Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!, the reliably risible news quiz on National Public Radio, takes special delight in mocking the foibles of politicians. So the fact that the show is landing in the homeland of Katherine Harris the weekend before the Nov. 7 election seems almost too good to be true -- not just for local Wait Wait fans, who snapped up tickets faster than you can say "fund drive," but for the program's urbane host, Peter Sagal.
Speaking from his office in Chicago, where the program is taped when not on tour, Sagal says the timing was fortuitous; the Nov. 2 date at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center was scheduled a year ago, before he had any idea "Katherine Harris would be as hilarious as she's become." Along with fellow Floridian Mark Foley, Harris should provide plenty of comic fodder for Sagal's crack team of pundits: Paula Poundstone, P.J. O'Rourke and Roxanne Roberts, who'll play the quiz with radio listeners. NPR announcer Carl Kasell will, as usual, referee and leave his sonorous tones on the winning players' home answering machines. The celebrity guest -- the one who's forced to tackle questions way outside his area of expertise in the game "Not My Job" -- will be St. Petersburg's Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia. I talked to Sagal about how he and his writers find the funny each week.
Creative Loafing: So you're happy about coming to Florida?
Peter Sagal: I can't think of a better place to watch the election than in Katherine Harris' home district. I just want to be there. I want to look for the smears of mascara on the lamppost where she walked by.
CL: Has a caller ever gotten angry at your political jokes?
PS: We do have lots of people who listen to the show just to drive themselves crazy. Whenever P.J. O'Rourke is on the air, we get these long angry letters from one guy in Washington: "Haven't you listened to me? Why do you insist on putting him on the air? I can't stand him!"
CL: What do you say to critics who think you're harder on one party than the other?
PS: We'll be happy to make fun of a Democrat in a position of real power and influence as soon as there is one. ... We were so grateful when [Louisiana Congressman] William Jefferson was storing money in his freezer.
CL: Has the show ever been threatened by the anti-NPR crowd in Congress?
PS: When we sit around and put together the show, we think about balance, but for the sake of the audience, not for some powerful person who wants to take away our mics. We don't want to take sides. If we take sides, then we're just another screaming head. We want to provide the audience a break from all that. People have said this about Jon Stewart: We treat the news the way it wants to be treated.
CL: How much of the program depends on spontaneous wisecracking?
PS: The things that are most memorable are the things that just happen. ... Paula can take something innocuous and go with it amazingly far -- she could go for 20 minutes if we let her.
CL: Talk about some of the guests who've played "Not My Job." Barack Obama?
PS: The single most charming human being I've ever met in my life. He immediately took our measure and just started dealing the snark.
CL: Washington D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams.
PS: I love it when politicians come on and give us grief.
CL: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
PS: We anticipated [someone] straightforward and conventional. She ended up being so funny. ... We had no idea.
CL: Any celebrities who didn't play along?
PS: [Novelist] Martin Amis had no idea who we were -- he was just kind of vaguely appalled. Gene Simmons was determined to do his shtick -- to be an asshole.
CL: What can we expect seeing the show live?
PS: You get to hear all the stuff we edit out. Some of it's just obscene, some of it's just bad, some of it's completely off topic. It's sort of Wait Wait ... Uncensored.
CL: Do you have any dream guests?
PS: President Clinton and President Bush. We owe Clinton our existence -- we went on one week before the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. That was basically our bread and butter. And of course President Bush is owed a lot of payback.
Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me! Live, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 8 p.m. Thurs., Nov. 2. At press time, tickets were sold out. The radio show is broadcast locally on WUSF-FM 89.7, Saturdays from 11 a.m.-noon.
He is a crackhead. Tell all your friends that Florida is being part run by…
Took almost 20 years to execute Oba Chandler. 10 years for Ted Bundy. 17 years…
Hey Rottenslam, sorry, been busy, will provide some video when I get a breather this…
I have a pickup truck and live less than 2 miles from a recycling center…