No one really knows how John Moe's brain works. But it's pretty fun to watch.
The Wits host has gained a passionate national following thanks to his unique sense of humor, seemingly endless supply of pop-culture trivia, and his quick, um, wit.
This week, Moe's first book, Dear Luke, We Need to Talk. Darth., hit shelves, packed with essays and pop-culture correspondences that include an oral history of the Pac-Man ghosts, a court-ordered letter from Dora the Explorer's mother, and of course Darth Vader's unsent letters to Luke Skywalker (hence the title of the book). In addition to his big literary release, this Friday Moe will host the season finale of Wits at the Fitzgerald Theater, which will also be the show's 50th installment.
We managed to steal a few minutes from his busy schedule this week to talk about his new book, his favorite and least favorite Wits guests, and boat explosions.
About three years ago I started collecting ideas and seeing if there was enough there for a book. I had done "Pop Song Correspondences" for McSweeney's and Wits, so I had some ideas, but then there was probably a good year of writing and editing that went into the final version.
The book covers so many hilarious premises. Are there any that stand out as your favorites?
Some of the entries that are closest to my heart are the ones that deal with children's entertainment. I have children, so this is my way of gaining revenge. For example, I have an entry that's the diary of the man with the yellow hat from Curious George. He doesn't have a name, he doesn't have a job, and he's just leaving his monkey wherever he wants to go run errands. What is that? Some of the other topics color more outside of the lines than others, which I think allows for a little more profound humor in certain ideas.
Are there any essays that you didn't include?
There were a few that I liked that just didn't come together. The premise was great, but then they just didn't execute. There was one I really liked where Andy Warhol's paintings were all just tryouts for him to work for Campbell's Soup. I had letters from Andy, and then there were letters from the factory, and then the next thing I knew it was a commentary on the 1960s art scene, and after a while you just think, "Where was this going again?"
This week you came up with a pretty interesting idea on Twitter, inviting people to use the phrase "boat explosion" when reviewing your book on Amazon. Where did that come from?
I remember years ago I was reading one of the Nancy Drew books to my daughter, and it mentions that one girl is an orphan because her parents died in a boat explosion, and then they never talk about it ever again. Like that's something that happens to lots of people. They just die in boat explosions and no one asks any follow-up questions. So when I brought up the idea of using a code word or a phrase in the Amazon reviews as a way for my Twitter followers and I to sort of wink to one another, that premise came back to me, and I encouraged people to use it.
To me, Twitter is just one big weird experiment, and there's this need people have to be retweeted. I personally don't really get it, but I figured if that's what people wanted then I'd offer to retweet anyone who would use the term "boat explosion" in their Amazon review, or take a picture of them eating my book. And it's kind of taken off.
Changing subjects, this Friday is the 50th installment of Wits. Has it felt like you've done 50 episodes?
Yes. Don't get me wrong; it's been great doing 50 episodes, but the end of each one of these is sort of like the end of a major event. There's so much planning and work that goes into each one.
Do you have an all-time favorite Wits guest?
I think if you look at who we've had on the show repeatedly, you can tell who some of our favorites have been. Paul F. Tompkins, Maria Bamford, Kristen Schaal; they've all been on the show several times and are three of the funniest people walking the Earth. We also have plenty of guests who were on once and were great but haven't been able to come back for whatever reason. The thing I've found is that deeply funny people also tend to be really nice, which is something you need for our show.
Do you have any least favorite guests?
I don't know that there is anyone who I'd say, "Never darken my doorway again!" or anything like that, but we've had a few guests who just didn't quite fit the format of the show. Maybe they didn't quite trust that it's a safe place and they can just go nuts, but for whatever reason they just didn't work the way we thought they would.
Do you have a dream guest for the show?
If you walk into my office, you'll see Post-Its everywhere with names of people we'd love to get. Some people we'll invite to the show, just to know that we did it. We call those pennies down the well, because we're just wishing for them to come true. For me, Tom Waits would be my dream guest. I do a recurring bit on the show where I play Tom Waits, and it's become pretty popular. The thing is I come from a family where we were all constantly making fun of each other all the time. That's why anytime you hear me make fun of someone on the show, it's probably someone I love to have taken that much interest in them.
Last question: If you were in charge of writing the story for the new Star Wars movie, what would it look like?
I think we need to counteract the three movies that we like to pretend never happened (Episodes 1-3). I think this movie should just be constant chases, lasers, and fighting. If the characters want to yell out monologues to describe their conflicts while they fight, that's fine, just so long as they keep fighting. Constant fighting. I don't even care whose fighting; it can be two babies hitting each other for all I care. Just lots of fighting. And boat explosions.
IF YOU GO:
Wits w/Kumail Nanjiani & Valerie June
Friday, June 20, 8 p.m.
Tickets are still available. To find out more about Wits and purchase tickets, or check out the Wits podcast, visit witsradio.org.
You can hear Wits every week on MPR News, Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m., and 89.3 the Current, Sunday nights at 9 p.m. This episode will air June 28 & 29.