It occurs to me that I should have posted something last week about “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” in advance of the BBC America TV special, for those of you that aren’t already familiar with the show. There may yet be a few additional airings of the special on TV; check your listings. But in any case, even if you missed the chance to see the show, you’ve always got the chance to listen to it.
I told the folks at Mountain T.O.P. last summer that it’s proof of how much I love Adults In Ministry that I attended two weeks last summer. The first week I attended AIM, I missed the first local concert in decades by my favorite band, Daniel Amos. The second week I attended AIM, I missed a taping of “Wait Wait” in Nashville, the first chance I’ve ever had to hear the show in person.
“Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” is a public radio panel quiz show based on a humorous take on the week’s news. it airs each weekend on public radio stations nationwide, or you can listen to it or download it from http://waitwait.npr.org. If you like “The Daily Show,” there’s a good chance you’ll like “Wait Wait,” although “Wait Wait” makes fun, not just of political news, but also of quirky little offbeat news stories. “Wait Wait” has been compared to the great British tradition of panel quiz shows, which may be what attracted BBC America’s attention to the show. There’s only one prize, and it has no monetary value. I’ll get to the prize in a moment.
“Wait Wait” is hosted by writer Peter Sagal, with Carl Kasell as announcer. (His title is “official judge and scorekeeper.”) For most of the show’s history, Kasell did double duty; he was the newscaster for the news breaks during NPR’s “Morning Edition,” and the show gets a lot of mileage out of having him say or do things that aren’t in keeping with his authoritative, voice-of-the-news image. Kasell has since retired from “Morning Edition.”
The show has a three-member celebrity panel. Most of them are not household-word celebrities; rather, they’re mostly writers or quick-witted comedians. Frequent panelists include Tom Bodett (the voice of the Motel 6 “We’ll leave the light on for you” ads), P.J. O’Rourke, Roy Blount Jr., Paula Poundstone, Kyrie O’Connor, Paul Provenza, Alonzo Bodden, Charlie Pierce, Amy Dickinson, Luke Burbank, Adam Felber, Maz Jobrani and Mo Rocca.
The show has several different segments. In some of the segments, the panelists are answering questions. In other segments, call-in listeners answer questions. There’s also a “Not My Job” segment in which a well-known celebrity (as prominent as, say, Tom Hanks) is asked multiple-choice questions about a topic designed to be as far as possible from that celebrity’s normal personality or profession. For example, Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” was asked trivia questions about the advertising mascot Mr. Clean.
The call-in listeners, as well as a designated listener on whose behalf whom the “Not My Job” celebrity is playing, receive a special prize if they win their segment. The prize is that Carl Kasell will record the outgoing message on their home answering machine or voice mail. The show’s writers usually come up with some funny message to take advantage of the situation; you can hear some of the past messages at the show’s website.
My favorite segment on the radio show is the “Bluff the Listener” game. In this segment, each of the three panelists relates a bizarre news story, but only one of the stories is true. The call-in contestant must guess the true story.
Last weekend’s BBC America special was a pretty good translation of the show into TV. They used the same taping session to create both the TV special and this week’s radio show, although the content isn’t exactly the same. For example, the “Bluff The Listener” game is on the radio show but not the TV special. The one thing people have commented on about the TV show is that everyone is wearing headphones, just as they normally do for the radio show tapings, which looks a little funny on TV. But for me, that just added to the charm, a reminder of the show’s origins.
If you get a chance this week to see the TV special on BBC America, do it, but in any case be sure and check out “Wait Wait” online or on your local NPR station. It’s always good for a laugh.