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Keillor, Ventura Become Literary Odd Couple
By John Rabe
February 5, 1999
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A new book by Garrison Keillor is causing a stir long before the first copy hits the bookstores. It's a rags-to-riches story about a former pro-wrestler who becomes governor of Minnesota. Sound familiar? The object of Keillor's parody is not thrilled with the idea.

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Listen: Keillor discusses Me and Ventura in a 15-minute interview.

Time article by Keillor from Nov. 7, 1998.

Guy Noir skit from A Prairie Home Companion featuring a Ventura character.


IN KEILLOR'S LAST BOOK, Wobegon Boy, the creator of A Prairie Home Companion savaged public radio talk shows. This time, he's picked a different target. The book is called ME, by Jimmy "Big Boy" Valente, As Told to Garrison Keillor.

Keillor: This is a work of satire that is not shooting the wounded. This is a work of satire about someone who is riding high at this point. That's who satire is supposed to go after.

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Jesse Ventura's Reaction

Ventura Budget Presentation of budget.

Ventura Election Collected campaign and followup stories and interviews.

In the book, Keillor says, Jimmy "Big Boy" Valente is an orphan adopted by Lutherans who transforms himself by weightlifting, changes his name, and joins the Navy WALRUSes, which stands for "Water, Air, Land Rising Up Suddenly". He takes up professional wrestling. But, after a while, his back hurts, and he's tired of the wrestling life.

Keillor: He's approached by a man from The Ethical Party who wants him to run for governor, and it's such a beautiful idea to get vindication after having earned your living as an adult wearing pink boas and spangly-tights and creating the role of a jerk to make immense crowds of people angry at you. He wants respect, and this is a way to get it.
Keillor started writing the book just after the election, amazed and inspired by how Ventura used the Jesse "The Body" wrestling character to run for governor, it's a character Keillor says was at the heart of Ventura's radio persona, too.

An article in yesterday's tabloid New York Post said Keillor was delivering a body slam to Ventura, but Keillor denies that characterization:
Keillor: It's not an attack at all. I rather like the governor. I think he is in the course of discovering himself in public and figuring out who he is, and he successfully shed a lot of his rough edges while still holding onto his essential outlook and view of life.
For his part, Ventura told the Saint Paul Pioneer Press newspaper he's upset that Keillor wrote a book based on him without his permission. "To me that's cheating," the governor said. Even though he's governor and an undeniable public figure, Ventura has repeatedly claimed that he has rights to his name and image. He's also mad about unauthorized t-shirts and a television movie.

But last night Ventura told Minnesota Public Radio he really isn't mad at Keillor:
Ventura: I could care less. He's an artistic person and very successful at what he does, and he makes Minnesota proud, you know. I have no problem.
And in his interview yesterday, Keillor was equally magnanimous:
Keillor: This man is not a shallow or dense person, and isn't portrayed as such in this book. This is not a book about a dummy. He's not a dummy. He's very smart.
Garrison Keillor's book will arrive in bookstores at least three months before Ventura's own ghost-written memoir, I Ain't Got Time To Bleed. The governor is reportedly going to be paid up to $500,000 for his book. Keillor says he'll sign a copy of the Big Boy Valente book and send it over to the governor. But will Ventura read it?
Ventura: No. I'm writing my own. The real version. He's entitled, I guess, to do it. Does he know enough about it, though?
Keillor's research included watching Jesse "The Body" highlight tapes, and he apparently knew enough to write a piece for Time magazine, expertly assessing Ventura's appeal to a "jaded, repressed, Scandinavian" public.

"Sometimes we like to surprise ourselves," he writes in Time. "Minnesota is a $12 billion a year operation and we have taken the janitor and made him chief executive officer."

That line still rankles the governor.
Ventura: I have nothing against him, but he made a statement after the election, something to the effect they put the janitor in charge of the corporation. And so, being a good Navy SEAL, I don't get mad, I get even.
The dispute over Keillor's book isn't the first time Ventura's taken a poke at Keillor and vice versa. On Monday, at a Minnesota Public Radio forum on the state budget, a member of the audience asked why Ventura proposed eliminating funding for public broadcasting.

Here's an exchange including Ventura, Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, and Minnesota Public Radio's Gary Eichten.
Ventura: And there are a lot of people in public radio making very large sums of money.
Moe: Is that true, Gary?
Eichten: Oh yeah. (audience laughs)
Ventura: Well, I bet you could ask Garrison Keillor. I'd like to see his W-2.
The budget forum exchange happened just two days after a new skit aired on A Prairie Home Companion. Keillor, playing detective Guy Noir, is visited by Governor Ventura, played by Tim Russell.
Keillor: How you doin', governor?
Russell: Oh this governor thing is wearing me out.
Keillor:: Yeah.
Russell: Let me tell you. I only been in for ...
Keillor:You look kind of tired.
Rusell: I am. Three weeks and I need a vacation. The stuff you got to read; pages and pages and pages of all this budget crap. You're supposed to do what? Make recommendations or something? I don't get it. I read one page and I'm like get me out of here. Borrrring. ....
For the record, Keillor, now an independent contractor and no longer an employee of Minnesota Public Radio, does make a large, undisclosed sum of money. He is also a major donor to MPR and has dedicated half the royalties for two previous books to the network, although there's no such arrangement with the Valente book. He admits that Ventura's election is a huge gift for Minnesota humorists, and it's hard to miss the implications when Keillor says everyone wants to talk about Ventura, and read about him.

Readers get their chance soon. Keillor's parody of Ventura is due out at the end of this month, Ventura's version comes out in June. And the two Minnesota institutions may be battling it out again on the bestseller lists this summer.

Jimmy Big Boy Valente