Guy Noir is a fictional private detective regularly featured on the public radio show A Prairie Home Companion. Voiced by Garrison Keillor, the character parodies the conventions of hardboiled fiction and the film noir genre. Guy Noir works on the twelfth floor of the Acme Building in a city that "knows how to keep its secrets", St. Paul, Minnesota.
The first Guy Noir segments aired in 1995 and were heavy on tongue-twisters, alliteration and other wordplay. In early episodes of the series, Guy and his "friend" Pete (Walter Bobbie) would often get into fights and end up shooting each other. Both died many times. However, following Bobbie's departure as a show regular, Pete appears to have died off for good.
In later episodes, Noir is a down-on-his-luck detective, who ends up taking odd jobs to get by, such as finding missing poodles. Thrown in with these plots tend to be references to current events. For example, in November 2006, while waiting for a case, Noir contents himself by listening to parts of George W. Bush's post-mid-term election speech. Occasionally, political agents use him for hatchet work.
For the portion of A Prairie Home Companion's season that is performed outside of St. Paul, the setting of Noir's case usually involves the city that the program is visiting that week. In the same skit as the George W. Bush reference, Noir is flown to Hawaii to look for a missing Minnesotan. That week, the show was broadcast from Hawaii.
Recurring characters in the skits include: Sugar (Sue Scott), a romantic interest; Jimmy (Tim Russell), a bartender; and Wendell (Tom Keith), the boy who works at the deli around the corner. Wendell's nasally pubescent voice and BLT sandwiches are always there for Noir, though his character is minor.[clarification needed]
Noir often runs into a beautiful, mysterious woman during the skits, part of the play on film noir movies. Jazzy saxophone music is played as Noir describes the beauty, sometimes to the point of absurdity. For example:
- She was tall, blonde, in jeans that looked sprayed on and a T-shirt so tight I could study her bone structure. I could see she wasn't from Duluth. There were no chinstrap marks on her neck, her hair hadn't been deformed by stocking caps, she didn't have that roll of fat around her middle—her midriff was as tight as the cap on a pickle jar.
- She was tall and long-legged and her blonde hair hung down sort of like what Beethoven had in mind when he wrote the Moonlight Sonata. She wore a knit sweater and jeans so tight it looked as if she'd been poured into them and forgot to say "When". When she moved, she seemed to undulate under her clothes in ways that took a man's mind off the state of the economy.
- She was tall and dark and so beautiful you wanted to just give her all your money right away and skip the preliminaries.
Noir is the protagonist of Keillor's book Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny, where he falls in with Naomi Fallopian and her get-rich-quick diet pill scheme. The story has many of the hallmarks of the radio dramas.
In popular culture
Noir is played in the 2006 film A Prairie Home Companion by Kevin Kline. In the film, Guy's detective career is faltering, and he works as a security guard at a radio show to pay the bills. It is strongly implied that he's taken by an angel of death named Asphodel at the end of the movie, though since she's played by Virginia Madsen in a trench coat, this might be considered a relatively upbeat ending by Guy's standards.
The late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone was a known fan of Noir; Noir was his favorite segment. Following his untimely 2002 death in a plane crash, the next APHC opened with a Noir segment, skipping even the show's theme song.