Fred Willard and Dan Wilson match "Wits"

Photos courtesy Steven Cohen

Any self-respecting party boasts good drinks, a welcoming host, party games, music and jokes so clever they’re worth Tweeting about. Wits, the performance series and radio show from Minnesota Public Radio, has it all.

The April 27 performance brought comic legend Fred Willard and Minnesota’s own indie rock star Dan Wilson to the Fitzgerald Theater. Willard, of mockumentary fame (This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show), was delightfully candid as he reminisced over a long career on screen—sharing stories about turning down the lead role in Airplane! and his relationship with comedians Eugene Levy and Christopher Guest. Host John Moe guided Willard and color commentators Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy through skits like “Romney VP Search” and “Superheroes that didn’t make the new Avengers movie.” The quips were timely and chuckle-worthy, landing somewhere between The Daily Show and A Prairie Home Companion, only without the sound effects. Wits could have benefited from a good foley artist. Without the sound effects, zombie Ronald Reagan tearing through a wall was a gimmick that fell flat.

A more successful sketch pitted Wilson and Willard against each other to devise the best commercial, with Willard improvising the pitch and Wilson creating the jingle. With fictional products like Diet Socks and the Sponge Toupée, Willard had the audience in stiches. Wilson’s jingles were the kind that you find yourself humming while washing the dishes. I’ll be singing “Gravy Missile” for days.

It’s hard to believe that nerdy kid from Semisonic has grown into the distinguished singer-songwriter-producer Dan Wilson. Wilson showcased his decades-long career, playing songs from his Trip Shakespeare days and previewing new solo songs. Paying homage to his Minneapolis roots, Wilson broke out “Closing Time” to a standing ovation and audience sing-along. Maybe it was the free 2Gingers Whiskey samples that brought everyone together, or maybe it was just the Minnesota way of welcoming this local boy home.

All great parties flow in a cycle—from awkward and anticipant to a rip-roaring good time. As the festivities die down, that sweet melancholy arrives when you don’t want to leave, but know the fun has to end soon. Just as those feelings settled in the Fitzgerald, Wilson came back for one last song: a cover of the hit single he co-wrote with Adele, “Someone Like You.” The popular tune sounded even lonelier when Wilson sang it. Perhaps we’ve heard Adele’s soul-wrenching version so often that we’ve forgotten that the feelings in the song are real. It was a sobering end to an evening of belly laughs, but the kind that makes you cuddle a bit closer to your loved ones and ask for tickets to the next Wits performance.

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Coverage of issues and events affecting Central Corridor communities is funded in part by a grant from the Central Corridor Collaborative.

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Cristeta Boarini's picture
Cristeta Boarini

Cristeta Boarini (CNBoarini [at] gmail [dot] com) is a freelance journalist based out of Minneapolis.