They Might be Giants and Amy Sedaris at Fitzgerald Theater, 6/30/12
Photo by Stacy Schwartz
Wits hosted by John Moe
Featuring Amy Sedaris and They Might Be Giants
Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul
June 30, 2012
For this season's finale, MPR's wildly successful radio show Wits, both a throwback to the radio's golden age and also wholly modern, broadcast live for the first time on Saturday night. The evening's featured guest was writer/actor/seemingly everything Amy Sedaris and the musical guests were proud uber-nerds They Might Be Giants, who are celebrating 30 years as a band this year. The live aspect of this show, coupled with Sedaris's penchant for four-letter words had to be a little worrisome to the MPR brass but everything ran as smoothly as the previous outings.
As always, host John Moe began with a humorous stand-up bit -- this one about baseball and why being a first base coach would be the ultimate job. "You tell the runner 'good job' for making to the bag, take his batting gloves and then remind him to pay attention to the third base coach for the signs -- that it! Your job is then done," Moe humorously observed.
Photo by Stacy Schwartz
Sedaris was introduced just a bit later, and the first thing Moe wanted to talk about (and that a majority of the audience wanted to hear about, most likely) was her cult hit Strangers With Candy, the Comedy Central sitcom about 46-year-old ex-"junkie whore" Jerri Blank who goes back to high school after serving time, that was as brilliant as it was bizarre. They spoke about her wardrobe on the show, which was intentionally, stunningly awful, and Sedaris offered that she told the wardrobe department to "dress me like I own a snake," to uproarious laughter from the audience.
TMBG's first segment followed with "Now You're Even Older", "She Thinks She's Edith's Head" and "The Alphabet of Nations", which singer/guitarist John Flansburgh almost off-handedly noted is "becoming something bigger -- like a show, maybe." Wits was clicking along nicely at this point, was maybe even ahead of schedule, probably owing to the fact that it has been run like a live show (i.e. no breaks between segments) from the beginning, save for the usual intermission which did not occur Saturday.
Sedaris was welcomed onstage again and talked about her book Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People, complete with examples, including a pillowcase on which she had stenciled designs using magic markers. "The marker won't come off on your face, either!" she excitedly noted. There was then a quick, hilarious bit with former MST3K stars Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy suggesting new, recurring characters Moe could use next season, all intentionally terrible.
Next, Sedaris took etiquette questions from the audience and answered them as humorously as possible, the best question: "So, you've stabbed the wrong person. What goes in the gift basket you send them?" With Sedaris answering, "A sewing kit." to laughter so loud the show stopped for a brief moment.
Photo by Stacy Schwartz
Things started wrapping up with TMBG playing another short set that included "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)", after which they and the Wits house band, the Witnesses played parts of Billy Joel's "Piano Man", with Janey Winterbauer singing selected passages while Moe played the role of barkeep, scolding Joel for outing people's problems and not actually singing his own songs, just parroting people's complaints about him not singing.
Lastly, there was the lightning round with Moe suggesting TV show premises, asking Sedaris to do a voice for one of the characters in the show and TMBG playing the theme song. It's supposed to be a competition, but halfway through they staged a mutiny and Sedaris and TMBG teamed up to just make it fun instead of a competition. Flansburgh also feigned disgust at the amount of time it was taking, yelling "How many of these are there?" and, in a bit of quiet mutiny, turned the clock that told the performers how much time was left toward the audience -- there were six minutes.
It wrapped up like all radio shows on MPR, thanking the participants and all who helped make it come alive and then afterward, in a passage that did not make the broadcast, TMBG came back out and closed the night with "Dr. Worm." The live version had made it without significant blunders, no slips of the tongue and it seemed almost everything had gone according to plan. If there were any major errors, they weren't obvious and Wits proved, once again, that they very much deserve to be one of the hottest tickets in town.
Critic's Bias: I've seen nearly every Wits and this one was one of the best. Im not sure if it was the truly live setting or the caliber of guests (though the guests are usually pretty high caliber) but it was enjoyable all the way through and people didn't get antsy without the intermission.
The Crowd: Exactly what you would expect a crowd full of MPR listeners to look like.
Overheard In The Crowd: Nothing of exceptional note, save for the guy about two rows behind me who laughed much louder than anyone else and often snorted. He also laughed at things that weren't necessarily funny. It was a bit grating by the end of the show.
Random Tidbit: In a nod to the live setting, John Flansburgh joked, "This is the part of the song where I usually swear really loudly!" during one of the songs. It was meant for laughs and got them.
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