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But Can He Play in Peoria?
Our main man attempts mainstream

By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, July 1, 2007

Athough this column originates in The Washington Post, other newspapers can buy it through syndication. Unfortunately, I have not yet become a National Treasure, because a disproportionate number of the newspapers that do buy my column are in pretty large metropolitan areas: San Diego, Toronto, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Tampa-St. Pete, Sacramento, etc. That means I have not yet taken Main Street America by storm, possibly because, for some reason, hicks feel that I talk down to them.

However, the other day something really exciting happened. My syndicate notified me that the Journal Star has contracted for a one-month trial of the column, to see how the readers like it. The Journal Star is in . . . Peoria. I think it was Groucho Marx who first observed that if an act can play in Peoria, it has entered the American mainstream.

This could be my big break. I have to make the most of it.

So, instantly, I got on the phone.

Me: I want to do everything possible to make sure that I am welcome in Peoria, which is why I am calling you, the mayor. I wanted to begin by assuring you that I have enormous, gargantuan respect for your excellent city.

The Mayor: Okay!

Me: My first question is: What is your name?

The Mayor: Jim Ardis.

Me: And, Jim, what state is your city in, exactly?

The Mayor: Illinois.

Me: Swell, swell. Okay, here's my key question, and a lot is riding on it. In your opinion, will my particular brand of humor play in Peoria?

The Mayor: I'd have to get online and read some of your columns.

Me: Well, it's mostly snide, smart-aleck stuff, gratuitous character assassination, quasi-vulgar observations about human excretory functions, general cultural chauvinism with particular elitist condescension toward people who don't live in big cities and, above all, overwhelming contempt for small-town politicians.

The Mayor:

Me:

The Mayor: I have to say, people here are already very sensitive to that type of attitude from bigger cities, because we're kind of a stepdaughter to Chicago. I think some Peorians have a tendency to be a little insecure. So I don't know about that.

Me: Maybe I should try out some humor on you.

The Mayor: Sure.

Me: I'm thinking that "Peoria" sounds like a combination of "pee" and "euphoria," which is something many people can relate to, especially after a long car ride, which Peorians might want to take to get out of Peoria!

The Mayor: See, that's the thing. A big part of the misperception of Peoria is that if you blink, you'll pass us by. We have a Level 1 trauma center, and Caterpillar's world headquarters is in Peoria. And we have a big agricultural research lab. A lot of people don't know this, but penicillin was discovered here.

Me: Wow. I am beginning to like Peoria just fine! I might move there!

The Mayor: People come here and look around and are surprised, and they say, "Gee, where are the cornfields at?"

Me: So, where are the cornfields at?

The Mayor: About five miles outside of town.

Me: Look, maybe I could stick to political columns. Maybe my politics would fit right in!

The Mayor: What are your politics?

Me: I'm wildly liberal to the point that I could probably be prosecuted for treason, and executed.

The Mayor:

Me:

The Mayor: We're pretty conservative here.

Me: This is looking bad. Maybe I could change my sense of humor.

The Mayor: You would change your sense of humor just to play in Peoria?

Me: You don't understand how important this is, metaphorically. Okay: Why did the boy get embarrassed when he opened the refrigerator?

The Mayor: Why?

Me: Because he saw the salad dressing!

The Mayor: Ha-ha.

Me: Okay, I'm in a lot of trouble.

The Mayor: Sorry.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is weingarten@washpost.com. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon.

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