Thursday night performing at the Strathmore in Bethesda, MD was the hilarious cast of the hit NPR show “Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me.” It stars the brilliant dead pan wit of Peter Sagal, Judge and Scorekeeper Carl Kasell, and three of their regular guests: humorist, radio personality, and author of fiction and travel books, Tom aka “Motel Six” Bodett, humorist Jessi Klein, and Charlie Pierce, who writes the politics blog for esquire.com, and is a contributing writer to Esquire and a staff writer for Grantland. The show’s special guest was British Ambassador Sir Peter Westmacott.
The sold out show had an electric energy pouring from the audience. The show started off with the lights going down and then a colorful globe ball spinning on a chair on stage, which was really funny because it was unexpected. The three guests strutted on stage and then Carl Kasell who received thunderous applause, then Peter Sagal sauntered on-stage and the applause was deafening. People call the White House Correspondents Dinner Nerd Prom, but I call “Wait, Wait.. Don’t Tell Me” a nerd convention!
It is fascinating watching a live taping of this popular show. The high energy of Mr. Sagal is amazing. I was tired just watching him having to be so high charging, but I think the crowd’s energy definitely helps the performers.
Before the show started taping for the radio show, Mr. Sagal made some funny quips. Having studied improv myself in Chicago and DC, I appreciate his on the feet humor. The audience was also watching the show up in the rafters behind the show, so he made a quip from the movie “Gladiator” as he walked in circles, “Are you not entertained?” Sagal shared with the crowd that usually when someone meets a guy from radio, such as himself, people are shocked that he is bald and so whatever he says for the next 30 seconds no one hears him. He could say, “The room is on fire, please evacuate” and people would just stare at him. (crowd laughter)
Sagal explained to the crowd that they were going to do 3 shows that are going to be used later in the summer so they can take a summer break. So sadly, no current political news quiz this show. They did tape a show Thursday night that aired that weekend. Sagal asked the crowd who had seen the Thursday night show. When people raised their hands and cheered to say they had, Sagal replied, “You all are nuts!” (audience laughter)
Sagal shared that at the end of the shows, they would do 2-3 minutes of re-taping segments that needed redoing and then they would have a Q&A with the audience. He asked for audience participation to laugh, have a great time, and cheer.
Then the show started!! Carl Kasell did the “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” intro and the crowd went wild. Sagal then launched into introducing their guests. The show took 3 guest phone calls. One guy called from Louisiana who said he rides a Carnival float called Thoth during Mardi Gras. He said Thoth is from Egyptian mythology. Sagal was befuddled by how to produce Thoth and what it is, which was hilarious. Later Sagal took another caller who is a school teacher. She teaches fifth grade and her favorite subject ironically is Egyptian history. Sagal asks her if she knows who Thoth is and she laughs nervously that she does not.. super funny!
The special guest on the shows was The Ambassador to England. I felt a little bad for him because Sagal is standing at the lectern while the Ambassador is sitting in a chair facing the audience front and center. The power dynamic definitely was shifted, however the Ambassador kept his own. Sagal asked the Ambassador about his career and being knighted by the Queen. The Ambassador shared that he does indeed receive emails from the Queen and that he had to kneel when he was knighted. Usually the emails from the Queen are “to deliver correspondence to your President Barack Obama.” One of the most fun parts of the night was Sagal’s diplomatic questions for the Ambassador. “How would you respond if a woman said, “Does this dress make me look fat?”‘ and “Would you read the first chapter of my book?” The Ambassador sweetly said the best thing about America is his American born wife who is from Bethesda.
After the show and its edits, Sagal took questions from the audience. Of course, my hand shot up and Sagal called on me! “Who has been your favorite guest and why?” Sagal replied jocularly, “Well the Ambassador from Britain of course!” Sagal explained his favorite guests tend to be people you don’t expect to be funny, but are. He mentioned musician Neko Case as being hysterical and a pleasant surprise.
Another great question was from a young viewer who asked, “How do you get all your material?” Sagal revealed they spend copious amount of time on the Internet and focus on the positively weird stories and avoid the negative stories. Sagal told the little girl, “If you do your homework, maybe you too can have your own show someday!”
Another question from the audience was, “Who are the people sitting at the desk on the stage?” Sagal kindly had all the staff stand up and wave as he introduced them all. That was super sweet of him. Sagal then announced that the original creator of the show Murray Horwitz was in the front row. Horwitz now works at Washington Performing Arts Society as its Director of Development. After the show, the stars of the show stuck around and were chatting with the audience. I got to meet Mr. Horwitz. He was telling Sagal that him announcing him to the crowd “was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me!”
I grabbed a photo with Mr. Kasell and Tom Bodett. Everyone was super nice.
Overall an amazing show that makes you laugh, think, and learn. A true American gem!!
Tune into “Wait, Wait.. Don’t Tell Me” on your local NPR station or listen online.