‘Ask Me Another’ Canceled, Ophira Eisenberg Still Plans To Make St. Louis Laugh
Ophira Eisenberg was not immune to the disruption wreaked by the pandemic. It’s not just that the Canada-born comedian has a 5-year-old son, and schools across New York City closed for months on end. (“Nobody told me that I would have to raise my own child,” she jokes.) As host of NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” she had also long depended on live audiences and carefully vetted everyman guests.
Nevertheless, she pivoted. The son was parented. The show went remote. And guests went from people plucked from obscurity to celebrities willing to try their hand at the patented blend of “Ask Me Another” puzzles in exchange for a little promotion of their new projects. She soldiered on.
And then NPR pulled the plug. On June 21, the public radio organization announced “Ask Me Another” will end in September.
Eisenberg said she had little warning. “It was a shock,” she acknowledged. “I was not unaware of the budget issues and that there were going to be some changes based on that. But I didn’t know going into it. I’m shocked, and I’m sad.”
For Eisenberg, the silver lining has been hearing from so many fans of the show, which she has hosted since its 2012 inception.
“The way that people have gotten in touch, whether it’s through social media or what have you, just talking about how I’m their friend — and I feel the same way,” she explained on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “Over the course of the last year I needed to do that show so much. Both Jonathan Coulton and I really depended on that show for our sanity and also … just to find a little bit of levity in this dark time, a little bit of escapism even.
“People just reached out and said how much they felt we took care of them. And I’ve got to say, they took care of me.”
A veteran of New York’s standup scene, Eisenberg said she is working on material for a new album. It was originally set for production in April 2020, but the pandemic disrupted that, too. Now she plans to record in about a month. She’s coming to St. Louis this Friday for two sets at the Gaslight Theater in part to try out some of her new material.
All of her other upcoming dates are on the East Coast. But Eisenberg said she reached out to Yale Hollander, producer of the new Gaslight Comedy Series, because she particularly wanted to come to St. Louis.
“I love St. Louis, and it has been such a welcome place for me to come in the past, whether it was with ‘Ask Me Another’ or the Moth,” she said. After Hollander asked her to do a Zoom show during the pandemic, that positive experience planted a seed. “I thought, ‘I want to see if once things open up again, if this would be a fun thing.’”
She credits St. Louis audiences with particular warmth.
“That is the word that comes to mind, and it is the kind of thing where I just feel like every time I’ve been on a stage there, you just look out into the crowd and you see a bunch of people looking back at you that are excited,” she said. “It’s a readiness to be like, ‘Take me somewhere, let’s go on a journey. Let’s escape together!’ That is what you want. As a performer, that’s the dream.”
As “Ask Me Another” host, she said, her dream guest proved to be Yo-Yo Ma.
“He was such a great interview, and so inspiring,” she said. “Every sentence out of his mouth made me feel like I could do more. But then we had him do a fairly silly game, and he was up for feeling silly and kind of joking around, and I felt so happy that there was a platform to see that other side.”
Eisenberg doesn’t rule out “Ask Me Another” returning somewhere, in some format. “I still exist, Jonathan Coulton still exists, and you know, who knows?” she said.
But right now, she’s ready to make people laugh — live and in person.
“I did an outdoor show recently,” she recalled. “Someone came up to me and said, ‘It has been so long since I have laughed.’ And it really struck me: just this feeling of being able to get there and be around people in a safe way, and feel that feeling of laughing together.”
What: Gaslight Comedy Series: Ophira Eisenberg
When: 7 and 9:30 p.m. July 9
Where: Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave., St. Louis 63018
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.