Peter Sagal talks about fleeting radio fame, Elvis Costello and John Tesh
When National Public Radio's weekly news quiz, "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!," began, way back in 1998, host Peter Sagal and his sidekick, radio veteran Carl Kassell, weren't even in the same room, let alone in front of a studio audience. The call-in show was recorded remotely from different studios.
Now the pop-culture-laced, headline-driven exam is a live, interactive experience that brings hosts, panelists and players together on stage -- and tonight, for the first time, that stage will be at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
Ryan Muir for NPR
For the uninitiated, Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me! is a weekly radio program on NPR that invites game players of the famous and everyday-Joe variety to ring up Sagal and company for a chance to play rounds of "Not My Job" and "Lightening Fill in the Blank," as well as partaking in the "Listener Limerick Challenge" -- all based on contemporary news stories.
In advance of Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me!'s live show tomorrow night, Sagal spoke with Westword about how the show comes together and who, if anyone, makes him nervous to interview.
Westword: I know it isn't all you up to you, but how do you along with the producers pick the guests for Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me?
Peter Sagal: No, it is entirely me. I owe my success only to myself; everybody else has tried to hold me back. I do everything -- I cater the meal. It's hard -- you know, when I am coming up with all of the jokes, booking all of the guests, arranging all the travel it is hard to take a few minutes and prepare a gourmet meal for everyone. But I feel that that is the kind of obligation that we host really have.
That sure seems like a lot to ask from a radio host.
I just want to say, I am tired of sharing the credit. I have been doing this for a long time and I have been letting other people take credit for it. Today is the day, with Westword; I am coming out as the person who is entirely responsible for everything good that happens. Let the world know, please.
I am so glad this gets to be my first big break story!
I know. This will be huge.
Okay, I will drop the silly joke here and tell you the truth at this point. We have a fairly eclectic group of interest amongst the people who book our guests -- the booking right now is done by Eva Wolchover, one of our longtime producers. It is a lot of different things; sometimes it is the preeminent politicians, people who are in the news and are the sort of people we might talk about anyway, which is always fun. Especially if they already fit into what we do, like when we get a President Clinton or a (then) Senator Obama on like we once did.
Because we are big fans of "cult-cha" as they say, we like getting people who do things that we like -- musicians, actors, writers and so on and so forth. Sometimes we go for the fairly obscure and indulge ourselves in things that maybe the world at large might not be quite as excited as we are. But sometimes it is just something that interests one of us; Eva, our producer, is a huge fan of the 7 Up series of documentary films -- the ones when they follow a group of seven people from age seven to 14 to 21, and I think they are up to 56.
One of those people is a professor at the University of Wisconsin, so he will be our guest. It really is just based on the fact that one of our producers thinks that is cool. There's certain sameness sometimes to the kind of guests that do the rounds, like when we have someone like Scarlett Johansson, and we get back on the standard talk show circuit. To a certain extent it's like, tune into Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me this week because a very famous person you've heard of is going to be on the show. But sometimes it is fun to do something a little different or odd and hopefully have some fun with them in the way that we can, because as we like to explain to people, we are on NPR but we're not really NPR-ish.