Cheers ding

I No Longer Have My Wits. Literally.

Anyone who has spoken to me for any length of time in the past five years has heard about Wits. A typical sentence from me:“It’s the best thing in the cities, and you should go. Just go.” Becky got me to stop threatening to physically harm them if they didn’t go, but the urge never goes away.

Hell, I’ve written about the show three times on this blog (now 4).

I was a personal Wits booster/fan club. I wanted other people to discover the magic that can happen when you bring together great musicians and comic professionals for an evening. We met our first new couple friends at a Wits show – a supportive and valuable friendship that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

I’ve laughed at Wits. I cried when My Brightest Diamond sang “I Have Never Loved Someone” to close a show. I delighted in learning about new musicians I now follow, like Typhoon:

Wits was one reason I wanted to move to the cities. The show managed to get a steady stream of comedians I admire to make the trek to the Twin Cities when they ordinarily stay on the coasts.  Fargo seemed to get one a year  – Jim Gaffigan, Lewis Black, Patton Oswalt. Which was nuts ’cause man you need comedy to long-term it in Fargo when it’s flooding year after year.

When they announced that they would have a crossover with one of the best written and delivered podcasts of our time “The Thrilling Adventure Hour,” (Co-creator Ben Acker writes skits for Wits regularly) and tossed Weird Al Yankovic and Rhett Miller on top for good measure, I felt like John Moe was messing with me.

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That kind of combination could not, in this reality, exist. It was too much amazing to be contained in one show.

But it did.

And it was glorious!


That was the true value of Wits for me. This show brought in entertainers that don’t often stop here. It introduced me to new music. And by combining the two – something that just isn’t done anywhere else to this degree – they created something new. I think the below two clips show what I mean – they are completely of the moment, allowed to go whereever they might go, with each performer throwing out curveballs and twists. You just don’t see musicians doing this sort of thing.

(Interesting side note, revealed to us by the documentary “Tig” on Netflix – Tig was shooting herself with baby making hormones in her hotel room after the above show at the risk of her cancer returning.)

It wasn’t simply Prairie Home Companion for younger people. See the end of this post for a list of the awesome people Wits brought to St. Paul (though some were at shows created on a few road trips the show took to Austin and L.A.)

At the center, John Moe, a thoroughly genuine guy geeking out on writing skits, essays and quizzes. He always seemed thrilled to come out and see a full Fitzgerald Theater. He reveled in making his guests comfortable and pushing them outside the comfort zone with improvised games. He fought the demons of depression and darkness in a public way. He showed me that it’s OK to keep dreaming and writing and that someday you might be given the chance to create as a full time job that makes people happy. He got new things out of every guest that you wouldn’t have heard elsewhere. He loved being able to do this show.

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The radio show may be done, but there is hope for a version of Wits to still exist sometime in the future. So a full on tribute feels premature. I sincerely hope that this can happen, but know that getting the energy to keep working at something that already grew and didn’t get to keep going is a monumental mental obstacle. I believe John Moe could do it, but hope he finds something as delightful and engaging as the live show where anything can happen. I loved coming up with fake facts to tweet during the show:

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We’ve been sustaining members of MPR for the past 9 years. Even when we were broke as crap, fighting unemployment, fighting life, we kept contributing every month because we believed in what they were doing. We bumped up our contributions every year, but then they fired Barb Abney out of the blue this winter. We reduced our membership for that. Then they fired a bunch of newsroom reporters. Now they cancel Wits. APM and MPR are doing their damndest to make decisions based on corporate-seeming measures rather than fulfilling a public service (In Wits’ case, to expose the MPR audience to new music and arts). Wits was one of those shows that made us feel like welcome members of MPR. We were part of the younger demographic that they wanted to attract to survive. We cancelled our membership this week – not just because of Wits and Barb Abney, but because all these decisions have a secrecy about them that turns me off. Public Radio likes to spend their pledge drives talking about the value and community they create, but when decisions are made without informing the community why, it’s no longer valuable to me.

I’m going to miss Wits. I look forward to John Moe’s next adventure.

Guests of Wits

  1. Cristela Alonzo
  2. Scott Aukerman
  3. Maria Bamford
  4. W. Kamau Bell
  5. Brendan Benson
  6. Sandra Bernhard
  7. Bhi Bhiman
  8. Ryan Bingham
  9. Michael Ian Black
  10. Haley Bonar
  11. Paget Brewster
  12. Hannibal Buress
  13. Busdriver
  14. Brandi Carlile
  15. Neko Case
  16. Rosanne Cash
  17. Margaret Cho
  18. Billy Collins
  19. David Cross
  20. Rob Delaney
  21. Dessa
  22. My Brightest Diamond
  23. Mike Doughty
  24. Open Mike Eagle
  25. Kat Edmonson
  26. Kathleen Edwards
  27. Cary Elwes
  28. Craig Finn
  29. Dave Foley
  30. Jim Gaffigan
  31. Neil Gaiman
  32. Zach Galifianakis
  33. They Might Be Giants
  34. OK Go
  35. Bobcat Goldthwait
  36. Dana Gould
  37. Jean Grae
  38. Colin Hanks
  39. Tim Heidecker
  40. Ed Helms
  41. Dave Hill
  42. Robyn Hitchcock
  43. John Hodgman
  44. Kelly Hogan
  45. Jason Isbell
  46. Mason Jennings
  47. Jimothy
  48. Valerie June
  49. Ellie Kemper
  50. Anna Kendrick
  51. Keegan-Michael Key
  52. Jen Kirkman
  53. Chuck Klosterman
  54. Chris Kluwe
  55. David Koechner
  56. Hari Kondabolu
  57. Ben Lee
  58. Ted Leo
  59. Lissie
  60. Aimee Mann
  61. Marc Maron
  62. Nellie McKay
  63. Tim Meadows
  64. Jeremy Messersmith
  65. Metric
  66. Rhett Miller
  67. Eugene Mirman
  68. Father John Misty
  69. Bob Mould
  70. Kumail Nanjiani
  71. Matt Nathanson
  72. A.C. Newmann
  73. Thao Nguyen
  74. Tig Notaro
  75. Susan Olean
  76. Patton Oswalt
  77. Steven Page
  78. Grant Lee Phillips
  79. Dave Pirner
  80. Paula Poundstone
  81. Danny Pudi
  82. John C. Reilly
  83. Andy Richter
  84. Josh Ritter
  85. Josh Ritter
  86. John Roderick
  87. Carrie Rodriguez
  88. Henry Rollins
  89. Peter Sagal
  90. George Saunders
  91. Adam Savage
  92. Kristin Schaal
  93. Paul Scheer
  94. Amy Sedaris
  95. Will Sheff
  96. Shinyribs
  97. Amanda Shires
  98. Nikki Sixx
  99. Motion City Soundtrack
  100. Eric Stonestreet
  101. Superchunk
  102. Har Mar Superstar
  103. Julia Sweeney
  104. George Takei
  105. Yo La Tengo
  106. Paul F. Tompkins
  107. Aisha Tyler
  108. Typhoon
  109. Martha Wainwright
  110. Rufus Wainwright
  111. Loudon Wainwright III
  112. Sara Watkins
  113. Reggie Watts
  114. Wil Wheaton
  115. Fred Willard
  116. Dan Wilson
  117. Weird Al Yankovic
  118. Steven Yeun


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2 thoughts on “I No Longer Have My Wits. Literally.

  1. I dropped my membership after Abney’s firing. I emailed the board of directors, including Jon McTaggart, asking why they were dropping her. I got such a sanctimonious, corporate-type response from McTaggart–it was crazy. No more support from me. And bless Jade’s heart, I’m sure she’s lovely, but her voice puts me to sleep–not what I need in the post-lunch slump each day.

    1. Yeah, I figure Becky and I can still contribute directly to the podcasts of the shows we listen to – like This American Life – without giving MPR anything.

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