keeler photo

Many well-known people in the media have commented that they are fans of Jean Shepherd and many have been influenced by him. Among them, as we know, are Seinfeld, Bill Griffith (Zippy the Pinhead comic strip), Penn Jillette, Andy Kaufman, etc. Most of us feel that Garrison Keillor has also been influenced by him, although it’s said that he has denied it. However we have some ambiguous pieces of evidence regarding this:

G.Keeler re Shep Bday                G.Keeler my career in radio0004

Good to see that Keillor, in public, recognized Shep’s existence on his radio program, “The Writer’s Almanac,” and on its accompanying website–nice to see that Keillor recognized Shep on his birthday.

But in his “Tanglewood’s 2008 Season” appearance, his little ditty printed here contains an ambiguity–or rather, an ironic denial. The ditty suggests that people who remember Allen, Bob and Ray, Benny–and Shepherd, claim he, Keillor, imitates them. And it’s only when those (misguided) old fans are dead will his true value (reputation) be secured. Really?! Not nice–especially in suggesting that fans of those older comics claim an influence (I never heard these claims), thus undercutting Keillor’s much closer resemblance to what Shepherd did.

To repeat from an earlier blog, here’s Shep’s blurb for Keillor  on the back of Keillor’s 1981 book, blurbed before Keillor became too big for Shepherd’s itches:

“I welcome Garrison Keillor to the ranks of a very endangered species.

Keillor makes you laugh, and that ain’t easy these days.”

happy to be here

I’d like input as to what ways Keillor may be similar in style to Allen, Bob and Ray, and Benny. And what about to Shep?  (Enough to be considered “influenced by.”) Is it just because they both talked, sometimes with a touch of humorous irony, about the old days when life was seemingly simpler–maybe with a sometimes subtle and unacknowledged nostalgia?



artsyfratsy 10010

“Something supposedly highly cultural, but to the

regular sane person merely pretentious.”

–Artsy Fartsy definition found on the Internet–

Long ago (do some still do it?) on the comics pages some Sunday funnies had a less-important, supplementary strip below (or above). I believe that “Smokey Stover,” that cuckoo strip about firefighters, sometimes had one. Shep’s delight in describing “slob art” (such as his old man’s leg lamp) inspires me to add to the bottom of some of my future Shepherd posts, a few of my quirky commentaries about some art that we have hanging around our house (or, like the “Venus de Milo,” just hanging around my mind)—most of the stuff that, in the main, is in no way slob art, but that for me has some unexpected backstory wandering through my consciousness that may be of some wider amusement–(aren’t life and art strange and wonderful?). I believe that my decades of work at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, and the widespread nature of my interests in the arts has led to some interesting contacts with such matters.

My Artsy Fartsy comments are not intended just to describe the art I like. My intent is to explore the quirky nature of why someone (yours truly, for example) becomes involved with particular creations and in what way they might have an interesting/unusual context that might surprise and delight regarding an encounter with the arts. Sort of like why the unexpected nature of Shepherd’s art of radio sound continues to fascinate me. Ah, yes—I also hope my comments are enlightening and entertaining. artsy cartoon


“Artsy-fartsy individuals tend to be unemployed

and enjoy finger-painting.”








  1. Lou Perry says:

    I always am on the look out for slob art. One my favorite Shep pastimes. How about a 1946 Kellog’s Pep Smokey Stover cereal button. I wear it with pride!

  2. Max Schmid says:

    I’ve probably heard more of Fred Allen, Bob & Ray, and Jack Benny than I have of Keillor, but there are probably more differences than similarities in their styles, other than being funny on the radio, that is. They all more or less satirized modern life, but in different ways.

    Jack Benny had an ensemble cast like GK, but his show was was basically a sit-com driven by the personalities of the cast. Fred Allen was by far the most acerbic of the bunch, punching holes in the absurdities of the modern scene. Of course the show always closed with a sketch featuring the guest star, there were man-on-the-street interviews and a musical act every week.

    Bob & Ray often spoofed the media, like GK, but they were absurdist and could be goofier than the others.

    So I suppose there are some similarities, since they all worked in radio, but I think the differences are greater.

    • ebbergmann says:

      Great! Glad to read these comparisons–reminds me of just what those guys were like.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks, Max.

    • Steve says:

      Shep greatly admired Jack Benny, and admitted to being significantly influenced by him. On Shep’s show of December 27, 1974 — marking Jack Benny’s passing — Shep called him a “consummate radio performer” and said Benny was “probably the greatest radio comic that ever lived.” High praise indeed from the Master.

  3. Stu Tarlowe says:

    Keillor’s distinguishing characteristic (absent in all the others cited) is his unrelenting smugness, a negative quality that even Shep (with all his own foibles) would have found insufferable.

    P.S. Bob and Ray have always struck me as comedic geniuses, and their work is among the very driest of “dry humor”.

  4. mygingerpig says:

    I’ve been listening to a lot of Benny and Allen lately on a podcast series from “Buck Benny.” My reaction to Benny is “you had to be there.” His humor is largely based on the sensibilities of his audience. There are few universal truths. And for me, few 21st century laughs. Allen has more universal truths in his humor. I enjoy Allen’s Alley. it is a brilliant concept–a blowhard politician, an immigrant Jewish wife and mother, an American Gothic New Englander, an Italian immigrant and other characters who came in and went. The only character missing is the establishment big city WASP. Portland Hoffa played to Allen much as Gracie to George Burns, but better, IMO, than Mary to Benny. There was more of a satiric edge to Allen.

    Keillor pokes at some “types” and his humor seems more situationally based. But I don’t seek him out, so that says something about his appeal to me.

    I agree with Stu. Bob and Ray are in a class by themselves, along with Vic and Sade and Shep. Ernie Kovacs hits and misses. When he hits, he hits big.

    Keillor, IMO, is not in the class of Allen, Bob and Ray, Shep, Rheimer.


    • ebbergmann says:

      Thank you, Joel. What I especially respond to in Kovacs is his inventive use of his medium–TV. Even when someone misses, I will usually pursue his/her art just for the pleasure I often get out of some failed attempts. With Andy Kaufman, on occasion I’ll say in my mind, “Damn it, Andy, you needed an editor on that one!”

  5. Steve says:

    Shep factoid: Although Shep did few interviews on his late-evening broadcasts, he did one of Eddie Anderson (Jack Benny’s “Rochester”) on August 19, 1949.

  6. Bud Painton says:

    Eugene, excellent piece on Garrison Keillor’s extremely thin skin when it comes to notions of Shep having possibly been an influence or, perish the thought (in Garrison’s way of thinking), an inspiration for his own work and style. I believe Keillor “doth protest too much”… and, too loudly. Enjoyed your “artsy fartsy” intro, too!

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