Wait, Wait! Great, great!
Through no foresight of my own, I was one of the lucky 500 in the audience for the live broadcast of NPR’s radio quiz show “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” last Thursday at the Wheeler.I had seen the announcement for the show back in October or November and it sounded like a terrific idea, but who knows in October what you might be doing on March 8? It almost seems to be taunting mortality to plan for an event so far ahead and, left to my own devices, I’d probably have ended up ruing my lassitude as a lot of others did when March 8 rolled around.My daughter Skye, however, has enough foresight for the whole family, and thus it was that a ticket to the show was waiting for me under her Christmas tree.I’m a big fan of NPR in general and have been listening to “Wait, Wait” ever since it began airing on KAJX (or, as I’m supposed to call it, Aspen Public Radio) on Sunday morning after “Car Talk.” Both programs since have moved to Saturday morning, resulting in weekend confusion severely challenging my senility level. (“Wait, wait! Is it Sunday? No, it’s Saturday, I think. Wait, don’t tell me!”)”Wait, Wait” is a liberal current events news quiz with a panel of three of several “regulars,” hosted by Peter Sagal and Carl Kassell, the latter being a regular fixture on “The Morning Edition,” NPR’s morning news show, begging the question why he’s running around doing a silly quiz show instead of attending to serious business. (Answer: Carl’s on news duty the early part of the week, and NPR’s morning show is based in Chicago, “Wait Wait’s” home base.)I had always thought of him as “Carl Castle,” and had some concerns about seeing all these guys in person, the innards of the show’s production, which might best be left to the imagination. These fears were put completely to rest, though I have to say I’ll never listen to “Wait, Wait” with the same ears because now I know that some of the funniest (translate: raunchiest) bits lie on the cutting room floor.The biggest surprise was the casual nature of the production. This is a radio show millions of people, listen to, and I expected it to be run like a tight ship with, at the very least, a warning talk about audience behavior, lights flashing for the countdown and a cheerleader out front holding up “CLAP” signs.Nothing like that. Carl and Peter stood at funky lecterns, the panelists – Tom ( “We’ll leave the lights on for ya” Bodett, Amy (“Dear Amy” column) Dickinson and author Adam Felber (shirt hanging out) – sat to their side, four or five technicians sat at a table on the right, and the show started, just like that.It has its basic format: introduction of the panelists, listeners calling in trying to win the coveted prize of Carl (the straight man) Kassell’s voice on their home answering machines, the guest panelists (Jill St. John and Robert Wagner, on a phone line from Los Angeles) and the final speed questions to determine the winner among the panelists.Aside from that, the show depends on the wit and repartee of everyone involved, and it all works! Even the production crew was doubled over laughing. One question involved the news story about a California town overrun with squirrels. Amy got the answer: They were injecting the squirrels with birth control hormones, leading to a flurry of ad-libs: “If you get close enough to inject them, why not just kill them?” “It’s California!” “They hand out little tiny birth control booklets,” “Yeah, straight talk about nuts.”The hour show was wrapped up in 90 minutes including Q-&-A, quite an accomplishment when it takes weeks to shoot a 30-second TV commercial here in this land of inefficiency.Su Lum is a longtime local who congratulates KAJX (APR) for a great fundraiser. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. If you missed the broadcast on Saturday, check out NPR.org.