It's "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me!"

Quiz shows started on radio, and America's hottest radio quiz show right now is NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me." Here's Mo Rocca:

"Welcome to tonight's taping of "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," your public radio news quiz!" the PA announcer heralds.

At a time when radio audiences are shrinking, when the news seems to be mostly bad, three million listeners are tuning in weekly for a radio news quiz show.

It features as official judge and scorekeeper "the man who makes the news sound sexy" … Carl Kassel, and as host, "a man who feels taller just because he's wearing a tie" … Peter Sagal!

For 10 years, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" has been making sport of current events large and small:

Sagal: "The U.S. government is promoting a new vacation destination where?"

Amy Dickinson: "Guantanamo?"

Ding!

Sagal: "Yes, Guantanamo Bay!"

Sagal: "Police in Charles County, Maryland, arrested 2 men who robbed a CVS drug store before leading the cops on a chase in a blank?"

Charlie Pierce: "Golf cart."

Buzz!

Sagal: "No, a Good Humor ice-cream truck!"

And the just plain odd …

Sagal: "Once again, the Milwaukee Brewers are hosting a promotion where the first 500 male fans will receive what?"

Roy: "I was going to say Viagra."

Sagal: "No, free prostate exam!"

And the audience keeps on growing. One fan said of the crowd, "This is definitely like going to a rock concert, for me anyway."

A woman attending the taping in Chicago said, "I sit down and listen to it religiously. I don't do anything else."

These audience members have come from around the country to see host Sagal and a motley crew of panelists who kibbitz with each other about the week's news.

Sagal: "Swiss watchmaker Romain Jerome is offering a new watch which sold out despite costing $300,000. The watch's big feature is that unlike every other watch ever made it does not do what?"

Paula Poundstone: "Tick?"

Sagal: "No."

Poundstone: "Tock?"

Sagal: "No."

Poundstone: "Tell time?"

Ding!

Sagal: "Exactly!"

Panelist and comedy writer Adam Felber said, "Wait, it sold out in 48 hours? How did they know?"

"The point of this is for God's sake, one hour a week, can we just - and I say this metaphorically - let our hair down?" Sagal said. "Can we just relax? Goof around a little please?"

Cut-up panelist Roy Blount Jr. said, "He wants to be able to say, 'I'm a lesbian, my dad's a lesbian, as was his dad before him."

And then there's the rotating cast of panelists: Full disclosure, I'm one of them.

Others include standup comedian Paula Poundstone, Blount, Felber, advice columnist Amy Dickinson, and Boston Globe reporter Charlie Pierce.

"It's a place to demonstrate the incredible store of useless knowledge that you pile up," Pierce said.

Perhaps the most popular segment is the "Not My Job" game, where a celebrity is invited on to answer questions far removed from his or her expertise. One recent guest contestant: novelist Stephen King.

Was he ready to play? "Oh yeah, I'm totally stoked!" he said.

Recently the horror writer was quizzed on children's television icon Shari Lewis and her beloved puppet Lamb Chop.

Sagal: "Ms. Lewis, though sweet and kind to everyone, had her peculiarities including which of these? A) Just for me puppet named Meatgrinder; B) whenever she went out to eat she liked to order lambchops, rare!, just to horrify the waiters; or C) pinch people and say, 'Lamb Chop made me do it.'"

King: "I'd have to say C."

Sagal: "Sadly, it was B, she liked to order lamb chops."

Doug Berman, the program's creator, said, "You have to entertain people, you have to make people laugh."

When he was a child Berman used to watch reruns of "You Bet Your Life," which was originally a radio show and then became a TV classic.

The quiz was really an excuse to get funny people together.

"Wait Wait …" started playing to a live audience four years ago. And that, says Berman, changed everything.

"Suddenly it was, you know, it was great!" he said.

And finally we were allowed to stop laughing at our own jokes.

"We didn't have to make the laughter ourselves, you know, which is hard to do!" Berman said.

Every few weeks, the show goes out of town. This week, we're in Schenectady, in upstate New York. And we've got 2,700 people here to see it live.

Rocca spoke with a couple of attendees who were both wearing fleeces. "Let me guess: you're regular NPR listeners," he asked.

"That's right," the man said.

So why would fans come to watch a radio program? For one thing, there's the curiosity factor, for example what does Peter Sagal look like?

"He has blond hair," one child said.

Buzz!

(CBS)
"One person once famously said to me, 'I don't know, you just don't sound bald!'" said Sagal (left, with Rocca).

But mostly they come because it's just funny.

Sagal: "A Utah police chief blanked while he was demonstrating how to safely dislodge a jammed handgun during a training session."

Pierce: "Shot himself in the foot!"

Ding!

Sagal: "Yes! The students took copious notes and said they learned a lot about keeping the shooty part pointed away!"

"It's nice to be able to hear the news and remember that you can still laugh, we're still alive," Berman said.

"I want to thank you all for coming," Sagal told his Schenectady fans. "You've been a fabulous audience, please come again if you enjoyed it. If you didn't, send the people you don't like!"


Visit the NPR Web site to listen online or download podcasts of episodes of "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me."
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