Wait Wait! I’m going to tell you…

27 Feb

Full disclosure: I’m an NPR junkie. My idea of a perfect weekend involves bottomless chai, my recliner and a steady flow of NPR programming. One of my favorite programs is Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

If you’re not familiar with WWDTM, it’s an hour-long quiz show hosted by Peter Sagal and Carl Kasell, featuring three comedian panelists answering questions about current events. I recognize that this format might just qualify its fan base as ranking in the 99th percentile of nerdiness. So what.

Each week Peter Sagal notes that the show is recorded live in front of a studio audience from the Chase Auditorium in downtown Chicago. At some point in the last six months, this prompted a light to go off in my little nerd brain: DID HE SAY CHICAGO?

Hell, I’m out there twice a month for work. Why haven’t I made a pilgrimage to the seat of my personal religion?

Well, this week I remedied that. I picked up tickets so my friend Karen and I were part of the audience for Thursday night’s taping. I highly recommend the experience to anyone who enjoys the show… it was very cool to witness its making.

A few random observations:

Seating is first-come, first-served with a line forming at 6:30 and doors opening at 7:00. Karen and I arrived at 6:45 and found ourselves in the rear 1/3 of the line. After standing there for a minute, we both looked at each other with a shared realization: the line was entirely self-forming and self-guided. There were no ropes to help us form an organized snaking line, yet there we stood – a few hundred people who could’ve been waiting for Space Mountain at Disney. But without ropes.

OK, I can you aren’t impressed. But you should be! When is the last time you went anywhere and the line wasn’t a problem? I routinely find my blood boiling at CVS because someone inevitably doesn’t understand that there is a master line feeding ALL cash registers. Yet here we stood in a situation where our proximity to the door directly correlated with the quality of our seats, and no one was pushing.

Have you ever had to go through Customs in an Italian airport? Then you understand how unruly a self-forming line can become. (I think the word for it is MOB.) This was the exact opposite.

I’m going to paint with a broad brush here, but based on this experience, I think we can characterize NPR nerds as a respectful, organized crew with a propensity for fairness and patience.

OK, OK. You’re not reading because you give a shit about the way a line formed. So as for the show itself… from beginning to end (not counting the audience Q&A at the end) it was two hours. Which means that about 50% of the interaction ends up edited out by the time it makes it to your home via the airwaves each weekend.

None of the banter between Peter Sagal and the panelists is scripted, but everyone has advance notice of the questions the phone-in guests will be asked, so from the moment the panelists take the stage, they’re furiously scribbling, brainstorming potential jokes or one-liners for the questions they know will surface later in the show.

So this weekend I tuned in, eager to hear the episode I saw recorded. It turns out, a lot of what I found very funny didn’t make the final cut. The jokes about Peter Sagal’s bar mitzvah – gone. Adam Felberg’s acceptance speech for winning? Replaced with Paula’s. Really, the editors of the last Harry Potter movie should attend a taping because they could stand to learn the 50% rule.

My only regret is that I was too tired to hang out afterward to meet Carl Kasell. (They let the audience take the stage and meet everyone.) I suppose I can buy the throw pillow of his face and it will be almost the same… almost.

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4 Responses to “Wait Wait! I’m going to tell you…”

  1. bonnie February 27, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

    Is it true that the current budget recommendations have zeroed out all government support for NPR? And if so, are there any plans for a commercial station to carry on their programming?

    • pithypants February 27, 2011 at 10:15 pm #

      I’m honestly not clear on what, exactly, is at stake with the budget proposal. Before going commercial, I would think that they’d do a monster membership drive to get the audience to contribute more by way of sponsorship, scale back programming and close some rural stations. Who knows?

  2. Jessica February 28, 2011 at 11:13 pm #

    You ever see the movie with John Travolta, Michael? And he says he invented lines? Before that, everyone just stood around. I always think about that when people start talking about lines. It seems like it should be a simple thing, but really, it must go against human nature.

    • pithypants February 28, 2011 at 11:30 pm #

      Human nature probably comes down to people chanting my mom’s mantra, which is “Look out for #1!” and is not conducive to lines! 🙂

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