Homegrown Humor: The Hilarious and Melodious World of Wits

There is nothing really quite like this radio show. Wits is part comedy radio, part variety show, and each installment provides new surprises.

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Since 2010, the Minnesota Public Radio show has been one of the most unique, entertaining and diverse shows on radio, hosting some of the very best comedians, actors, and musicians from all over the world. The results are always different, but always fun listen to (or watch).

“The key to our show is keeping it human,” says John Moe, who has served as host of the program since it’s inception. “We don’t do market research on who we bring in. We look for the comedians we think we’d like to be around and the musicians that we love. I like to say that it’s a big party, and I get to be in charge of running the entertainment.”

Now in the middle of it’s fall season, the show has managed to attract a variable who’s who of comedy’s A-List, including this season’s guests Weird Al Yankovic, Maria Bamford, and Keegan-Michael Key, amongst others.

“You don’t have to explain it in comedy circles,” says Moe. “A few months ago Kumail Nanjiani came on and said, ‘I’m the last one of my friends to do this show.’ We make it a point to treat our guests very well, and a lot of times they’ll turn around and call their friends to tell them how much they enjoyed being a part of it.”

This word-of-mouth praise for the show has allowed Moe and company to run outside of their home base at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.

“We recently did a show in Portland that was a very fun and very important show for us,” he says. “We weren’t sure if the audience was really going to know how it’s supposed to work outside of Minnesota, but they knew exactly what to do because they listen to the show and take those cues from the Twin Cities audience. Honestly, there really isn’t any other place we could have started this. The arts scene is so rich here and the people like geeking out over being a part of something, which is part of what makes the show so special.”

This season will also see the show expand locally, with performances at the College of Saint Benedict in Collegeville, MN, and a trip to the other side of the river with a performance at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

“Anecdotally, I’ve heard there are people from Minneapolis who want to see the show but aren’t willing to make the trip to St. Paul,” Moe laughs. “So we’ll bring our show to them.”

Beyond the top-notch comedy talent, the show also does a tremendous job of bringing in a eclectic mix of musical talent, many of who may be brand new to the Wits audience. This season’s guests include indie pop rockers OK Go, local favorite Jeremy Messersmith, and Sri Lankan-American folk artist Bhi Bhiman.

“Bhi Bhiman is someone that the audience is probably not familiar with, but he has an incredible voice,” Moe says. “By having him on the same show as Keegan-Michael Key, who is one of the most important people in comedy and pop culture as a whole right now, we’re able to expose people to this amazing talent they may not have heard of otherwise.”

While Wits continues to grow in popularity across the country, Moe says that he sees the show staying true to its Twin Cities roots for the foreseeable future.

“We love the audience and we love being here. It’s our home,” he says. “We have interest from other markets that carry Wits to bring a live show there, like Phoenix that just picked us up. I think we’ll go do those performances here and there, but in terms of a full-scale rock band tour, I don’t see that happening.”

After five years and over 100 guests, Moe says that he still has a wish list of potential guests he hopes to have sitting across from him onstage.

“Bill Murray and Tom Waits. That’s my dream show,” he says. “I know that would be a complete disaster. It would be disruptive but it would be so exciting”

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.

 
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