CAPE ELIZABETH — John McDonald is a humorist, storyteller and author.
He is not an historian.
“The best part about being a storyteller is you’re not judged by the same factual standards as an historian,” he said.
So when the Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society hosts McDonald at Thomas Memorial Library on Jan. 6 at 7 p.m. for a free reading and performance, there may be some embellishing, or even outright fabricating.
But McDonald will also shed some light on what it means to be a Mainer, as he has done in a variety of mediums for over 20 years.
On Monday, McDonald will spin stories and read selections from his books “A Moose and a Lobster Walk into a Bar,” “Down the Road a Piece: A Storyteller’s Guide to Maine,” and his most recent work, 2012’s “Maine Trivia: A Storyteller’s Useful Guide to Useless Information.” All are published by Islandport Press of Yarmouth.
“As someone who does a talk show and writes columns and does a lot of public speaking, I have a lot of uses for seemingly useless information,” McDonald said of “Maine Trivia,” which was inspired in part by another local trivia book written in 1998 by the late journalist (and Forecaster columnist) John Cole. “But if you can use it, it’s not useless. Though it seems useless for some people.”
Maine humor – exemplified, perhaps, by the “Bert and I” stories and comedy albums – is often called dry, and McDonald’s brand is no different. He, however, sees the crux of the style as the tension between country and city.
“I don’t know whether this is corny, but I used to describe it as the country mouse and the city mouse,” he said. “Because Maine has always been known as a rural state. And you get lines like, the tourist saying to the old Mainer, ‘Have you lived here all your life?’ And he says, ‘Not yet.’ That kind of thing. And in good Maine stories, the Mainer always sort of comes out on top.”
A native of Rhode Island, McDonald grew up summering in Tenants Harbor and Port Clyde and was entranced by the storytelling of the local “old timers.” He moved to Maine more than 40 years ago and reported for the Bangor Daily News and Portland Press Herald in the 1970s and ’80s, before becoming a newspaper columnist and full-time raconteur. He has hosted a weekend radio show on WGAN since 1991 (he calls Garrison Keillor “the Michelangelo of radio”), and performs at festivals, corporate events and private gatherings across the state.
“I have literally performed from Kittery to Fort Kent, and from Rockport to Rangeley,” McDonald said. “And I like that alliteration.”
McDonald, 69, is working on a new book, due for publication in 2015, and said he has no intention to slow down.
“People say, ‘John, a guy your age should be thinking about retirement,'” he said. “What am I going to retire from? I love everything I’m doing. I say, ‘Look, when the hearse pulls up in front of the house, I’ll take that as the first hint.'”