U alum Garrison Keillor entertains at Winterfest event

Kristin Gustafson

In front of a crowded Fireplace Lounge in Coffman Union, Garrison Keillor spoke Tuesday to a quiet and attentive audience, their silence broken only by bursts of laughter.
The renowned entertainer and University alumnus reminisced about his years as a student, joked about parking, answered audience questions and read from his soon-to-be-published book about a Navy veteran turned wrestler turned politician.
Keillor hosts “A Prairie Home Companion,” a live, two-hour radio variety show featuring comedy sketches, music, authors, special guests and his signature monologue, “The News From Lake Wobegon.” The program is heard on more than 425 public radio stations nationwide.
He began his radio career at the University and was hired by Minnesota Public Radio in 1969. A Grammy and Peabody Award winner, Keillor is the author of 10 books.
After he took off his coat, bowed to his audience of about 200, rubbed his hands together and responded to his introduction, Keillor said, “I don’t think the University should have absolute easy access and available parking.
“The University ought to be a place that you have to struggle a little bit to get in. If you are smart enough to get here, you are smart enough to find a parking place,” he said, spoofing a quote from Gov. Jesse Ventura.
In his 15-minute introduction, Keillor said the possession of a typewriter was a turning point for him.
“I would write my stories and would sit out on the porch at night and read them to myself,” he said. “I wished my mother or father would ask me to read them something I’d written.”
Now, the writer, speaker, radio dramatist, singer and humorist has a much larger audience.
Keillor later told the crowd about his first experience with the University’s parking when he worked as an attendant in the 1960s. Wearing a white jacket, he collected the 15-cent charge and used his best body language to tell the drivers, “You must go there.”
“I have never heard this floor be quite so quiet,” University custodian Karen Mortenson said. “I loved the whole program. I love the way he can come out and rattle things off.”
Keillor continued to poke fun as he read from “Me,” the book he is working on about a wrestling governor named Jimmy Big Boy Vallente.
He described his character’s experience in the exclusive top secret WALRUS program — Water Air Land Rising Up Suddenly — and how he transforms into a professional wrestler with the persona “The Flower Child,” a peaceful, nature-loving character.
Keillor read: “3,000 oil workers booed from the depths of their hearts.”
Katie Aaker, a junior performance music major, saw Keillor in London last spring.
“My mom and dad used to go to the park and listen to him, so I guess you could say I listened to him while I was still in the womb,” she said. “He has such an interesting way of interpreting things and remembering them.”
Keillor also joked about his college experience: protesting against government on Coffman Union steps and the unmarketable job skills of an English major.
“Irony is not a job skill,” he said.
George Seltzer, a retired University faculty member, caught the show between meetings at the University. “I liked his general manner and wit, and his responsiveness to the students.”
The event was sponsored by the Performing Arts Committee and was part of the weeklong Winterfest event.