Peter Sagal ('Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! live at Fox Theatre Feb. 25) befuddled by Donald Trump

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Friday, February 19, 2016

NPR's "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!" is dryly described on its website as a "weekly hour-long quiz program."

But in reality, as creator Peter Sagal says, "the questions and answers are just an excuse to screw around." In many ways, it's a lighter radio equivalent of "The Daily Show," using limericks, fake stories and weekly news quotes to generate jokes, quips and the occasional double entendre. Locally, it's heard Saturdays at 11 a.m. on 90.1/WABE-FM.

And like those who embrace "The Prairie Home Companion," fans of this "Wait Wait" love to see Sagal and his rotating cast of characters crack wise live on a stage. Its third visit to Atlanta Thursday, February 25 at the Fox Theatre is sold out. (You can check for ticket availability here but you may have to explore third-party ticket vendors such as Stubhub, selling tickets from $85 to $328 apiece.)

Sagal said when the Chicago-based show hits the road monthly, his staff tries to design the hour with a bit of local flavor. (The live show usually goes far longer than an hour and is edited down for broadcast two days later.)

Two of the three panelists this week grew up in metro Atlanta - actor/comic Faith Salie and author/humorist Roy Blount Jr.. Stand-up comic and "Wait Wait" favorite Paula Poundstone - who will return to Atlanta at Variety Playhouse for a show April 2 - will round out the trio. And the celebrity guest will be country legend and Monticello native Trisha Yearwood.

Photo credit: Joan Griswold
Trisha Yearwood (left) from 2008 at Atlantic Station. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/

Expect a reference or two to the South Carolina primary and a certain presidential candidate.

For comics, "Donald Trump has been good and he's been bad," Sagal said. "It's hard to exaggerate what he says and does for humorous effect. He basically says what we joke about. Hey! Maybe he'll take on the Pope. Then he actually takes on the Pope!"

Plus, "if you're going to make fun of someone, you need to believe that person is capable of shame or regret to give it human context. Donald has no shame. He shows no human frailty that you can play with as a humorist."

On the episode that aired Feb. 13, Sagal did try. Referencing Trump's victory in the New Hampshire primaries, he quipped, "In New Hampshire, Donald Trump saw his shadow so we now have... eight more weeks of Donald Trump."

Some of his favorite stories over the years include scandal more of the carnal variety. He cited the sex scandals of fallen politicians Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer. Despite the upscale audience "Wait Wait" supposedly caters to, Sagal said "NPR listeners like a good fart joke."

Carl Kasell has been retired for two years but still goes to NPR to tape voicemail messages for winners of the news quizzes on "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!" CREDIT: NPR

Comically, the prize on the show for listeners remains a voice mail message recorded by now retired "Wait Wait" announcer and "Morning Edition" host Carl Kasell. Despite the obvious anachronistic nature of this reward, Sagal said nobody complains.

Kasell's replacement since 2014 Bill Kurtis is another respected veteran journalist. Sagal figured Kurtis wouldn't stick around long. "He's wealthy," Sagal said. "He has a cattle farm in Kansas. Why in the world would he want to do this silly radio show?"

But six months ago, Kurtis told Sagal, "You're going to have to drag me out of here with a coffin!"

Sagal's conclusion: "You place these serious journalists in front of an audience. They laugh at what you say. They become laugh junkies. They can't get enough!"


“Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me”

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25. $35-$125. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta.


“Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” 11 a.m. Saturdays, 90.1/WABE-FM, 10 a.m. Saturdays, 88.5/WRAS-FM

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.