Yeee-ikes! That about sums up the vibe at MPR's "Wits" Thursday at the Fitzgerald Theater.
Featuring "Comedy Bang Bang" TV/podcast host Scott Aukerman - one of the sharpest minds in comedy - and knockout standup Eugene Mirman alongside Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards, the lineup offered a potent cocktail of personalities for the syndicated public radio show.
Problem was, Aukerman wasn't willing to play nice with the sometimes groan-worthy, wink-wink nudge-nudge Midwestern quirk of "Wits." Aukerman is no stranger to the surreal/weird interview; he helped mastermind the "Between Two Ferns" web series with Zach Galifianakis and "CBB," both the hilarious podcast and IFC show. Sensibility-wise, he toys with the very construct of interview shows. It was unclear whether Aukerman was utilizing that device or just plain bored with John Moe's questions at "Wits."
Hey Scott, how's the TV show different than the podcast?
"Buying cameras was half the battle," replied the seemingly disinterested Aukerman.
So on, so forth.
Moe didn't fare much better with Edwards, who pleaded "Can we talk about something else?" when asked about her song "Chameleon," an unflattering track inspired by comedian Rainn Wilson.
"Are you guys talking in metaphors?," asked Aukerman, as Moe and Edwards clumsily attempted to parse the topic. The weirdness was palpable in the two-thirds full Fitz.
"I just gave [Wilson] a handjob once," Edwards blurted, cueing an awkward silence that broke when Aukerman offered, "I met his wife once." And then more awkward silence. Public radio, folks!
The rest of the night was fleshed out by oh-so-NPR-y literary pizza parlor skits, some sharp hyper-literal sketches on Eagles tunes, a nice send-up of Aaron Sorkin's TV style and some comic strip philosophizing. Aukerman's wife, comic/writer Kulap Vilaysack, a former Minnesotan, popped in for a couple skits. Mirman got to test out a five-minute standup set; the "Bob's Burgers" star proved a spark-plug delight throughout.
Edwards, who provided witty banter and strong musical performances, was knocked out of her element after Mirman dropped her vintage guitar ("It's from 1958," she grimaced, to which Aukerman chirped, "Oh! So it's an old guitar!") Her covers of "All Apologies" by Nirvana and "Helpless" by Neil Young were gorgeous, although Moe coaxing the audience to sing the "Helpless/helpless/helpless" chorus poetically summed up the evening.
During the concluding lightning Q&A round, Aukerman answered "holes from a baby penis" to one question, which capped a night of tense energy that actually made for an engrossing installment of "Wits." It'll be curious - and fun! - to see how the sailor-mouthed Edwards and difficult "CBB" host translate on the radio version.
"Wits" is broadcast every week 8 p.m. Sat. on MPR News and 9 p.m. Sun. on the Current. Click here for tickets and more info.