Wits stage

How A Wits Show Can Make It All Worth Fighting For

Last week Becky and I went to Wits, a public radio comedy and music variety show  that I first learned about when we were starting to really try to escape Fargo. They had a season right before we moved with some of my favorite comedians and even Neil Gaiman, an extraordinary writer of pretty much every medium.

That’s how living in Fargo is though. You hear about all these things going on in the cities and are powerless to go. Then you move to the cities, can’t find a job, and are still powerless to go.

I was in month 6 or 7 of unemployment in 2012, working a couple temp jobs that were at least bringing in a little money though not enough to live on. The house back in Fargo was in pre-foreclosure. I was looking into bankruptcy at the time, feeling pretty damn low. Then the new Wits season was announced.

Yet again, we were going to have to skip one of the few things we escaped Fargo to do – have any sort of enjoyment out of life in the cities.

And to top it off, one of the guests was a personal hero – Paul F. Tompkins. I’d been listening to his appearances on podcasts for about two years at the time.

Becky saw the pain deep underneath the desire to go to this event. This wasn’t about getting to go to a show, but to have something in life to look forward to – to literally have something to live for. She knew I was at my end, and took it upon herself to get us tickets. We didn’t even know how we were going to pay for rent at the end of May. I had to take a leap and let her do it – despite all logic saying it was foolish (and more logic saying what the hell, you are broke anyway, might as well do one more thing fun before life sucks you down for good).

As the show approached, miracles happened.

The house sold (short sale, I made enough to pay for gas to get back home from the signing).

I got a job that started the week of the show.

So suddenly, wonderfully, we were no longer looking down the barrel of impending homelessness (except in the good way where I sold the home that was weighing us down). Suddenly, this event was a celebration.

Paul F. Tompkins and Aimee Mann were phenomenal. John Moe was delightful. John Munson and the Witnesses were magical. Neil Gaiman appeared out of nowhere. Emus attacked.

It was a wonderful night, and when Paul announced he had a standup show the next day, Becky turned to me and said, “Did you know about it?”

Me: Yes, but I didn’t think we could.

Her: You got a job. We’re doing this if it means nothing for the next week.

(See why I love her and she’s the best ever amen?)

I saw Paul F. Tompkins for the first time doing stand-up. It was amazeballs. Lots of focus on his relationship with his wife, which as a newlywed, I loved. Then he announced that he would be selling DVDs and such after the show. Becky turned to me and said “Go.”

Paul F Tompkins and me

He was lovely and polite and I hope I was the same. I was shaking as we left the theater.

We have been to other Wits shows since then – for guests like Patton Oswalt and Tig Notaro. We fell in love with the music of Kathleen Edwards and Ben Lee. Becky made me get a smartphone partly because I could tweet from the show, which is encouraged at Wits. We are in the Wits social club.

One week ago we saw our first of three shows we’ll be going to this fall, again with Paul F. Tompkins. We had a Groupon for sushi at Fuji Ya, where they make sushi that sings (seriously, I’m usually pretty blasé about sushi and can’t tell the difference between bites, but this place had some smack-you-in-the-mouth-no-shit goodness).

Once again, the theater was electric. We were in the third row, and got to see Paul, John, and Yo La Tengo do their respective things. We saw a guy rock out playing a piano with his butt. We watched Paul dramatically read one star Amazon reviews of classic literature like Moby Dick and To Kill A Mockingbird. We heal a bit more every time we can go to something like this.


Paul and John on Wits
Paul F. Tompkins and John Moe chat it up.
cruise ship
Janie Hadad Tompkins, Ira Kaplan, Paul F. Tompkins and John Moe perform a skit.
Yo La Tengo
Yo La Tengo play some amazing, touching and rocking songs.

Wits has been an integral part of our assimilation into the Cities. We tell everyone we know about it, but don’t think we have convinced anyone to check it out – even the podcast.

I don’t know much about the genesis of the show beyond the fact that it was created by John Moe, an MPR personality that quit his news reporting gig once Wits was enough off the ground to allow it. He’s like Garrison Keillor in that he writes and performs in the show (with the writing help of some of my favorites as well). It’s an obvious pursuit of a lifelong dream – and I fully support any such ventures as long as they are legal. He continues to work to expand the show – both in quantity and reach. Support it if you can. Listen to it on your iPod, and I bet you’ll have a good time.

It’s quite a difference a year and a half makes. We’re still slowly inching our way out of the jobless abyss, including actually saving toward a new (to us) car and having a whole $250 in savings for the first time since about ever.

Without much worry about the future, we will be able to go to see another podcast hero – Scott Aukerman, as well as Eugene Mirman, Kathleen Edwards, and Jim Gaffigan – in the coming month. Maybe we’ll see you there.

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