Thursday, May 04, 2006

'Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me'

Funny thing -- in all the years I've lived and worked in Washington, D.C., I never attended an event at Lisner Auditorium, one of the area's biggest performance venues. Until tonight.

Funny thing -- in all the years that I have listened to radio programs, been a guest on radio programs, and even (on one rather unmemorable midnight-to-dawn shift) co-hosted a radio program, I never saw a radio program performed. Until tonight.

Tonight I attended a taping of the National Public Radio news quiz show, Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me. WWDTM is one of my favorite weekend listening habits. I used to listen on Saturdays on WMRA out of Harrisonburg, but that station no longer carries it. Even when WMRA broadcast the program, I also listened a second time each Sunday on WVTF out of Roanoke. The problem is, WVTF plays the show at 10:00 a.m., when I need to be getting ready to go to church. So I often find myself simply listening on line at the Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me web site. (In the D.C. broadcast area, WAMU-FM carries the show at 11:00 a.m. on Saturdays. WAMU was a cosponsor of tonight's taping.)

As I suspected, the hour-long program takes longer than that to record. Tonight's performance lasted about 90 minutes, which included some "re-dos" that provided a surreal, disjointed quality to the end of the evening.

The panel tonight consisted of regulars Charlie Pierce, Roxanne Roberts of the Washington Post (the hometown favorite), and Tom Bodett (who did not tell us "we'll leave the light on for you.").

Of course, Chicago Public Radio's Peter Sagal was the host and compere while NPR Morning Edition's venerable Carl Kasell was announcer, official judge, and scorekeeper.

The "Not My Job" segment guest was -- as I might have predicted -- D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, who arrived wearing a Nationals' baseball cap, which he had to remove when he donned his headphones. Williams was quizzed on odd facts concerning the president of Turkmenistan.

Why would WWDTM visit Washington when it could just as easily tape the show back home in Chicago? Peter Sagal said that, when coming to Washington every two years, as they try to do, "we feel like big bacon fans do when they get to visit a swine farm." "We take so much from Washington" in the form of material for questions and jokes, Sagal said, "we feel we should give something back."

Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me claims to have about 2 million weekly listeners. (Most of them, said host Sagal, "socially unsuccessful in high school.") If tonight's audience is evidence, that claim is true -- the part about 2 million, not the nerd factor. Lisner Auditorium was stuffed to the gills with fans of all ages, from grammar-school kids to their grandparents. And the audience was enthusiastic, engaged, and happy, too. (The person sitting next to me, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune Washington bureau, said that a friend of his calls Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me "Hollywood Squares for smart people." How true.)

I'll be writing a full-length article on the show for The Metro Herald next week. I just wanted to get the basics down on pixels before driving home to Charlottesville. I'm looking forward to listening this weekend to see how the edited version of Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me differs from the live performance. (I can think of a few hilarious off-color remarks that won't make the final cut ... but beyond that?)

I have to add that it seems odd, in answer to the question, "What were you doing tonight?", to say, "I was watching a radio program." Odd, but oddly satisfactory.

Update, May 5 @ 3:47 p.m.: "Galileo" has a LiveJournal entry on the same performance I saw, with the amusing title "Bong Hits for Jesus." (I have to go back to my notes, but I know that was the punchline to one of the jokes last night.)

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