This article was published awhile this fall in the Loyola Phoenix, my school’s award-winning student newspaper that I write for in the Arts & Entertainment section, but I never shared it for some reason. For all the NPR nerds out there, this one is for you:
Host Peter Sagal’s opening line to a live taping of NPR’s Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! made the whole auditorium burst into laughter: “We should also let you know: if you are listening at home that if we sound a little cramped today, well, in the spirit of his holiness Pope Francis, we have given up our usual luxurious theater and we’re doing this show all stuffed inside a Fiat.”
“Stuffed inside a Fiat” wasn’t all that far from the truth. The Chase Bank Auditorium (10 S. Dearborn St.) is a luxurious theater, but it is also very small. When I walked in, I expected a huge auditorium, but the theater sat no more than 150 people. Even at the capacity, I have never heard so much laughter. I started laughing at Sagal’s first line, and I never stopped laughing the entire show.
Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! is NPR’s weekly news quiz program that airs every Saturday. Panelists are brought on the show so listeners can test their knowledge with some of the best and brightest in the news and entertainment world. Listeners will find out what is real in the weekly news and what is made up. Throughout the show, listeners call in to play. They can also play along online during the show.
I have been waiting to go to a taping of Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! for many years now, so the night was already a dream come true. I grew up listening to NPR at the breakfast table, and I regularly read Sagal’s columns in Runner’s World magazine.
The stage was set up just as I pictured it to be. It had a simple backdrop, with the show’s logo of a rolled-up newspaper as the top of an exclamation mark on each of the podiums. Bill Kurtis – official judge, scorekeeper and former CBS news anchor – stood on the left with Sagal, and the three panelists – author and radio anomaly Tom Boddett, daily podcast host Luke Burbank, and comedian Iliza Shlesinger – sat on the right.
As always, Peter Sagal was an exceptional, and an exceptionally funny, host. He knew when to linger and make a joke about the news topic for a particular quiz question, such as Scott Walker dropping out of the presidential race turning into a joke about Walker’s Twitter obsession with hot ham and rolls, but he also knew when to keep the show rolling.
The panelists each brought a different vibe to the show, but all were quite the news experts. I especially enjoyed Iliza Shlesigner on the show. Shlesigner is 32, the youngest of the panelists and winner of the sixth season of NBC’s Last Comic Standing. Shlesigner definitely brings the perspective of a slightly younger generation to the show: Luke Burbank is 39, Tom Boddett is 60, Peter Sagal is 50, Bill Kurtis is 75, and most of the other usual panelists are in their mid to upper 50’s. Bill Kurtis, who also narrated the movie Anchorman 2, has the perfect voice to be the scorekeeper and the judge. He throws his own jokes in the mix, such as his own introduction: “I’m the man whose tailpipe emissions are always exactly as promised.” Because it was his birthday, the audience sang happy birthday to him when the taping ended.
Singer/Songwriter Jewel was on the show as a special guest. She has a connection to panelist Tom Boddett, as he helped fund her college education so she could attend college outside of her small town in Alaska and get her start. I enjoyed seeing Jewel out of her usual element, answering questions about current events and making jokes.
After the show, there was a Q&A session, a meet-and-greet and some free cookies from Baker Miller to end the night.I learned a lot at the show, such as to how Volkswagen cars are not really as environmentally friendly as the company says they are. When I left the auditorium, I felt like I had just walked out of the most interesting lecture hall of my life, weighed down by greater knowledge but at the same time lighter than ever from all of the laughter.
Even if you did not grow up an NPR nerd like I did, I would recommend this show to any student. The tickets are $30, and sell out fast. Make sure to check the Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! section on the NPR or the WBEZ Chicago website for future taping dates in Chicago to see when the tickets for those shows go on sale. The show travels around the country and tapes in other states as well. You will experience a different evening than you are used to, learn a lot, and laugh the night away.