Peter Sagal is an American playwright, screenwriter, actor, and host of the National Public Radio game show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, and the PBS special Constitution USA with Peter Sagal.
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I've hosted "Wait, Wait..." since 1998, and also am/have been a playwright, author ("The Book of Vice: Naughty Things and How to Do Them"), screenwriter ("Dirty Dancing II: Dancing Dirtier"), PBS documentary host ("Constitution USA with Peter Sagal") a columnist for Runner's World, and some other things. I tweet at @PeterSagal.
Hey, folks, this has been great, but my fingers hurt and it's time to start my day. You can find me at @PeterSagal on Twitter, and there's a chance I might answer questions there. If you would like to come see "Wait Wait" live, then check out our upcoming schedule here: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/16/110997820/see-the-show-live
My Runner's World columns are archived here: http://www.runnersworld.com/person/peter-sagal
And you should all follow our Wait Wait official Twitter feed here: @waitwait.
Thanks! We'll do it again soon!
Hey Peter, welcome to /r/IAMA!
Now it’s time for our Redditor Limerick Challenge. I will write three Reddit-related limericks and you will try to identify the last word or phrase to complete each. If you complete two or more limericks correctly, you will receive all our up votes and possibly even Reddit Gold. Ready?
My comment was honest and true
It got switched up and humor ensues
They use rhetorical scheming
To mix up the meaning
I got fooled by The Ol’ Reddit ___ _
Reddit’s philosophical ivory tower
Where normal folks unlock strange mental power
The water and the steam
Motivates musing it seems
Everyone has great thoughts in the__
Come where 60 frames per second is commonplace
Where our bedsheets are graced by Gaben’s face
If you play Xbox at present
You’re no better than a peasant
Get a computer, join the __ ___ _
Switcheroo, shower, master race. Thanks to Max Temkin for providing me with these answers.
I met a Canadian stripper in Vienna once who said she liked to perform with your show playing. Just saying, your reach is farther than you think. :-) my question is, how does this make you feel, and what other strange stories have you heard about people listening to your show?
I am responding to this only because I want it to be upvoted so everybody sees it and somebody can connect us to that stripper. I WANT TO MEET HER. That said, I hear from a lot of people who tell me about what they're doing while they listen, 999 times out of 1000 an otherwise boring task. Once it was, "embalming people."
Have you seen the xkcd comic about "Wait, Wait..."?
I have the signed original on my wall. Randall is the best.
Peter, I wanted to let you know my wife and I find you personally responsible for our relationship. The NPR button she got from you at a live taping, which she pinned to her bag, was our original icebreaker. Thanks for that and the countless hours of entertainment!
Now my question - how many miles do you run a week?
There is nothing -- nothing -- I take more pride in than getting my listeners laid. It's what gets me up in the morning.
I try to run a minimum of 25 miles a week. 30 is better. 40 is awesome, but I rarely see that these days.
Do you have Carl's voice on your voicemail?
Nope. I'd need to call in and win on the show, wouldn't I?
Hey, thank you so much for making one of my favorite shows! Who is your favorite panelist and why is it Paula Poundstone?
Because she will hurt me if I say otherwise.
Do you think you can get him on the show either as a panelist or celebrity guest?
I don't know! Should we?
I've been to a WWDTM show, and there was a tie going into the last round. You said you flipped a coin, but no such event occurred, at least to the public. So my question is, do you flip a coin in some secret lair apart from the show, or is this really an NPR conspiracy to award the most ridiculous set of questions to Mo Rocca?
Mo Rocca is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.
Thanks for putting on a great show ever week. I've been listening for quite a while and I think you were the first person I ever heard say "Dude," on NPR. It was quite the moment.
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert recently left their shows. Are you planning on retiring any time soon? I don't think I could handle losing all three of you in such a short amount of time.
What's your best behind the scenes story that you couldn't tell at the time, but the statute of limitations probably makes it ok to tell now?
Is Paula Poundstone a great panelist, or the greatest panelist?
Have you considered Patton Oswalt as a panelist? I think he'd work out well.
Thanks again for everything!
Edit - names and formatting is hard.
I will leave as soon as I can find a better job that allows me to work even less. I don't have my hopes up.
There is no statute of limitations in public radio.
She is neither. She is the greater panelist,.
Would love to have Patton. Don't know if we can afford his quote.
How do they get Carl's voice on some random person's answering machine? Do people even have answering machines anymore?
Our script template still says "answering machine," despite my occasional request to the producers to change it. We send out a CD with the recording; how they get it on their phones is up to them.
PETER! It's great to have you on Reddit doing an AMA! Wait Wait has been a Saturday morning ritual for my wife and I since we first found NPR.
Is there anything you're truly upset that a panelist said that couldn't be aired?
Have you ever listened to "Just A Minute" and what do you think about it?
There are lots of things I wish could be aired, but we only have an hour. Probably the thing that bugs me most was George Takei's story of how he and his now-husband got engaged. I'll tell that story someday. Never heard of "Just a minute."
I listen all the time and love the show. Do you and your writers have multiple jokes written for you to choose from depending on where the panelists go with a story and then you choose them as needed?
Sort of. We work very hard on writing jokes, and I've always got more than I need. What we use depends, as you suggest, on what the panelists choose to do. Sometimes they go in a different direction and I use none of them. Sometimes they set me up beautifully, so i can lead in with a "Yeah, and as a matter of a fact..." Sometimes the panelists don't say anything and I just read all the jokes. We hate that.
What does Carl Kasell smell like?
Roses, Bay Rum, and happiness.
Are you in fact Doug Stamper's evil twin?
Everybody says I look like him, so I started watching House of Cards and was down with it until the prostitute thing,
Hi Peter, any chance we see a new Dirty Dancing script from you to complete the trilogy?
I've already got it written. It's called Dirty Dancing: Dirtier and Dancinger, with Electric Boogaloo.
When I went to WWDTM a couple weeks ago (with Richard Price), I had so much fun - some the "cut" moments (from the 2h taping) were pure gold. Have you ever considered releasing an "uncut" version of the podcast as well?
No, we never have, although a lot of people suggest it. For one thing, we really like editing. For another, if people could hear the whole thing without paying for a ticket, why would they buy a ticket? That said, we're experimenting with releasing some "unaired" material every week as a podcast extra. People seem to like it!
Do you think Marijuana should be legalized recreationally and why?
I didn't really have any opinion about it, then we visited a medical marijuana clinic for my PBS doc. We were sniggering and laughing at all the people lining up for their "medicine." I then asked a woman, on camera, what her "illness" was that she needed her "medicine" for. She said, "Cancer." And it occurred to me -- whether it works as medicine or not, if this woman believes that smoking this plant makes her feel better, who the hell are we to stop her?
Have you ever had a "Not My Job" guest who wasn't a good sport about it?
Does NPR have a censor that comes to all your shows and shakes his/her head disapprovingly when one of the panelists says something that can't be aired?
Yes, played every week by Jon Polito.
How is it decided which panelist will relate the true news story and which panelists will give the decoy fakes? Is it random, or is there some process by which the stories are given out according to the person's ability/inclination to really sell that story in particular?
Do you have a dream "get" for Not My Job? A person you'd love to have on as a guest in that segment, but for whatever reason, that person hasn't been able to be on the show?
When a celebrity guest isn't able to win for the listener at home, have they ever offered up something for that person in place of Carl Kasell's voice on their answering machine/voice mail? (Not that anything could replace that.)
2) George W Bush. We owe him so much. (We've already had Presidents Clinton and Obama, although then it was Sen. Obama)
3) It's happened from time to time. David Simon, for example, offered the voice of Michael Williams, who played Omar on the Wire. I don't know if that happened, but I hope it did.
So, Bill Kurtis great and all. But do you find him stepping on your toes with saying whether an answer is right or not? Like seriously Bill, there's a system.
Whenever Bill steps on my toes, I groan in pleasure, like Ron Swanson getting his shoes shined.
> The next week, they called me when it was my time to do the segment, I talked to Peter for a minute or two, and Googled the stories as they told them, found the right one, and answered.
It's so easy to just do that, I almost respect the people who don't.
Just so you know, we know you all do this. If there were anything real at stake, we might get mad.
Does Mo Rocca have groupies? It seems that whenever he is a panelist, the crowd gets a bit louder.
True story: I once ended up in a college town bar with Mo, some years ago. And he was SURROUNDED by gorgeous young women practically Beatle-shrieking. Me? Couldn't even get the waiter's attention. Life is unfair.
So... like... the first episode?
I think it was the second. That's as far as I got.
Your interview questions always demonstrate a lot of knowledge about a "Not My Job" guest and their work, and you often get the guest to reveal more about themselves than they do on other programs. What's the process like when you're preparing to interview a guest?
Well, we have producers and interns who research. I try (I do!) to read the book or watch the film they're promoting. But one of the most important things I do is talk to them off air beforehand. I assure them we're not interested in anything but having a good time with them; the quiz doesn't matter at all, we just want them to enjoy themselves. I think this helps.
Which Wait Wait guest made the biggest impact on your outlook on life and how did you change?
Gosh, that's a good question. I've been lucky enough to talk to people who played a huge role in my life, from Leonard Nimoy to Elvis Costello (at different ages, natch.) Maybe, in the end, it was Norton Juster, who wrote The Phantom Tollbooth, my very favorite book as as child, and perhaps now. A great unforgettable thrill to talk to him.
Hi, Peter! Is it different to record the show in front of a much larger audience (e.g. Tanglewood) as opposed to an intimate theater? Do you have a favorite venue on the road?
It is. I actually prefer our home theater for all its (lack of) charm. It's just the right size -- big enough so we have a nice crowd (about 500), small enough so that it feels intimate and the feedback is immediate. We've played venues so big, like Red Rocks, that sometimes I hallucinate a delay as our voices reach the back of the hall. Small is better, in general, for spoken word.
Hi Peter! Even though I'm living overseas now, I still listen to Wait Wait every week - it's one of the main ways I keep up with US news. How much of the show is ad-libbed and how much is scripted?
We go into the taping with a complete script, but what's broadcast is about 50/50. We depend a lot on adlibs from the panelists, guests, callers and myself. We think that the fact that we adlib so much is what sets us apart from the more written (but brilliant) comedy shows like Daily Show, Colbert (RIP), etc.
Hi Peter. Thanks for doing this. I miss you guys. Every week I'd download the podcast and listen to it (and Car Talk) while walking my dog. It was our thing. I had to put my dear Coney down a year ago tomorrow, and I guess part of the mourning process was not downloading and listening regularly. It just hurt too much. I know a lot has changed since last April -- Carl retiring, Bill being a regular. I think it's time I came back. What can I expect?
First of all, I'm really sorry about the loss of your dog. Time was, I'd roll my eyes at you, but I became a dog person myself these last few years and so I know what it's like. All my condolences.
I do hope you come back to us, though. We're still doing the same combination of mocking our betters and toilet humor. Bill Kurtis is no Carl, but then Carl is no Bill. And a lot of people tell us that listening to our show helps them get through hard times. I hope that is the case with you.
You rock. Full on. Plus, the sandwiches are worth it.
When Nimoy died, did you replay that wonderful bit that happened when he was on? It was the first time I cried with laughter listening (and the other people on the train with me were a bit alarmed). Second time, of course, was Clippy.
We did, as a podcast extra that week. If you want to listen again, here it is http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94840366
What is the most memorable response someone on the show has said and immediately regretted?
Brian Williams once came on the show and made a joke -- can't quite remember it -- that sounded as if he was making a gay joke about Anderson Cooper. Since Anderson at that time wasn't out publicly, it got a HUGE laugh, and Brian called us up, and said he understood that we had every right to broadcast it, but if we were going to, he needed to warn Anderson. We didn't broadcast it. It was a slip of the tongue, and sounded meaner on tape than it did in the room.
Peter! I'm resisting the urge to scream like a girl right now. Wait Wait don't tell me is the ONLY thing I regularly tune into on any medium. Saturdays at noon (where I live). You can't bug me, because I'm listening to Peter Sagal tear shit up on NPR!!!
My question is, what is it like working with Paula Poundstone?
She is the most consistently hilarious panelist. Is she just that hilarious all the time? Or is there a heavy amount of writing prior to each show? Either way. How awesome is she?
I would say on a scale of really awesome to truly awesome, she's rather awesome.
Big fan of Sandwich Monday. It reminds me that I have a week's worth of palatable, but considerably more boring meals to eat at work. What have been the best, worst, and most surprising meals you've encountered?
Edit: For those unfamiliar with Sandwich Monday: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/162947372/sandwich-monday
The best ones are unmemorable. The worst one was probably the sandwich where we had everything on the McDonalds menu at once. Also: Sandwich Monday was invented by Ian Chillag, who deserves more credit.
I listen to your show with my folks and absolutely love it. Do you find that there are challenges in trying to attract a younger/future audience for your show or NPR as a whole?
Absolutely. Demographics haunt public radio as a whole. However, I think podcasting will be our savior. Now that younger people are used to seeking out audio that they like, we're in a good position to provide really good audio to lure them in.
Who is one guest that you would love to have on "Not my Job" that probably would decline the invitation?
What does your day to day schedule look like?
I roll in, I look at the internet, i write some jokes, I try not to show my sadness when my colleagues don't like my jokes, I write better jokes.
Who would win an armwrestling match between Tom Bodett and Roy Blount Jr.?
I don't know. We'll have to set it up and try. Tom is manly, but Roy is sly.
Hey Peter! First, I love the show, and the blog Sandwich Mondays is always a great way to start the work week! The comments the whole team has on what y'all are eating tend to leave me in tears from laughter.
What I'd like to know is Carl Kasell available for adoption? Instead of him leaving a message on my voicemail, my friends and I would like him to answer our phones for us in person all the time. We promise we will take good care of him.
Our joke was that when the show began, we had so few listeners, and thus winners, that when somebody won, instead of recording a message, Carl would just go to their house and wait for the phone to ring.
I honestly had never heard of your show until last year and the very first episode I listened to was with Tim Gunn. The story he told about Vivian Vance and J Edgar Hoover is one of the funniest I've ever heard. That hooked me on WWDTM and it honestly made me see just how multi-talented Mr. Gunn is, a man I admittedly knew almost nothing about previously. Not a question, but just wanted to say thanks and keep up the good work.
Thank you. We had no idea that story was coming. But Mo knew it, and prompted Tim to tell it. By the way, Tim Gunn is just as delightful, kind and gentlemanly as you'd imagine he is.
Hi, Peter! Love your show! My question: Who chose Bobcat Godthwaite as a panelist and how big a raise did that person get? (Seriously, bring him back often.)
Bobcat did a NMJ stint and we loved him and asked him to be a panelist. We're lucky as hell he said yes.
Peter, you're the quickest-witted person I have ever heard speak. Do you have any advice for people who get tongue-tied sometimes?
Love the show, mostly because of your hilarious comments :)
I don't know. Sometimes I wish my brain worked a little slower. I'd say, in the end, why censor yourself? If you say something stupid, people will let you know.
Is any consideration given to matching the panelists' personalities each week? Like you don't want three hyper panelists for one show, right?
We do think about that a lot. Think of it as serving a meal. You don't want three dessert courses right? Well, you probably do.
Peter, I remember you reporting over the phone after the bombings at the Boston Marathon a few years ago. How did that experience change the way you think about the news? Did it make you want to do any more on scene reporting?
I think about that sometimes and I wince. I think I handled myself well, but I simply didn't know anything. I was probably the least informed person in the country, and I was only two hundred yards away from the crime scene. That said, it did in fact increase my already considerable respect for my colleagues at NPR News. The truth is a solemn burden.
When the heck are you guys gonna come back to NY/NJ? We had a vacation scheduled for the December show but sadly our travel insurance didn't cover Bill Curtis appearances as valid cancellations.
We'll be back at WNYC's "Radio Love" festival at BAM in May.
Hey Peter. I love WWDTM. What is the funniest moment you ever experienced on the show?
On air: probably the (in)famous Death of Clippy riff. Off-air: the Crapping a Pineapple Incident.
Do you ever refuse anything that Mike and Ian want you to eat or drink for "how to do everything"? Even if they tell you it's "safe"?
I think refusing would ruin the whole spirit of the thing, don't you? The one time I did insist was when Ian wanted to punch me. I said I'd do it, but I got to punch him back.
What is your bucket list marathon?
Hi! I've never really thought about it that way. There are a bunch I'd love to do before I'm done... the big European capitols, Big Sur, the Loire (the one with wine at the rest stops). Now that I think I'm done trying to win them, so leisurely marathon tourist sounds fun.
Considering how giddy you got when Leonard Nimoy (RIP in peace) was on the show, I was wondering: Who would it totally blow your mind to have as a guest for Not My Job?
Well, Shatner, obviously.
Thank you for doing this, my wife and I love the show! Have there ever been any times you guys have gotten in trouble for a particular joke?
We were once told that perhaps we shouldn't talk about "sperm banks" whilst listeners were eating their breakfast.
Do you have a favorite city and/or venue (outside of your home base in Chicago) you've been able to host 'Wait Wait' in/at?
We've played some amazing places, so amazing I can't quite believe they let us in there. Short, but not complete list would include: Red Rocks, Tanglewood, SF War Memorial Opera House, Nokia Theater in LA (!), and of course Carnegie Hall. Probably my favorite single night was playing to 10,000 Chicagoans at Millennium Park. We'll be back there next summer.
Hey Peter! Love your show!
My question to you is: who is/are the special guest(s) you've been most humbled to, or suprised they agreed to have appear on Wait Wait?
What really thrills me is when they tell me that they listen to and like the show. Al Gore, or Barry Sonnenfield come to mind. Esp if it's somebody like -- say Colin Meloy, whose own work has given me so much pleasure.
What's your favorite NPR show other than Wait Wait?
I really liked "I'd Rather Eat Pants."
Hi Peter - I remember hearing your program back in the very early days of the show, thinking "this seems entertaining, I hope they 'make it'". I didn't listen to NPR a while (I did the whole prodigal son thing) then when I came back to it, I realized you guys had moved to a live studio audience. Can you talk about that transition and some of the challenges that came along with it? Thanks!
The transition to a live audience both made and saved our show. We started as a studio show because it was logistically much easier and also much easier to edit. But it became obvious that we had to do our comedy in front of people who might, say, laugh. So we turned the aircraft carrier around and started doing it every week live. I date our real success from that moment, exactly 10 years ago this month.