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Wits with Henry Rollins and Lissie at the Fitzgerald Theater

15 Jan


By: Connor McDaniel

(Editor’s note: Staciaann forgot to hit “post,”  so her apologies to Connor for this being up so late)

While going to high school, did your teachers ever try to put on a little show at a pep rally in some vain attempt to “relate” to the students?  Has one of your mildly humorous friends ever put together a “breaking edge internet comedy show?”  Have you ever listened to one of NPR’s comedy offerings that was actually scripted?  This year’s last Wits show, featuring Henry Rollins and Lissie, seemed to be a culmination of these things, bringing together known faces with absolutely no chemistry, attempting to squeeze a few topical punch lines out of them between two to three minutes of actual interesting unscripted material.

Wits bills itself as “one of the rare public radio shows that is actually funny,” when the irony is that it’s anything but that. With Wits, you rarely get to see the off the cuff comedy of a variety of NPR’s better offerings, but instead are subjected to what I’d assume most people find to be the trappings of poor public radio comedy.

The show began with John Moe, the host of the show, performing stand up, which was entertaining enough, but the next segment, in which puns and 4th grade observational humor was employed referencing current movies and their titles, made it clear what was to come.  The following scripted segments followed in suit, such as a bit (which didn’t make it to air) where a woman playing a stagehand worker interrupted the show to make such jokes as “poop stinks” (note: I’m paraphrasing) and “I have a funny accent,” to a bit that offered a dating service for female artists that wanted to experience a breakup so they could have Grammy winning albums.  The worst offender would have to be a bit called “pop song correspondences,” in which Moe makes a conversation out of classic rock songs which the artist of the show plays live.  This bit essentially breaks down to Moe saying things that make the lyrics, in context, seem contradictory in a distressed and exasperated voice, and eventually devolves into him just listing the names of singles by the artist, as if that alone is somehow a joke.  One last thing I should mention is the guest appearances by Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett, and Chris “Warcraft” Kluwe (all of which seemed to have been shoehorned in at the last minute).

This wasn’t helped by Lissie’s performance.  Playing about four original songs, her performances took up a bit less than half of the show.  Her performance was not poor by any means, but her songs were just standard fare “folk rock.”  At the very least, you could call this a poor pairing, putting a vocalist for one of the most revolutionary bands of all time next to a singer-songwriter that regularly has her music featured in such dredge as “the O.C.,” “Mob Wives,” and “Basketball Wives;” who played with Lenny Kravitz; who covers Kid Cudi and Lady GaGa songs; and who has done four (not one but FOUR) songs with Snow Patrol.  If anything this was a wasted opportunity to actually get some rock music at Wits.

If there was one shining star of the show, it would was clearly Rollins.  His short actual spoken word performance was stellar, as was the short interview held with him. Not only that, but he actually gave quite impressive deliveries of his lines during scripted segments. The best part of the show could be attributed singlehandedly to Rollins, where in the final segment of the show, a game in which Rollins was to craft a band history based on a random name alone and Lissie had to perform a song matching Rollins’ description, he came up with mind-boggling concepts that most couldn’t imagine in their wildest dream. Not only were these unscripted ideas hilariously detailed and clever, but were so absurd that Lissie barely managed to come close to matching them.  If there’s any part of this show worth going back and listening to, it’s this segment.

That being said, Rollins seemed as enthused as I was when it came to just about every aspect of the show that did not include himself. During bits which did not include him, and a few scripted bits that did, his stare bore holes into the floor, only looking up or sardonically laughing once every few minutes. This awkwardness cumulated with the “end” of the show (which again, didn’t make it to air) where Moe asked the audience to stand and sing along using projected lyrics. The song in question? John Mellencamp’s “Jack & Diane.”  This was just sad, and the point at which I left the show.  It was not the sort of train wreck that you couldn’t look away from, but the aftermath, corpses scattered about.

Another interesting element in this show I noted was the break in the middle. Everyone fired up their smartphones as an application was projected on the theater’s stage wall that displayed tweets featuring the hashtag #wits. At the same time well-known local DJ Barb Abney began playing songs.  These ranged from god awful Paula Abdul hits to some Guns ‘n Roses (“Welcome to the Jungle,” naturally).  I think the reaction to these cheese-fests really summed up the audience: middle class mid-30 somethings getting up and “dancing ironically” in their seats to awful late 80s pop while “tweeting ironically” about how much they loved MC Skat Kat. (Editor’s Note: Connor just basically described me… and it’s true.)

Now, this was not a particularly awful show, but just a disappointingly poorly designed one.  None of the scripted bits other than one had any actual relevance to the guests of the show, the guests themselves did not have any particular chemistry, and the guests, particularly Rollins, were underutilized as a whole.  Outside of the unscripted segments they could’ve literally gotten anyone to do the same sketches and it would’ve been not for better or worse.  Hopefully in the future this will change, allowing the Wits to live up to its claims.

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