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Wait, wait! Don’t tell me!

Don’t read this if you haven’t heard the episode of Wait, Wait … Don’t tell me! taped on May 26th. I was there at the taping, and I’m gonna spoil you! Wait, Wait … Don’t tell me! is NPR’s weekly hour-long quiz program. Each week on the radio you can test your knowledge against some of the best and brightest in the news and entertainment world while figuring out what’s real news and what’s made up.

I’m a total, total news geek these days. If I don’t read CNN, MSNBC and Google News every day, and listen to NPR, I’m not feeling well or it’s Saturday. Still, when planning for my birthday, I said to myself “Self, we should see Wait, wait … don’t tell me!

See, Wait Wait has been on the air since January 1998, about 6 months after I moved to Chicago, and I’ve been a fan from the beginning. My dad and I would listen to it as we cleaned the apartment Saturdays. When I moved out I still made a point to listen to it, even today. Sometimes I listen to it Sunday at 9pm, but the point is, I never miss it.

Starting May 19th, Wait Wait has been taping live in the Bank One Auditorium at 10 S Dearborn, and we went last night. It was deliciously worth it. It was as fucking cool as I thought it would be, it was even funnier in person, and we got to go up and meet the panelists.

History note: Dan Coffey, perhaps best known to NPR listeners as “Dr. Science,” was the original host of Wait Wait. Keep this in mind, I’ll come back to it later.

So we get there at 6:45pm, when they let you in at about 7:00pm and the show starts around 7:30pm. This was barely early enough. We got there and went down the stairs and there was a long line. People had been there since getting off work at 5:30! Next time we should get there by 6:30ish. Luckily, I struck up a conversation with a nice lady from the NPR volunteer staff and she pointed out there were two doors, so we got in line behind a nice woman visiting from out of town and the blind woman. They took the blind woman in at 7:20 or so, and we all filed in at 7:35. Before this, though, we asked if where you sit mattered, and the NPR woman said “No, all the seats are good. And I’m not just saying that cause I don’t want a riot.” Then she whispered, “But if you want to see their facial expressions? Sit up front.”

The front row was reserved for people who donate the big bucks to NPR, and family of the staff. I’m okay with that, really. We got second row, and two short people sat in front of us, so we could see just fine. They played muzak and we all chatted around, introducing ourselves. The out-of-towner had only heard the show once, and had wanted to come with her girlfriend. We passed the lesbian handshake and became friends.

After a while, the show started. It was starting late and I knew that my guess of ‘Oh a one hour radio show? Taping should be done by 9:30.’ was entirely correct (in truth, we finished at 9:42, counting retakes, so go me!). Finally, Peter Sagal walked out and did a little patter. He was in a nice suit (as he said later ‘to throw you a bone.’ since we paid $20 to go see him), and explained what the show was doing.

My first thought, when looking at Peter, was that he looked like Peter Scollari meets Robert Picardo, done up in a dead-pan perfect sarcastic Jew-boy way. The sad thing is that I know what he looks like, and I’ve seen him on TV and in pictures. In my head, he was scrawnier and … well, he was rather cute. His sense of humor is affectless and charming, if you’re into snide comments. Very underplayed and just like what I love.

Peter announced that they would be doing Wait Wait live from now until they died, which was news, since originally they said May through August. No doubt they announced this when I was watching CNN instead of listening to NPR on Thursday. We all cheered and Peter also said that instead of calling in, Carl Kasell would be flying out every Thursday for taping! Carl works in DC, and when he came out, he said that yes, every Thursday, he’d be keeping his miles, thanks, and sometimes he’d stay for the weekend. Peter joked that we’d start to claim him as a Chicagoan, as we tended to do that for anyone who had so much as a layover at O’Hare.

Then Peter said that what would happen is they’d do the show straight through and then take a break to figure out if they needed to retake anything. During the break, they’d take our questions. Bitching! I was blank on a question, until I remembered that I’d always wanted to know the weirdest phone message Carl ever had to leave. The thing was, though, Peter said ‘In case we fuck up.’ I roared. They never swear on NPR and Peter, with this impish smirk said “I can say that because we’re not on the air yet.”

The panelists came out, and Peter introduced them. Charlie Pierce (older than I thought, but he’s got a nice young, virile voice so I always assumed he was 30ish, he’s also as boisterous as he sounds), Roxanne Roberts (my favorite panelist, just as sexy as she sounds and prettier than I’d thought, she’s also as ‘cute’ as I thought, since when she screwed up (more later) she blushed and hide her face) and Richard Roper (who is exactly the same as he is on any radio or TV show I’ve seen him on). Peter screwed up and called Roxanne ‘Roxanne Rodgers’ which … Funny, so did I in the waiting area. He claimed that he knew a Roxanne Rodgers and was forever in a panic about getting them mixed up. I think that the name sounds cool and I’m all about the cool.

I should note here, which is as good a place as any, that Carl is a consummate professional. He’s calm, collected, never looks bored, and hits his mark every fucking time. I thought he was jet lagged or tired, but I think he’s just an introvert and a self-collected fellow. He didn’t do anything ‘extra’ (like milk a joke) while on the air, and when being asked questions off-air, was respectful and kind. In a weird way, that was a let down.

We were told that the Not My Job guest was Maura Tierney (yay! Newsradio! … oh, and ER), and she’d call in half-way through.

The show started, Carl and Peter did their intro and they started asking questions. They didn’t tell us, but I figured out that the contestant/listeners were called on the spot to answer. I’ve tried a hundred times to get on the show, and never pulled it off. I was called back once, in 1998 or 1999 (I think 1999, since I was sitting at my second desk at work) but they did live taping in the afternoons on Thursday or Fridays, and I worked. Damn it all. Now that they do it at night, I have a chance!

I’m not going to tell you what the show talked about, so that if you’re a spoiler whore and read this before you hear the show, you’ll have some surprises. The things that stood out most, I don’t think will make the show.

During the listener challenge “Who’s Carl This Time?” (part one, they did it twice), Roxanne tried to give a hint about who the person was, and she said “He has a moustache, you know, like Yosemite.” Only she pronounced it “Yo-seh-MITE” instead of “Yo-SEM-it-tee” and we all roared. Richard Roper turned to look at her with a “What the FUCK!?” expression and she repeated it. Then Charlie said, correctly, “Yosemite Sam? Yes, with his friend, Boogs Boon-eye.” The audience roared again. The answer? John Bolton, whom I’ve started calling a ‘No talent ass-clown’ in homage of Office Space. By the way, Strom Thurmond once tackled someone to prevent a vote from taking place, and both men were 61 years old. I would have paid to see that.

In the second “Who’s Carl This Time?”, Carl did a Tom Cruise and jumped up and down and such, mimicking, well, Tom Cruise on Oprah. The contestant was a Dairy Farmer and didn’t know who the hell it was, but when Richard said ‘It’s a mission impossible’ the guy caught on. After he rang off, everyone told stories about Tom Cruise. Charlie said that he’d bumped into Tom at a bar, and Tom said he’d forgotten his wallet, so Charlie bought Tom a beer. Tom still owes him one. Roxanne told us about how, right after Days of Thunder came out, she met Tom at an Earth Day thing, and Tom was in a suit and platform shoes, while everyone else was, well, in Earth Day clothes. She asked him about the suit and he snarked ‘I’m the host.’ After that, she asked him about why he was doing Earth Day after filming the race car movie, and it all went downhill. Peter told us that Tom’s new publicist was his sister, and speculated that the sister had told Tom to do this, as payback. Richard was weirdly quiet about it, but I got the impression he wasn’t impressed by Tom Cruise at all.

We were waiting for Maura to get connected, and as we were off the air, everyone tried to get Richard to say what he really thought, but nothing doing. Finally, after a few dropped calls, we got her on the line and everyone cheered. Weirdly enough, when her name was announced at the beginning, I was the only one to cheer. Now everyone did. Sheep.

Maura didn’t sound like she did on TV, but she was pretty funny. She sounded way tired and only got one answer right. As Peter interviewed her before the questions, he mentioned her father was a politician in Boston, and asked if Maura had ever considered following his footsteps. There was a weird pause and then she said no, and they moved on. Once she hung up, Charlie asked ‘Is Maura still on the line? No, okay.’ Then he told Peter (and us) that Daddy Tierney ended his political career as a guest in a state run guest facility, and he’d been trying to wave Peter off that question. Whoops!

The fireman who played “Bluff the listener” made a joke about how to get a camel off a woman, and suggested using a ‘Camel Tow’.

The last question of the show was to Charlie, and was for “Lightning Fill in the Blank.” Charlie was asked about an unusual thief in Springfield, Il. He muffed the question, and Peter told us the truth. Darth Vader robbed a theater. A fellow, dressed up as Vader, forced his way into the box office, pushed aside a ticket attendant and grabbed the cash straight out of the till before running off. If that wasn’t enough, he did it when there were crowds of Star Wars fans in the area, to see Sith of course, and ran into the crowd where there were dozens of other Vaders. And the cops couldn’t figure out who it was by listening for someone breathing hard, because everyone was doing the Vader breathing. Brilliant!

Then we all hooted and hollered and the lights came up and it was over. An amazing night and it wasn’t over yet!

Peter looked distracted, as the people in the booth started talking to him. We could only hear his reply, and it was kind of funny. Ipstenit cracked ‘Does he remember we can’t hear them?’ and Peter glanced our way and rolled his eyes, which I took to mean Yeah, I know, adn you know, and they’re such idiots. Out loud, he said “The only thing worse than voices in your head is when they argue,” and we laughed. Finally he said they were going to do the retakes now, and could we please stay because our bodies were needed to absorb sound. Radio wise, this made sense. He promised a Q&A at the end. A lady in a red dress on our aisle left, but we stayed.

Peter was the only one who did retakes: a couple botched intros and one question for Maura Tierney, which was really weird to listen too. They played her preceding line (which we couldn’t hear) and then he had to redo his reply and follow-up. Most of the time, during the taping, if he messed up Peter would hold up a finger to the recording box and backtrack, correcting himself. During “Lightning Fill In the Blank” he had to backtrack after mispronouncing ‘gulag.’ So after three retakes, we were done and we moved on to questions.

I raised my hand but didn’t get called on, so I’m going to skip that – NYAH.

After the Q&A, most everyone left, but I decided to try my luck for autographs. Everyone except Richard Roeper, but I didn’t ask for his, so there you are. I went to Roxanne Roberts first, since I knew I’d be back but she might not be there. I apologized for fan-girling and blushed a lot when I told her I was a fan. I said that I always rooted for her, except when Paula Poundstone was on, and then I was conflicted and she laughed. She said she liked to listen to the show to, among other things, see what didn’t make the cut.

Then I popped down to see Peter, and I told him that I’d been talking to my girlfriend and I was wondering what I could say to him, and then I thought about it. I remembered back in May of 1998, the day he took over the hosting gig from Dr. Science, and Dad and I said “Who the hell is that guy?” Peter laughed and said everyone who was listening said that, but that ‘everyone’ was probably only me and my dad back then.

Carl I asked about the weirdest message he’d ever recorded for someone’s home answering machine, and he said that he didn’t think they were ever weirder than another. Some people had him do poetry, some had him sing. Then he admitted that he found it odd when they had him say the standard one-liner ‘This is , leave a message.’

The last person I ran into was Charlie, who was funny when Ipstenit asked me what I was going to do with the program and I said ‘Frame it!’ She told me I wasn’t going to hang it at home, and Charlie said, “If you’re going to argue about home decorating, I’m going over there!”

Then we walked out into the plaza and laughed and laughed about the evening.

I would so do it again!