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July 10, 2008 | 42 Comments

Dear Mr. Keillor,
I guess after some 25 years as a loyal listener (and of course, consumer of your books and disks) one is bound to hear material on a PHC airing that would feel very un Lake Wobegon.

Maybe it's especially that the past two days, like all gays, i've been suffering the too-frequent newscaster exaltation of Jesse Helms, but i could not believe my ears this eve when one of your Noir actors said, "You look like a fruitcake!"

Mr. Keillor, surely you know that is a degrading slur to countless numbers of your fans. This also puts you in the company of Focus on the Family's James Dobson, who just last week used the word 'fruitcake' referring to Obama's Bible.

As you know professionally, once a word has been broadcast, it's transferred to the universe, reinforcing a truth—or, sadly, ugly prejudice.

Over the years, I have written you thanks for your extraordinarily beautiful body of work and will continue to site you as a key reason for renewing my WNYC membership.

Never, ever could i have imagined that i'd need to write this note to you.

With great respect,

Jamie L.
New York

The character who says, "It makes you look like a fruitcake" is a Chicago street character, a tough guy, and the word is part of his idiom. But he doesn't mean he thinks Guy Noir is gay. He just means that he looks nutty. Where I come from, "fruitcake" doesn't have such a specific connotation. "Nuttier than a fruitcake" has been around forever, and the term can be applied in various ways, and not implying effeminacy or swishiness or anything of the sort. So I do not "know that it is a degrading slur to countless numbers" of PHC fans. I am not in that business. I don't keep track of Mr. Dobson or Jesse Helms, and I don't plan to. Sorry this caused you distress.


I am constantly amazed at how sensitive some people are. If I didn't know better, I would think they are lying in wait, hoping you will cause them some sort of distress. The latest was their taking great offense to one of the Noir actor's use of the term "fruitcake". Oh, puleeeze.

It's kind of sad that you actually have to explain the term and apologize for something so trivial.

I'm sorry but I just don't think you have a mean bone in your body or that you would ever deliberately hurt anyone.

Forgive him, GK. Some New Yorkers tend to forget that there is whole big country between the shining seas and that the thought police can't be everywhere all of the time in case someone might be offended -- heaven forbid.

Very few thoughts and references are intended to have an LGBT connotation, good or bad. Sometimes a fruitcake is just a nut. The kneejerk reaction (no offense intended) proves the point.

Forest Hills, NY

Dear Garrison,

Oh the times the "hearer" has misinterpreted
a word for his or her own benefit.
This reminds me of the novel "The Human Stain,"
by Philip Roth. It takes place in the

The word spoken by Coleman Silk in that
novel was "spooks." He meant "ghosts," but
others had a different interpretation.

It seems like this is PHC/Garrison bashing

You have THICK, THICK skin!

after reading some of the comments by people getting Quite Upset over caca.
how about a National Campaign of Calming? Everybody switch to Decaf, Chill Out, Relax, smoke a bowl, have a glass of wine, pop bubble wrap etc.
way too may people getting their knickers in a twist. not meant to be Offensive to those who wear knickers (or don't) or people who twist (or don't) etc.
story out of Dallas: (white) city politician remarks at at a meeting about things getting lost in a black hole. (black) politician takes Offense at Racial Remark. Oh, Get A Life.
it's called Lake Wobegon...Lake Woe-Be-Gone, get it? ...everytime i hear that old piano...

When someone we've known (and who's urned our loyalty) for 25 years says something that strikes us as uncharactistically offensive, I think an admirable first impulse is to thoughtfully revisit what stikes us how. If this doesn't help, it's good to carefully think through what that person might be thinking. It ... lacks nuance, I guess I'll say, to start (and end) with just plopping the person you've known for 25 years "in the company of Focus on the Family's James Dobson." Is it really that easy to get tossed overboard by your fans?

Too bad the gay guy hasn't lived long enough to realize that the word "fruitcake" refers to someone who is a little off in the balcony and was just adopted by his ilk like they highjacked the word "gay." It used to mean something light and happy but if you use it that way now, only the old cowboys like me will understand it. Yours is a damn good program. Hang Tuff and keep it coming.

I guess I just don't understand everyone running to defend GK without frankly thinking just for a moment about whether or not, intended or not, something is or can be offensive. One of the comments here goes so far as to accuse the faithful listener of being part of the thought police, and I ask only this: which police department are you working from, telling someone he shouldn't have the thought of offense? GK is a writer, a very successful one, and I'm sure he's had to offend scores and scores of people to do it. I don't think that's a bad thing necessarily (after all he'll be one of the few writers that won't die penniless!) but to attack the listener, a person who has every right to be offended at whatever he likes, well that just doesn't seem very midwestern now does it?

I think that sometimes we are not aware of how offensive we are being. That's not GK's fault, its everybody's. After all none of us will live forever and in our short time here we should be as comfortable as possible, and that means speaking out when you get called a name and writing in to your favorite radio show to tell them they hurt you. Its all about the comfort that comes from sticking up for yourself. I just hope we all agree.

Just wanted to say that my first thought was of my mother, 50 years ago, referring to someone as being "nuttier than a fruitcake." I've heard that phrase all my life and, having friends of "all persuasions," I cannot remember it ever being used to describe somone gay.

I agree with the other comments about some people being overly sensitive to the point of going out of their way to be offended, as well as keeping in mind that your Host has never, to this point, been a "gay basher" and his on-the-air persona is that of a gentle man.

Thank you for countless hours of enjoyment and "pondering."

For one thing, Dobson doesn't "use[d] the word 'fruitcake' referring to Obama's Bible.". Dobson said he had a "a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution." So, before you make accusations, get them correct.

It also needs to be stated for reference that just because someone calls them self a Christian doesn't make them a Christian. As we look at either of our candidates, we cannot trust their words (they are politicians after all). For the Christians reading this: we must examine what they believe, and compare it to what what Christ teaches.

I know that that had nothing to do directly with PHC, but I felt that it had to be said. I apologize if it didn't belong.


This is a specific example of a general problem in our society. Too often, people take offense to something that had no intention of offending and is a stretch to even construe as offensive.

My advise to Jamie is to lighten up. Instead of immediately jumping to conclusions, try giving others the benefit of a doubt. I am willing to bet that is you do so, you will be much happier. And leave James Dobson and Jessie Helms out of this. Whether or not you agree with them has nothing to do with the subject.

How very very sad someone can be so out of touch as to misinterpret the "fruitcake" reference....and feel compelled to publish their confusion. Very sad. BUT as long we are splitting semantic hairs can we - shall we - also consider it a possible slam on fruitcake itself. Yes- we're talking about fruitcake slamming. Each Chrismas I have to endure those dusty old jokes about fruitcake. I for one love fruitcake - with a cold glass of milk. Yes America, come out of the closet and stand up for fruitcake!

Hey, guy, get over yourself. I have heard gays referred to as 'fruits', but never as fruitcakes. I do not know what part of NY you are from, but the gays I knew when I lived there used much more descriptive language to describe each other, or heterosexuals, for that matter. Queer Nation and Big Fag are reputable gay groups, as far as I know. The irony of a black tv actor being fired for some offhand remark about a 'fag' illustrates how backwards some of the liberalology can be. And no, I won't use the word 'Afro-American' because where I am from 'Afro' is a racial epithet that could get you damaged in a major way, and I think that, subconsciously, it is a liberal euphemism for the 'n-word'. The more power you give these minor things the more negative importance they assume. I am not picking on liberals, in particular, because I am one. But sometimes our self-appointed 'spokespeople' mirror the worst of 'conservatism'. You should read the book, "Nigger", written by a black Harvard professor. It's all just words and they only have as much power as you invest in them.

Hello Garrison...
How sad is it that common words and expressions have been turned into stupid slurs and can no longer be used in their original contexts without someone taking offense. And Jamie L. from NY...keep in mind, this is a "character" in a radio skit using the term "fruitcake". (which to me is just a nut case, not a LGBT) You don't hear of any cowboys (or cowgirls) writing in complaining about the Dusty and Lefty scripts. My advise, Jamie...relax, enojoy your life and enjoy the show.

I read another story this morning that was almost as silly as this one. A Texas Representative claims that the names "Black Hole" and "Devil's Food Cake" are an insult to blacks. I want to throw my hat into the ring too. I'm insulted by the use of the word "enormous" - it's a blatant comparative reference to fat people, or rather "larger Americans" - I mean, of course, "people of size". Phil Gramm was right - we've become a nation of whiners!!!! Keep up the good work, GK. You are a beacon of normalcy.

Garrison--A faithful listenering for years and also having seen you in person, I admire what you attempt to do: bring pleasure, entertainment, and laughter into peoples lives.

If I, as a gay person, took offense to words spoken in context and out of context every time I heard them, I would constantly be offended. This would include words said in church, school, work, play, with family, and just out in the general public; spoken by professionals, educated persons, relatives, and all others that speak in my presence.

I have learned when I think it would be good to speak up and when I think it best to keep quiet. Not every situation requires a response. I try to respond only when I think I can be helpful and to help educate the speaker. Most words are said without thinking and that is usually what causes problems. Most words are not intentional and you usually know when they are.

Looking forward to many more of your wonderful broadcasts, books, and other writings.


Dan McRoberts
6677 Mill Run
Caledonia MI 49316

Dear GK, I find it amazing how people react to your show. The people that make up your cast as well as yourself have taken on a monsterous task of entertaining us. You do so with class and higher intelligence. I don't ever want to find out that you are retireing because of tiring of the people that don't get your show. We appreciate your humor and IQ more than you know. I am an italian that is handicapped, overweight and not exactly pleasant to the eyes (in my oppinion anyway). You can say anything you want about any of these things and if you need help, let me know. I'll be glad to come up with a non-pc comment for you! Keep up the great work, I have been listening to your shows for 28 years. Thank you for the years of pleasure. By the way I especially enjoyed the Mass. show! Anthony Elam
P.S. Can you get DVD's of any show or just the ones for sale in the store? I would enjoy seeing that show again!

It seems no one can say a word without offending someone anymore. I have a friend who's name is "Gaye" is that going to offend someone? Geese people, lets get back to reality. I am so sick of watching what I say that anything is misinterpreted.

Thanks for not caving in to any pressure to rewrite our lexicon.

Hey, Garrison,
I am a 63 year old gay man who has lived in North Carolina all of my life. Like someone said, "gay" used to mean something else and it's literal definition does not describe most of my homosexual friends. I think your writer is a pretty unhappy "gay" fellow and needs to lighten up a bit on his sensitivity meter. For my generation, calling someone a "fruitcake," meant they were a little crazy. Have I missed something? I didn't hear the James Dobson comment but even though he is anti-gay, I truly believe he is also of the same generation who would have used it to mean "nutty." As for the happily now departed Jesse Helms, he wasn't just a homophobe but a proud, immutable bigot and racist who garnered the love and respect of some of the most narrow-minded and ignorant rednecks not only in North Carolina but the Southeast in general. He may have been many other things to many people, but, as a politician and public figure, he looked like, sounded like and reminded me of good ol' Lester Maddox, the ax-wielding "Christian" restauranteur and governor of Georgia. There was no subterfuge or misunderstanding in either of their intentions; the message was always clear, hate-filled, and polarizing and it fostered huge divisions in a state that usually has made me proud to be a Tar Heel. I'm glad you have better things to do than follow Dobson or Helms. Keep it sweet!
Raleigh, NC

It is a shame George Carlin is not around to get a chuckle out of this dialogue. I am gay, in my 60's and of the South and find no offense with the word "fruitcake". As a kid we used the term "nuttier than a fruitcake" often with friends. It was a time when gibes were less coarse. Keep up the good work Garrison. We need as many smiles as we can get.

I have to agree with Nancy. This word was used by a fictional character. If every fictional character was limited to verbalizing only the author's viewpoint on any subject, that would certainly be the death of fiction.

After reading Jamie's closing I'm not sure one would wish to be "sited" for one's body of work-- whatever that might mean. Hang in there and keep up the good work! You know, you've "urned" our loyalty.

I try - sometimes very hard indeed - not to take offense unless I am quite sure that the offense is intentional. Keeps me happy, lets me sleep better, and helps the blood pressure, too!

Sometimes, even when I am sure that the offense is intentional, I choose to ignore it. It's a lot of healthy fun, not letting them get my goat (apologies to any goats who are reading this). Drives the other guy crazy, and it's STILL good for the old blood pressure. Also, makes for a good story with a bit of a chuckle!

I must be the biggest liberal of you all, because I can find some common sense in virtually everything written. "Reasonableness" really can be annoyingly paralysing.

Personally, I would not be offended by this word, even if it were used about me, but please don't go and lay into Jamie (whoever described him as "the gay guy" might like to do some soul searching) because he was.

Before you do that I suggest some of you watch the "N----- Man" episode of South Park; ironically, one of the few programmes in this country that actually deals with social issues. Unless you stand in someone else's shoes, you cannot imagine why something should or could be offensive. So, please don't judge.

I also suspect that someone like GK - up there with Jon Stewart as one of my favourite living Americans (sorry, mate; had to say it) - would be upset to see what kind of comments his genuinely unintended "insult" has solicited.

>a person who has every right to be offended at whatever he likes

But he doesn't have the right to make up his own meaning for a word and then complain when someone uses it as it is intended.

Even though I've lived in California nearly all my life, my Midwest roots go deep - I agree with GK: to me 'fruitcake' means someone who is a bit kooky or crazy. My dad used to use the expression 'nuttier than a fruitcake' all the time. Don't take offense, Jamie L.

Give me a break.
People are WAY too sensitive...and 'politically correct'..these days.
AMEN! to you answer Garrison!

Dear Garrison, (I've been your friend for so many years now it's on a first-name basis, don't you know ...)

It was a GREAT relief to see all the comments from those of us who know that "fruitcake" is clearly a silly, nutty word. How can anyone really listen for a long time, as Jamie supposedly has, and still think you'd utter one mean word?

Be reassured, Dear Friend, we who love you know better. Thanks for the way you've touched me, comforted me, made me laugh, for all these years. If life gets me down all week, I know you're there for me on Saturday night, lifting up my sagging spirits.

Barbara, New Port Richey, Florida

I've been nuttier than a fruitcake my entire life and come by it honestly as that is how we all referred to our dear Mother, Betty. I am always sensitive to the feelings of others and I took no offense at the referral of fruitcake! Mr. Keillor - you too have the honor of being a nutty fruitcake - and you are loved and admired for it. Even if someone doesn't come from the Midwest, it's no excuse for taking a well-known expression and turning it into an issue. I think they have been watching/listening to too many of those talk news shows where everyone talks about nothing at once! They need to tune into your show and relax and think about the exquisite ways in which we are all alike!

Anyone from Minnesota knows "fruitcake" means nutty. Comes from the phrase "nuttier than a fruitcake." Jamie, have you ever seen a fruitcake? It's full of nuts, really - look at a recipe. You need to get a book on phrases indigenous to different parts of the country, so you know the difference between a true "slur" and just a simple expression. Somewhere along the way "nuttier than a fruitcake" got shortened to "fruitcake." At least that's the way it is in Minnesota where I come from. When I say "lighten up dude" I mean "don't take life so seriously." Love your show Mr. Keillor - especially Guy Noir.

Dear Mr. Keillor,
In reading the comment from the person writing in regards to the Fruitcake issue. I cannot help in thinking of a comment from Robert D. Rayford from the John Boy and Billy radio show out of Charlotte, NC., he stated that we have become the "United States of Offended". I just can't help in thinking all the extremely intellegent persons that day in and out find themselves so caught up in the worry of their lives that they don't live their lives to the fullest in not worrying about trivial things. If you can't let things go by and be OFFENDED by peoples right to freedom of speech, then look at yourself in the mirror and take account of whom you are and move on. Lifes to short to worry. Thanks for your time.


John B.

It's too bad that someone would look to make meaning and especially a negative one out of a phrase that I heard my grandparents use for years, Fruitcake contains nuts and a fruitcake was someone who was nutty or off in an eccentric sort of way. Never did it degrade or denote someone "gay". Please don't get me started on the fact that I can no longer use the term "gay" to mean fun, or a rainbow to depict colors. And please don't add meaning to this to say I'm dunning those whose sexual proclivities I don't share. It was just so aggravating to read the post. For God's sake there's enough in this world to get upset about, let's not go looking for it in an innocent phrase.

I know it's often said that we're a people separated from each other by a common language, but I really cant get my head around this Fruitcakegate issue. Here in England, the colloquialism "fruitcake" only has one meaning ... silly or foolish. People of my generation - the pre-garden of rest generation - use the term often to describe an announcement by one or other of our government ministers ... so, you can see, it gets somewhat over-used on this side of the Pond.

Most of my 70 plus years of life have been in the state of Kentucky, where "fruitcake" is used to describe someone who is acting crazy, as in "nutty as a fruitcake". It's regrettable that it was taken to mean something else. I have been a faithful listener of Prairie Home Companion for many years & I have never heard any remarks that are degrading to gays.

You people upset me so!

Rather than try to think of what it must be like to be in any one else's shoes you simply choose not to pressure your own view of existence and to belittle someone who would have you examine it.

Jaime, it seems to me, probably comes from a set of circumstances that none of you, gay or straight, will ever be aware of or know intimately. Fruitcake as a slur is not something that has been made up by this man. It is obviously something that he is concerned with and is it so out of the realm of possibilities that the character on Guy Noir the other day meant it in an LGBT context? GK may not have intended it, but again GK is not the character. I realize that many people may not understand the 'fruitcake = gay' equation, but this is probably because you are not gay. It is similar to other phrase equations that sects of people don't always understand.

Look at me, I'm rambling and may have stopped capitalizing. Haha.

I part with this thought: Open your minds, maybe your hearts will follow.


Mr. Keillor,

A word in and of itself is rarely offensive. It is the context and manner in which it was used. Before deciding to be offended over a word it is best to examine how it is used. I grew up in England and I recall the phrase "nuttier than a fruitcake" being used there, so this is not a midwestern American phenomenon. I also recall the phrase "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." I think that everyone would get along much better if that phrase was taken to heart.

Paul Miller
Woodstock, GA

I too have listened to PHC for years, though maybe not the 25 years Jaime has.

I find this contretemps fascinating ...

The definition Jaime reads into use of the word does not even merit a or MW slang entry. If one needs to vet tertiary definitions of common words and phrases to avoid any possible perceived offense, then PHC might become a 3 minute show about people agreeing that it looks like rain.

The context where "fruitcake" is used leads one to the dictionary definition of "2. Slang. a crazy or eccentric person; nut.", nothing else.

I shudder to think what would happen if "tossed salad" is mentioned at a pot luck supper.

Oh well, this is a country where the new yorker cover cartoon is taken as God's own truth.....

tom v

Ryan - I'm sorry but you are dead wrong. The term "fruitcake" is NOT a slang term referring to homosexuals. End of story.

It is actually a widely used pejorative for homosexuals, and has been since the 1930s.....Check out Cassell's Dictionary of Slang.

or type "fruitcake gay" into a search engine and see how many hits you get!

Dear Mr. Keillor --

Using the lyrics of a Jimmy Buffett hit song as my reference, I'm sure the use of the term "fruitcake" is not exclusive to any particular group, be they "gay" or otherwise.

By: Jimmy Buffett, Amy Lee

You know, I was talking to my friend Desdemona the other day. She runs this space station and bake shop down near Boomtown. She told me that human beings are flawed individuals. The cosmic bakers took us out of the oven a little too early. and that's the reason were as crazy as we are and I believe it.

Take for example when you go to the movies these days. You know, they try to sell you this jumbo drink, 8 extra ounces of watered down cherry coke for an extra 25 cents. I dont want it.

I dont want that much organziation in my life.

I dont want other people thinking for me.

I want my Junior Mints. Where did the Junior Mints go in the movies? I dont want a 12 lb. Nestles Crunch for 25 dollars. I want Junior Mints!

We need more fruitcakes in this world and less bakers! We need people that care! I'm mad as hell and I dont want to take it anymore!

Fruitcakes in the kitchen (Fruitcakes in the kitchen)
Fruitcakes on the street (Fruitcakes on the street)
Struttin naked through the crosswalk, in the middle of the week.
Half-baked cookies in the oven (Cookies in the oven)
Half-baked people on the bus (People on the bus)
There's a little bit of fruitcake left in everyone of us.

So to those complaining about use of the word "Fruitcake," me thinks thou art a bit too sensitive. My advise: Chill Out!

Oh Puuleezeee.

Fruitcake is a slur...??
SNAP OUT OF IT ::said in Best DragQueen Cher voice::!

The majority of these forty-odd responses to this listener's letter are very uncharitable. The loyal listener obviously misunderstood what Mr. Keillor meant when his character said "fruitcake." But the listener's mistake is not an outrageous one. If the respondents look up slang references for "fruitcake," they would find two possible meanings-- 1) a "crazy person"/someone who does "nutty" things, or 2) a derogatory name for someone who is gay.

In retrospect, Mr. Keillor obviously meant the former, while the listener obviously thought Mr. Keillor meant the latter. Though I agree that comparing Mr. Keillor to James Dobson and Jesse Helms is a bit much, it is disheartening to see so many people appear to attack this listener so gleefully. (Something that Mr. Keillor honorably refrained from doing in his response.) In attacking the listener in such a manner, we stifle dialogue rather than encourage it--the very opposite of what, I believe, Mr. Keillor would want.

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