For the next few weeks, NPR game show favorite Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! will be in residence at the Nourse Theatre in San Francisco, taping shows every Thursday night. If this is the first you’re hearing of it, sorry, tickets sold out in a record six hours. The Peabody Award-winning program has never before undertaken an extended residency in any city outside their native Chicago, but as host Peter Sagal summed up backstage after the show, “How could we not want to be here? It’s San Francisco!” It was acknowledged throughout the night that Northern California, and San Francisco especially, is fertile ground for public radio listeners, as evidenced by the NPR devoted groupieship in attendance. There haven’t been so many tote bags in one place since the last National Archivist Association picnic.
The hour-long show, hosted by Sagal and announcer Bill Kurtis (the narrator of every A&E true crime program worth its salt) features a rotating panel of three who are quizzed on a variety of topics in the news that week or are occasionally called to the aid of phone-in guests from around the country. Last Thursday’s panel consisted of the Washington Post‘s Roxanne Roberts, humorist Roy Blount Jr. and comedian Bobcat Goldwait. The Not My Job guests for the next few weeks will be pulled from the local luminary population. Last week, Chef Thomas Keller (The French Laundry) filled the slot, dressed in what Sagal remarked were “the most pristine chef whites ever…even for radio.”
Here are some highlights and behind-the-scenes dish on the premiere taping and a look ahead to what’s coming up in the next two weeks.
The best thing about any game show is sitting in the audience. If any contestant or panelist contemplated the question for a moment too long, the crowd at Nourse was ready to help them. 80 percent of the time they were right, which I suppose speaks well of our local news habits. A tip for anyone attending: Study up before the show so you can get the nuances of the joke about the Iranian election. Even at the taping of brainy NPR game shows, people get extremely excited, so watching the fervor amp up as we get to the fill-in-the-blank round or as a panelist struggles to recall the name of the head of the CIA’s kitchen is something to behold.
Sagal and the show’s writers are tailoring some of the humor to the temporary SF locale. Real estate references, jokes about start-up culture (“so you all have a million dollars of app starter money in your pockets tonight, right?”) and the availability of medical marijuana peppered the night, and Sagal is looking forward to getting to explore the city for more material. “It’s this really interesting time for the city,” Sagal said after the taping. “A lot of the old chakra, hippie stuff is dying out so the jokes from 10 years ago don’t work.” Addressing both the housing crisis and the overall changes to the city in recent years, Sagal commented that in spite of the current climate “tech billionaires, from what I’ve seen, have yet to stamp out the real San Francisco.” He sure knows how to reassure listeners.
Fun with Foodies
One of Sagal’s on-going targets of the night was the Bay Area’s foodie culture, so imagine how much fun he and Chef Thomas Keller had playfully sparring. Sagal’s main point of contention was the prices at Keller’s Michelin-starred restaurants, but Keller was a good sport. The internationally lauded chef even brought signature amuse bouche from his Yountville kitchen for the panel, which silenced any jokes from Sagal only for the moment his mouth was full. Keller won the night when he also produced a bag of In-N-Out Burger when the amuse bouche did not sate the host, showing he was not only prepared to laugh at himself, he was just all around prepared.
Art Linkletter, Anyone?
In one of the night’s more surreal running jokes, Roy Blount Jr. tried to make an elaborate quip about Art Linkletter work in the context of…actually, the context got lost because the author’s reference was so bizarre and archaic. As Blount struggled to eventually find a way to make the Kids Say the Darndest Things host into some kind of punch-line throughout the evening, it became apparent it was actually the perfect example of NPR humor. Get a grandfatherly writer to make an old-timey reference for a dose of Americana quaintness on the airwaves and everyone laughs in nodding affection. For the record, Linkletter was VERY big in family programming in the ’60s, so take that, young people!
Upcoming Local Guests
This week, local drag impresario Peaches Christ will be taking the Not My Job guest spot. If you can still score black market tickets to the show, it’ll be a treat to see what she wears for the radio.
And the final NMJ guest will be Amy Tan, so be prepared for some kind of stunt where she will either have to specify parts of the skeleton as an homage to The Bonesetter’s Daughter or name that serotonin for a Joy Luck Club rapid-fire round.