Tom Keith

When Tom Keith sets off fireworks, you'll need to give him some space if you don't want to get wet.

It goes something like this:

Fsvooooooooshhhhhhhhh-PGHGHGGHGHPTPTPPHKKFOP.

But then, you really can't put it on a page. You have to be there.

Keith, the longtime Prairie Home Companion sound-effects man and MPR Morning Show host (under the name Jim Ed Poole), ended his daily radio gig in December and went out like one of the skyrockets he so effortlessly creates on the Fitzgerald Theater stage. The fact that he will continue his work with PHC when Garrison Keillor's show is at home is a relief to his many fans, and a good reason to get to St. Paul ASAP to see a genius at work.

Keith grew up in West St. Paul, served in the Marines, studied broadcasting and theater at the U of M, and then went directly into radio to do a purely behind-the-scenes technical job at MPR. The voice work came out of necessity, when Keillor asked him to fill in some of the comedic bits on his morning show with character voices and audio illustrations. He has been able to use his natural talent for mimicry, amazing vocal dexterity, and exquisite comedic timing to delight audiences coast-to-coast, and to steal a few memorable scenes in Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion movie.

Keith also brings a sense of appropriate scale to his voice work. He genuinely believes that less is more, and he won't overcook the humor. Having written thousands of scripts for him, I can attest to his ability to generate a complete character from the bare bones of a half-finished idea. And he doesn't complicate the work by overanalyzing the intent or critiquing the writer. He gives the script a good once-over, collects the necessary glass shards, worn shoes, metal sheets, navy beans, and Styrofoam packing material, squares his shoulders, barks, squeaks, growls, crashes, tosses off a line of convincing French-like gibberish, and quite simply makes everything funnier than it ought to be.

That's real talent.

Dale Connelly is the former co-host of The Morning Show. He now hosts The Dale Connelly Show on Radio Heartland, a new music service from Minnesota PublicRadio.

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