an abyss (BIRDS FLYING IN THE ABYSS), a vast empty canyon at my feet, and I realize that a joke never bounces the same way twice, a joke is a living thing---

And then I told the penguin joke on the radio and got a letter from a man who heard the joke and he drove right off the road (LONG SKID) and he narrowly missed some chickens (CHICKEN FLURRY) and he barely avoided a pig (PIG PANIC) and he ran into a kumquat tree (SKID AND BWACK AS IT CAROMS OFF A TREE) and it shook all the kumquats down on him (SERIES OF SOFT PLOPS AND SQUISHES) and also a turkey who'd been in the tree (TURKEY).

And there were other stories from listeners.

SS: My husband was in a coma as a result of swallowing a peach pit and he lay in bed not talking and then after the show (WEEPY) we came in and he said something about two penguins standing on an ice floe. And he laughed and he coughed up the peach pit (COUGH, POP) and he's been okay ever since, relatively speaking. How can we ever thank you?

TR: I was depressed and then that wonderful wonderful joke about the two penguins inspired me to go out and buy myself a tuxedo and I've been feeling pretty darn chipper ever since. Thanks to you.

GK: Well, you know what happens when you have a little success, people want to exploit it for all it's worth----so you get trapped----

TR: How about a new show -----"The Penguins" ----- two wealthy penguins on an ice floe and at the end of the season, one of them gets voted off. (CLAMOR OF OTHERS AT MEETING, MURMURS OF APPROVAL)

SS: A whole line of penguin wear. Birds of the Sea, we'll call it. (MURMURS OF APPROVAL)

GK: The president quoted it in a speech----

TR (BUSH): It's like a penguin, standing on an ice floe. Another penguin says to him, "You look like you're wearing a tuxedo." And the first penguin replies, "Who says that I'm not?" And that's what I say to people who don't believe that my economic stimulus program is turning this country around. Who says it's not?

GK: Ministers quoted me in sermons----

TR (SOUTHERN EVANGELIST): And he said unto him, "I look as if I might be wearing a tuxedo or something of a tuxedo nature" ---- and the penguin replied, "WHO----------SAYS-------THAT----------I'M----------NOT?" Think about these words. WHO SAYS THAT I'M NOT?

GK: And people were wanting to get more penguin jokes (PHONES RINGING, IN SERIES, DIFFERENT PHONES, UNDER…..) and the phones rang off the hook, and the copiers ran (COPIER RUNNING, AS PHONES CONTINUE) and the fax machines, and consultants came and went, and there were planning meetings and finally one day I just couldn't take it any longer and (DOOR SLAM, SILENCE. FOOTSTEPS IN GRAVEL) I walked away from it. I got into my car (CAR PULLS AWAY) and drove to the airport and into the parking ramp (REV OF ENGINES AND SQUEAL OF TIRES ON SHARP TURNS IN RAMP) and (FLIGHT ANNOUNCEMENT ON P.A.: QANTAS FLIGHT 405 NON-STOP TO SYDNEY) took a plane to Sydney, Australia, and from there a steamship south (BOAT HORN) to Antarctica and the ship dropped me off at a tiny island (SEA BIRDS) --- about a hundred yards long, just rocks and ice (FOOTSTEPS, HESITANT, ON TERRAIN)---

TK: (AUSSIE): So long, mate. Cheers. (LAUNCH MOTOR PULLS AWAY, AND FADES INTO SILENCE. LIGHT SURF. BIRDS)

GK: And there I was. Alone. I put up my collapsible yurt. (RIBS OF TENT FRAME, SPRING INTO PLACE) And I tuned my short wave radio. (RADIO DIAL, THROUGH STATIC, DIFFERENT VOICES, SOME MUSIC, FINALLY TO:

TR: The BBC World Service. Tonight we pay a visit to the distant archipelago of Rawalpindi for a look at the rare avian specie known as The Whooping Pooper….(VOICE FADES TO GIBBERISH UNDER)

GK: And I lit my little camp stove (MATCH, AND LITTLE BURST OF FLAME) and put on a pot of ice to melt and opened a can of Spam (CAN OPENER) and made a sandwich (GLOP AND SQUISH) and the water boiled (BUBBLING) so I made tea (POURING) and there I was---- alone---- or so I thought, until-----

(RUSTLING, SLIGHT SOUND OF FEET IN GRAVEL OUTSIDE)

And I looked out the tent flap and----

(FIRST ONE PENGUIN, THEN THE OTHER)

There were these two penguins on the ice.

(PENGUINS)

Friendly creatures, standing upright, intelligent.

(PENGUINS)

And darn it, they sort of did look like they're wearing tuxedos.

(PENGUINS)

As the weeks turned into months the penguins become my closest friends. (FOOTSTEPS ON GRAVEL, DISTANT BIRDS, SLIGHT SURF)

Hi.

(PENGUIN)

How's it going then?

(PENGUIN)

Good. I remembered that joke I was trying to think of yesterday. What do you say to a hitchhiker with one leg? Hop in.

(PENGUIN LAUGHTER)

And then they told me a joke.

(PENGUINS TELL A JOKE. FOUR LINES. AND LAUGH AND CLAP THEIR WINGS)

But somehow it was not enough ---- their friendship and the radio (RADIO DIAL, THROUGH VARIOUS STATIONS) and the Spam sandwich and cup of tea ---- it's not quite enough to sustain me --- and I started to have hallucinations ---that I was wearing a tuxedo and the rocks were in my audience and---- (SINGS) Gotta get my old tuxedo pressed, gotta sew a button on my vest----Cause tonight I've got to look my best, Lulu's back in town…..Gotta get a half a buck somewhere, gotta shine my shoes and fix my hair, gotta get myself a boutoniere, Lulu's back in town…..I can tell all my pets, all my penguin coquettes, Mr. Otis regrets………(OUT OF TEMPO, TUNE) Mr. Otis regrets…….Mr. Otis regrets……..(PENGUINS SING) He regrets-------

And I realized: My whole life has been a joke. I never intended it to be. But that's how it turned out. (PENGUINS) Even after I was rescued (BOAT HORN, VOICE ON MEGAPHONE) and airlifted back to civilization (CHOPPER) and flown to America (JET LANDING) I knew that my life was a joke. (KNOCKS) (FOOTSTEPS AND DOOR OPEN)---

TK: Hi.

GK: Hello.

TK: What was that joke you used to tell?

GK: Come in and I'll tell you. (FOOTSTEPS, DOOR CLOSE) There were two penguins standing on an ice floe.

TK: Two penguins standing on an ice floe.

GK: And one penguin says, "You look like you're wearing a tuxedo."

TK: Look like you're wearing a tuxedo. (MUSIC UNDER)

GK: Such a small joke, but a haiku is small, too. Or a piano etude. The Mona Lisa isn't that big. There can be grandeur in a small thing. I myself am capable of grandeur. Who says I'm not? (MUSIC)

© Garrison Keillor 2003

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).

Available now»

American Public Media © |   Terms and Conditions   |   Privacy Policy