Garrison Keillor is known as a humorist, someone who specializes in humor. “Humor,” however, is a word of many meanings. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary gives as definitions “something that is or is designed to be comical and amusing” and “that quality which appeals to a sense of the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous” (“Humor”). A Handbook to Literature addresses the history of the word and distinguishes between wit and humor. As the terms are used today, “wit is primarily intellectual … and is expressed in skillful phraseology, plays on words, surprising contrasts, paradoxes, epigrams, and so forth, whereas humor implies a sympathetic recognition of human values and deals with the foibles and incongruities of human nature, good-naturedly exhibited” (Harmon and Holman). According to that distinction, Keillor displays both wit and humor in much of his writing.
From the Greeks who laughed at Aristophanes’ Lysistrata during the Golden Age to the Americans who chuckle at Jay Leno’s quips today, people have long enjoyed humor. Although humor can be negative if it comes at the expense of the innocent, it is a very positive force when the subject is appropriate. Laughter can provide relief and release; it can divert the weary and uplift the depressed. In The Comic Vision in Literature Edward L. Galligan says of humor, “If it does not make you laugh or smile it has failed. Yet laughter is not its only goal, … for humor is greatly concerned with the meanings uncovered by its jokes” (17). Gal-