Keeping ‘Wits’ about us

I’m late to the party, but I caught the recent buzz over Minnesota Public Radio’s third-year, limited run show “Wits” and finally took in an episode of the comedy variety show. Hosted by veteran public radio anchor and all-around witty guy John Moe the program’s June 30 episode was an enjoyable listen with some hilarious moments.

My favorite was this sketch featuring Moe, Amy Sedaris and show writers Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” fame, a “Mad Men” spoof that plays on language and cliches.

Naturally, I can’t think about a thing like this without wondering how it affects me. This is an affliction I have (no sympathy expected or requested). I wanted very much to dislike “Wits” because news that MPR/American Public Media is developing its next national variety show in-house means that my Great Northern Radio Show is unlikely to advance beyond status as an independent outsider. Besides, Garrison Keillor and his A Prairie Home Companion show no sign of slowing down. Keillor will likely host the show for years more. But in listening and laughing at Wits I also realized our programs strengths and possibilities as well.

Wits is the perfect kind of show for the hipper, educated millennial/Gen X set most likely to fuel NPR’s future. Our Great Northern Show has something to offer that same demographic, but remains tied to place. We love Minnesota. We deeply understand northern Minnesota. We are interested in the outside world, too, and may go there with the show, but only if we get to tell stories about place. We make fun of our human weaknesses, but only with love for the place and the people whose shoulders we stand on. We would love to have celebrity guests sometime, but I rather like turning our stage over to extraordinary local young talents that might well become celebrities in their own right someday.

We are a painfully earnest smart-ass show, which is a way of saying that I am a painfully earnest smart-ass. Sorry about that.

So congratulations to “Wits,” a show I certainly aim to listen to from now on. If you like “Prairie Home” or “Wits,” you might like the new season of the Great Northern Radio Show, which kicks off Oct. 20 live from the Boardman Theater at Eveleth-Gilbert High School on 91.7 KAXE and rebroadcasts later on independent public stations around the state.

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