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Anyone who listens to NPR on the weekends is probably a die-hard "Wait wait...don't tell me!" fan.
The witty, timely and fast-paced radio game show manages to skewer pop culture icons and summarize highlights of the week's big news, while making us laugh out loud. Really loud. Host Peter Sagal and veteran broadcaster, official judge and scorekeeper Carl Kasell direct a rotating team of three guest comedians (panelists) on set, and also field phone-in contestants and celebrity players who keep the show fresh and surprising. They have been doing "NPR's Oddly Informative News Quiz" since 1998 from Chicago, but also take their show on the road, happily for us. It was an expensive ticket and a long drive to see them live at the Straz Center in Tampa on November 17th, but well worth it. We were really impressed by how beautiful the Straz Center is; how convenient the parking and how well the facility integrates with the surrounding buildings, restaurants and amenities. Wish the Van Wezel and Sarasota had such a sophisticated venue and made equally good use of our waterfront.
You can listen to the broadcast here: Wait wait...don't tell me in Tampa
WUSF radio host Carson Cooper warmed up the audience of about 2,500 that packed the Straz with a limerick and a membership campaign plug. Then he introduced some luminaries, including USF President Judy Genshaft and Dr. Arthur Guilford, the VP and CEO of USF Sarasota-Manatee. They were among the special guests, sponsors and WUSF contributors who were invited to meet the cast after the show at a reception outside the Straz along the water. That looked very chi-chi and smelled great, especially as we hadn't eaten dinner and were starving by 10 p.m.
The funny thing was that we were there to watch a radio show. There were quips about that and how the cast of WWDTM could therefore dress down, all except panelist Faith Salie, a red-headed young beauty who wore a short, sexy black lace dress. At least so far as I could tell from up in the peanut gallery. She's an actress, radio and TV host, Rhodes Scholar and interviewer and incredibly smart. Faith got in the most zingers and quips of the three panelists, going head-to-head with the hilarious Adam Felber, also a multiple threat: political satirist, author and all-around funny guy. The third player was the revered humorist, sportswriter, poet, performer and lecturer Roy Blount, Jr., who had a hard time getting a word in, but when he did, rocked the place. Droll and laconic, his asides dropped like gleaming pearls on the stage.
There were many jokes about Florida and how our state manages to provide most of the weekly fodder of satire and irony that stokes the fires of WWDTM's humor. Peter Sagal even alluded to his status as an aging Jew, who looks at Florida with the eyes of an elephant surveying the graveyard where he fully expects to reside. Some of the funniest bits were taken directly from our state's news and the local crowd reacted with tremendous enthusiasm. Thanks, Florida for the "dumb criminals, bizarre animal stories and felon governors." We were like a pilgrimage to Mecca for people who like to make fun of the news. That was kind of nice to hear.
Bill Cosby was supposed to be the telephone guest for the always funny "Not My Job" segment, but he cancelled at the last minute and was replaced by a vastly different guy, Marc Maron, an L.A. stand-up comic and host of the podcast WTF. He told us he was sitting naked in his garage, where he interviews other comedians to great acclaim. Another benefit of this being a radio show!
Peter Sagal kept up a steady stream of pithy and pointed jokes and stories. He's not only a radio host, but also a playwright, screenwriter, stage director, actor, travel writer, essayist and more. The stage fairly groaned with talent. Happy to say, the Tampa audience was raucous and very into the program, which made it fun. We even helped contestants win points by cheating and yelling out answers. (Telling Marc Maron that the news story he had to guess was real in a choice among three stories, involved a Zombie attacking a security guard in a Florida nudist camp, for example). Being a part of the world-wide WWDTM audience of 3.2 million listeners made us feel like real insiders. "You are the cool kids that everyone at lunch wants to sit with," Peter Sagal told us. The show took a full two hours to tape, and would be edited down to a one-hour broadcast. Which gave us a chance to watch Sagal as he redid a few intros and small sections of the show that weren't perfect the first time.
The GOP candidates were a big target for the humor this week. WWDTM always manages to find the silly and sometimes idiotic elements inside otherwise routine stories, like the ineptness of Congress' Super Committee and legislating pizza as a vegetable. As Faith Salie said, "No child left without a big behind." Vladimir Putin was also the victim of more than his share of hilarious, pun-laden sarcasm when the panelists riffed on news of his latest political hijinks. And we learned a lot about a Japanese robot rabbit that stops people from snoring in bed; panda poo tea and other arcane bits of the world. Finally, when the "Lightning fill in the blank round" came, Roy Blount, Jr. needed six points to win. And he did.
A nice man named Barry Steiner, an IT engineer from Clearwater, was called up on stage to finish a limerick challenge. The answer was "Yoda", which he got correct and so he won the coveted prize of Carl Kasell's voice on his answering machine, voice mail or smartphone. And everyone in the audience won a WWDTM tote bag. There was a brief Q&A from the audience, in which one young man asked for Faith Salie's phone number (she was recently married, though, and noted that her father and his girlfriend from Sarasota were in the audience, so she had to behave.) And a cute girl in the balcony shouted out "Do you have any job opportunities?" Peter Sagal said yes, but only for people sitting down front in the orchestra. We were introduced to the five producers/interns at the back of the set, who keep the whole production running smoothly, and sound the bell and gong and other special effects. At 10 p.m. it was all over, but nice to know we could listen to the whole thing again on Saturday, November 20, on WUSF.
So here's your chance to take a little WWDTM challenge yourself:
1. According to Alan Greenspan, an improving economy is indicated by a rise in sales of what item?
b) chocolate fountains
2. A new survey has shown that in these hard times, what service is now short-changing its customers?
a) The Tooth Fairy
b) Instead of sending a five-dollar bill in birthday cards, grandmas are sending the newly minted four-dollar bill
c) Hotel wake-up calls are now only nudging you slightly
3. TLC introduced a new show last year aimed at the hyper-frugal economy. What is it called?
a) America's Got Bargains
b) Extreme Couponing
c) Two and a Half Men (Are Cheaper than Three Whole Men)
The answers to these and other questions of the day will be yours when you listen to Wait, wait...don't tell me on your NPR station...