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Host Garrison Keillor answers your questions about life, love, writing, authors, and of course, A Prairie Home Companion.

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September 23, 2006 | 24 Comments

Dear Garrison
They've abruptly shut down the Chatterbox. Did you know they were going to do this? Did you give permission or approval? Do you know why they did it?

John W.
Marblehead, MA

I asked the website manager to shut down the Chatterbox so as to give it a rest, John. It's become a rather tiny inbred chat room and not particularly interesting. I hadn't looked at it for years and then one day I did and I found the chitchat sort of dopey, nothing inviting to an outsider surfing by, nothing relevant to anything that takes place on the show or on public radio, just a tiny club of cronies ribbing each other. So we'll give it a rest and try to figure out how to run an interactive room in which people can speak freely but where private chatter is edited out. So shoot me. I thought it was dumb.


Speaking for myself, as one of those outsiders who surfed by not quite a year ago, I found the forum to be fascinating, educating, and incredibly thought-provoking. I met some interesting people and learned a bit more about life and all of its inherent challenges and rewards. Yes, there were a few bores and the occasional unintelligent exchange, however, with the exception, perhaps, of Lake Wobegon, I have yet to find a community, virtual or otherwise, in which those elements are not at least sometimes present. As for its relevance to the show, I was unaware that the only topics of conversation that were deemed acceptable were those that related directly to some aspect of A Prairie Home Companion, a show which nearly everyone whom I met at The Chatterbox claimed to adore.

I must say, Mr. Keillor, that I am feeling a twinge of bitterness about your obvious disdain for something of which I was quite fond. You are certainly entitled to your opinion and obviously you have the resources to maintain a forum in which you may express it. I just wish that perhaps you might have continued to maintain one in which everyone else could have expressed theirs.

Good luck on creating a Chatterbox where no personal relationships are formed. How arid a place that's going to be.

would you consider posting the show lineup for us? that was the only thing that i went to look at and maybe many others did as well.


I have dropped by the forums often during the shows, especially in the last year, and while most of the crowd was regulars, well ... it was kinda like Cheers! As a visitor, I was welcome to pipe in once in a while and contribute ... my decade in Chicago (and I still go back once a month) came in handy for your most recent show and your annual visits to Ravinia. Last time in Austin, everybody else was too old or too young to recall that Joe Ely had links to The Clash in the New Wave 80's. I managed some side-banter with an Austinian (who only appeared that day) about Kinky Friedman. I have also learned a lot from the regulars, least of which are various public radio sites from which we can stream your show (a number of them are outside the US, while I travel frequently on business) live or repeats on the same weekend. Yes, the regulars seemed clubby but they were very welcoming, like in that mythical neighborhood bar that doesn't seem to exist in real life ...

You are the one who is being dumb. Or your advisors are.

You have missed the point totally Garrison. The Chatterbox was an
area where people who were your fans could talk about anything and
everything under the sun - and sometime engage on a debate about how
wonderful you were.

You have screwed up big time on this occasion.

From this statement of yours, I shall not bother staying up through
to 1AM on Sundays to hear you live via an internet connection. (I'm
in the UK.)

Consider yourself withdrawn from.

Thank you.... I found it way to silly to even check up on after a while. Love you Gary, Sher

Dopey? Is "dopey" bad? If dopey wasn't a part of our culture you wouldn't have an audience, ya big lug!!


Dopey in Kansas

Garrison, I appreciate your honesty. I'm not surprised that this is a hot topic, as the Chatterbox regulars seemed to be a pretty tight knit group. I only clicked into the Chatterbox to view the show contents, as the chats I read didn't seem all that interesting. It seemed like a clique to me, although I'm sure they welcomed newcomers readily. You made a good decision. The Chatterbox seemed silly and dumb, and I'd much rather read other sections of the site.

Mr. Keillor: Although you have every right to do so, you have gone out of your way to hurt the feelings of real people (your fans) who, within the confines of a friendly place, did nobody any harm. Apparently, you know nothing about online communities. Your insenstivity to this is remarkable.

PT Caffey

When the Chatterbox first started up, I stopped by once or twice. It didn't take long before I saw where the Chatterbox was heading. I only used it later to purchase tickets. Dopey is an appropriate word for what it turned into. "Dopey" in a Brittney Spears sort of way. No offense, Garrison, but a group of people chatting about you and the show? Don't they have lives? And if they want to chat together in a tight knit little group, find some other place. There are plenty online, I'm sure.

I can still see the Chatterbox as a good place for people to buy and sell PHC tickets. I bought once and sold once.

I'd like to offer some words of encouragement. I've been through a few 'forum wars' in other places and often these things work out for the best.

A good forum is one that evolves, and when they stop evolving, it's time to mix things up, which seems to be what's going on here.

Rather than dish out harsh words and hard feelings, I'd suggest that those who have developed strong relationships get together and set up their own spot somewhere, so you can keep your relationships going the way you want to, off to the side. I'd also suggest not abandoning the new setup, or APHC. Stick around and help things along, if it makes sense to you. You're likely to make new friends as you go, and you'll be contributing to the evolution of the new forum.

FWIW--what is happening here is not at all unusual online. It's almost guaranteed to happen when a forum reaches a certain point--part of the forum lifecycle I suppose. I wouldn't take it personally.

And yes, I do feel a bit out of turn speaking up here. I have been a long-time lurker at the Chatterbox--so please forgive me if my comments don't seem to carry the kind of weight they should--I do not have as much invested here as others do. Just offering a friendly perspective.

"This, too, shall pass..." :)

I realize that this is your space and you may, of course, do as you like, but it might have been nice if you didn't wait years to check in and see what was going on in the chatterbox and when you did, it might have been nice if your fly by sampling captured more of the big picture and tried a less radical response. It is one thing to pontificate from a column where no one can talk back to you; quite another to get down in the trenches and try to engage in a dialogue on your same message. As one of your staunchist defenders here, I am trying very hard to believe that your post, Garrison, was not intended to call me or my friends dopey.

Inbred and dopey. I have been called a lot worse. Fortunately for me, this time it didn't include a gun in a closed bar room.

It's a good story. I can't waste it here.


Let me offer a couple of suggestions for any future PHC chat room:
1.) single page; and
2.) Posts from the Host.

1.) The Chatterbox Cafe had separate pages for "Show Feedback," "Lake Wobegon Chit-Chat," and various other headings, such as cruises, guest and venue suggestions and so on. The effect was that if you were on "Show Feedback," for example, you had to go up to Chatterbox Cafe and then down to "Lake Wobegon Chit-Chat" to join any of the discussion threads there. This had the effect of encouraging the Chit-Chat to focus on stuff other than the show, the cruises etc., because it kept the show feedback out of sight of the chit-chatters. If the two were intermingled (and the cruise and suggestion topics as well), you'd probably find a higher proportion of show-relevant chit-chat.

2.) If you could take the time to drop in once or twice a week and either start a thread or just make a comment on an existing one, everybody would be thrilled to see you, and it would focus the discussion.

One more thought: when you get a bunch of your fans together in a chat room with the title "Chatterbox Cafe" and they begin to think they are friends, they will also begin to think they should act like the people in the "real" Chatterbox Cafe and talk about all sorts of stuff they're interested in. Indeed, that was part of what we were led to believe we were supposed to do. But you'll probably find it happening on any site where you let your fans bring up topics of their own choosing. It's only a matter of degree.

I will freely admit, I couldn't take the heat, so I was one of those who got out of the kitchen. I stopped by from time to time to see how things were going, but most of the changes I saw were that a lot of gentle people seemed to have given up and moved on. Sometimes it's good to take a step back and think about how to make things better.

Brit and Lirio

If having a forum is so all-fired important to you, then why not use your own bandwidth and server space to host your own? Garrison was right - the Chatterbox was lame...good riddance.

The Chatterbox was a magical place of poetry and politics. Some of the most wonderful people from all walks of life and the far corners of the earth posted there. Well, if you, Garrison, think that place was dopey, then Iím a big dope; and Iím proud of it!


Once I was driving through Gary, Indiana on the interstate and overpass with a pastor friend and some church ladies. There was a bad smell of industrial pollution in the air and we looked down at inner city houses in dire disrepair. One of the well-meaning, (I suppose, when I'm charitable) ladies turned away with her nose tilted upward and said something to the effect, "how do those people live like that." She didn't say dopey or inbred, but there was an unmistakable air of assumed superiority in her words. My pastor friend, one of the most decent human beings I've known, didn't do the polite thing and agree. He looked at her squarely and simply said, "Those people call it home." With that in mind, I saw things I hadn't seen before when I looked more closely, people in an easy association that I've never known.

Is this APHC,

This is Tillie!

I'm lookin' for my sweet sweet, sweet ol' someone . . .

This is your web site, Mr. Keillor. When I enter it, I expect to hear about you - and the people, places and things that interest you. Of particular interest is your writing (in all forms) and encouragement you provide to others who write. Incidentally, it was so refreshing to read your response - no coyness, no politics - you just said it like it is with no apologies for closure of the Chatterbox. What a perfect name! But like the Chatty Cathy doll, sometimes you wish she'd shut up.

Okay, here's what you need to do: close the real Chatterbox Cafe. That's right, dump Dorothy and her rhubarb pie right into the street and see how she rebounds. Maybe there's an evil absentee landlord who wants to put in a Burger King with a drive-through. Or maybe termites have gotten to the joists and the building needs to be condemned. Perhaps Dorothy is the only owner on the block who doesn't want to sell out to an herbal supplement company that intends to build a tax-revenue-generating, job-creating fabrication plant, so the town (with the Supreme Court's recent blessing) invokes eminent domain. Or maybe Dorothy gets hip replacement surgery and discovers in her convalescence how much she enjoys not being on her feet, and retires.

Put your money where your mouth is. Shut the Chatterbox Cafe, with its dopey, inbred patrons, down.

As has been attributed to Abraham Lincoln (and so aptly said, no matter whose quote):

"You can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time".

Obviously you know this well, or you would not have last so long and successfully in the entertainment world!

I just want to say that I feel there is inherent worth in the thoughts, music, poetry, writings, opinions, hopes, dreams, humor, and art of the common man. And now when so many people are college educated, they are usually fairly well able to study, think critically, and express worthwhile notions.

If the musings and expressions of the public-educated common man are considered worthless and uninteresting, where does that leave us? There is a genius in each soul that can be heard if you listen nonjudgementally. As you have found in your talent-under-2000 show, there are many geniuses among us. Unpublished, unknown, and unpaid, yes, but dear Lord never let them languish unheard, misunderstood, or discounted as they have been here.

The mind of the common man is all that most of this world has to go with, and the best work of the elite has gotten us all into a hell of a pickle.

Thank you for continuing the discussion board as long as you did, it really helped me through a very isolated period in my life and, I think, helped me hang on to my sense of humor and my belief that my own ideas and expressions are important. There is really nothing more important to my life than that.

I'm someone who popped in to Chatterbox reasonably frequently and but never actually contributed. I loved it... intelligent people who had forged friendships, had fun and had at least one thing in common - enjoying Prairie Home. Occasionally daft, but much more often kind, supportive and amusing.
It's your website - you're entitled. But to do it with gratuitous insults and a dismissive sneer ... a real slap in the face to a community rather more real than your Lake Woebegon fantasies.

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