You'll never believe where I heard last week's most shocking joke
I grew up listening to A Prairie Home Companion, the long-running NPR variety show that is basically now The Lawrence Welk Show for baby boomers. I don’t listen to it much these days, but it keeps coming on and this past weekend I heard the beginning of the show, broadcast last week from Austin, Texas.
In his opening, recapping the horrible week we all just had, Garrison Keillor praised first responders, in particular those who lost their lives in the horrific industrial explosion in West, Texas. Then he talked about last Monday’s Boston Marathon attack, in which a pair of Chechen brothers allegedly used crude pressure-cooker bombs to kill and maim spectators. Keillor continued,
"Then there was the disgrace of the United States Senate which this week did not distinguish itself [wild applause]. They voted down a bill which would have required a permit to carry a pressure-cooker loaded with ball bearings, nails and black powder in a black nylon bag. They voted that down, though most people in this country would favor such a thing. They voted it down because the National Pressure-Cooker Association said that if criminals are free to carry pressure-cookers in black nylon bags that are loaded with ball bearings, nails and black powder, then honest citizens should as well. It was not a great moment in the U.S. Senate. It’s hard to think of their last great moment. But there they are, they’re ours and we’re responsible for them."
This is a frank, angry, in-your-face piece of agit-comedy, shocking in its proximity to tragedy and a pointed moment of speaking truth to power from a humorist more used to cracking wise about country-style biscuits. Keillor has actually always used his platform to fire barbs at our shiftless, corrupt politicians, but never in a way that has actually shocked me.
What it proves is that Garrison Keillor answers to no one. As a dedicated watcher of The Daily Show, I don’t think even Jon Stewart would have made a pressure-cooker bomb joke last week, as much as he took Congress to task for its disgusting failure to enact even the minor, common sense gun control legislation that the whole country wanted. I don’t think anyone who had any masters at all could have made such a joke without reprisal.
We are all so afraid of giving offense—first we have to take offense. And then we can turn it around and speak. This is a time for taking and giving offense.