A comedy show that pretends to be a quiz, or a quiz that pretends to be a comedy show — depending on how funny you find it — is how host Peter Sagal describes his National Public Radio show, “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!”
The one-hour program that has aired weekends on NPR affiliates since 1998 asks listeners and a guest panel of three people from different media questions about current news events, what’s going on overseas and obscure, random stories from all over the world — like a teenage raver from Ireland who didn’t notice he lost his pinky finger on the dance floor.
“In the course of it, we make a lot of jokes, we say a lot of things we shouldn’t about people who are far more important than we are, and we have a really wonderful time,” playwright and actor Sagal recently told Boulder Weekly.
Last week’s show included guest celebrity Scarlett Johansson who played the segment “Not My Job,” where Sagal asked her questions about Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, an old British science fiction TV show, and what it’s like to have your chest grabbed by Isaac Mizrahi on the red carpet.
“It was such an incredibly strange and out-of-body experience,” Johansson said during the show. “I publicly humiliated him later on, actually.”
What makes the show so popular, according to Sagal, is that people share his same sick sense of humor.
“People enjoy stupid, irreverent jokes made about serious topics,” he says. “It makes the serious topics that much easier to take the rest of the week.”
The questions asked in the weekly quiz show come from a staff of six people, and when they’re not watching soccer, according to Sagal, they’re reading and listening to news from all over the world and finding interesting stories to take questions from. News topics range from space to sports to politics to rumors about liposuction in Kim Kardashian’s toes.
And while the popular podcast — which Sagal says draws in 4 million listeners — normally airs from a small theater in downtown Chicago, the show hits the road about 12 times a year. When asked to perform their first live stint by a sister station in Salt Lake City back in 1999, Sagal says he was amazed that so many people would come out to see them live instead of listening at home in their pajamas.
This July 10 you can watch the show live as well at the Red Rocks Amphitheater, which has sold 5,000 seats to date. The show’s guest panelists will include stand-up comedian Paula Poundstone, American author and voice actor Tom Bodett and radio host and comedian Brian Babylon. Olympic world champion ski racer Mikaela Shiffrin will be a guest for the “Not My Job” segment, and newly appointed announcer and scorekeeper of the show Bill Kurtis — television news anchor (or narrator of the movie Anchorman as you may know him) — will also be present to add “gravitas and professionalism” that “covers up the rest of our silliness,” Sagal says.
“You find out whether we look like what you think we look like — that’s always exciting,” Sagal says. “But you also get to hear all the incredibly tasteless stuff that we record and enjoy immensely, but can’t be broadcast because we’d be thrown off the air.”
Along with possible crude jokes, panelists will play the “Lightning Fillin-the-Blank” round where pop culture or timely news event questions are posed, like Marc Blank-thony and Blank-ifer Lopez finalizing their divorce, and the segment “Who’s Bill This Time?” which poses questions about quotes from the week’s news, like Dick Cheney denouncing President Obama’s handling of which country. “Bluff The Listener,” “Limericks,” and “Predictions” will also top off the show.
But don’t expect the meat of geopolitics or the root of inflation to be discussed ad nauseam, or Sagal to rant about his own political opinions — this show is meant to entertain the listener and be “cheerful.”
“We believe there’s plenty of stuff on radio and in the news that talks seriously,” Sagal says. “Our job is to give people a break. We do irreverent, stupid jokes, and if that doesn’t work, we’ll just make fart noises.”
George W. Bush, the contestant Sagal most desires to see on the show, won’t be at Red Rocks, but watch out for a few other surprises.
“I wish I could toss people laser shows, or maybe rhythmic gymnastics to decide like John Tesh did, but really it’s not a visually exciting show,” Sagal says. “It’s just us. The people you know and presumably love, doing the things you presumably know and love us for doing.”