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Wits-If you slap a group of smart people on stage with no script, will they still make people laugh?

As an avid theater-goer I have spent many an evening in my fold-down padded seat shifting my weight, twirling my hair, and looking at my watch relentlessly as hollow presentations unfold before me on stage. I embark on these bouts of attention deficiency at the theater more often than I would like not because of a lack of great performers, but because the current state of the live entertainment industry is plagued by a drought of good quality writing.

I can only imagine that the folks at Minnesota Public Radio were on my same deviant wave length when they got together to create a new series at the Fitzgerald Theater called Wits. This series is dedicated to looking beyond slapstick into the realm of intelligent humor by bringing smart people to the forefront, rather than so-called “wise-crackers.”

Wits is for a crowd that has long been dissatisfied by the safe, watered-down revivals and remakes that come through year after year who are ready to participate in an intellectual discussion about what it means to be funny while not losing sight of the profound.

The four-part series is hosted by American Public Media radio host and author John Moe with “musical guidance” provided by musician John Munson of The New Standards.

The first installment featured guest Julia Sweeney (visit her blog), author and former Saturday Night Live cast member, giving her two cents on the featured topic: How to sacrifice everything for your ungrateful children. I’d give you my in depth account of what happened at that one, but I wasn’t there.

I did, however, have the fortunate opportunity to attend to the second installment of the series on April 29 featuring special guest George Saunders, comedic author and creative writing professor at Syracuse University. Together Saunders, Munson, and Moe tackled the timely topic: Hard Work and For What?

These three shared their stories about their best and worst jobs, things they hated about them, and whether or not they would do it all over again. Neither the audience or the presenters could have anticipated the topics turning to wind-breaker lust, revenge-seeking key robbers, or monkey excrement tossing, but that’s the beauty of winging it right? As the evening progressed, these comics, along with phone guests Amy Sedaris and Chuck Klosterman, revealed how real life can be the funniest joke of all, it’s all in how you present it.

Surprisingly, more often than not, when asked if these “worst jobs ever” were worth it many replied: definitely.

The series is a conference on comedy or even a seminar on semantics, if you will. Saunders explains how he had to shed his initial impression of what constitutes “real” literature in order to accept the validity of his own comedic style. Holding Hemmingway on a pedestal, Saunders shared how he initially believed that producing good literature had to be a struggle and how it wasn’t until he accepted humor as a valid literary device that he discovered himself to be talented and yes, witty.

Punctuated by musical performances from John Munson and musical guest Mike Doughty as well as story readings by George Saunders, the presentation was an eclectic and fresh piece of smart art in an era pressed for originality and simple charm.

Future installments of Wits will feature Rolling Stone’s Susan Orlean on Dilemmas and The Daily Show’s John Hodgeman on Diversions. I hope to be bringing you more on this intriguing series. Don’t miss it!

Wits is presented by Minnesota Public Radio, a subsidiary of American Public Media, at the Fitzgerald Theater. Susan Orlean: Chickens and Other Dilemmas will take place on May 20, John Hodgeman: An Examination of Diversions, Distractions, and Hey Look at That Thing Over There! Both shows will start at 8 p.m. and will be recorded for broadcast. Tickets can be purchased online through Ticketmaster via the Fitzgerald theater website or at the Fitzgerald Theater box office. 

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