NPR's news-parodying game show 'Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!' comes to town for a live taping

Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!
7:30 p.m. Thursday
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker

The popular NPR program "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!" makes an Oklahoma City appearance Thursday night for a live recording at the Civic Center Music Hall. The weekly quiz show brings together callers, celebrity panelists and special guests competing by answering questions about the week's events, spotting fake news stories and deciphering limericks.

"Wait Wait" has a weekly audience of more than 3 million listeners on 500 public radio stations, including Stillwater-based NPR affiliate KOSU-FM, which brought the show to town.

For the unfamiliar, the station's program director, Kelly Burley, said anybody who enjoys poking fun at newsmakers will enjoy the show. In light of the obvious comparisons, host Peter Sagal feels like he's in good company, but that he has an obligation to stay original.

"You can watch Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert every night, and I think their writing staffs are brilliant. We don't want to repeat them. We don't want to be them, but we want to be on that level," he said.

A playwright, actor and author, Sagal has hosted "Wait Wait" since 1998. He returned to the show a few weeks ago after taking some time off to recover from being hit by a car while riding his bicycle.

"Considering what could have happened or how badly I could have been injured, I am extremely lucky. I've recovered rapidly, almost miraculously quickly," he said. "A friend of mine said, 'You're just like Wolverine.' I'm short, I'm hairy and I heal fast."

Despite all the work that goes into producing and writing the show, Sagal said people love how unplanned it all seems. That's accomplished by keeping the week's three panelists in the dark about the content, save for the "Bluff the Listener Challenge," in which a caller must pick the true story among three offerings written by the panelists. Sagal likens the panel to casting a dinner party.

"You want different kinds of people with a mixture of voices. Not everyone sounds the same, but they can talk to each other," he said.

Thursday's panelists include regulars Kyrie O'Connor of The Houston Chronicle, Charlie Pierce of The Boston Globe and satirist Mo Rocca of "CBS News Sunday Morning."

Another popular aspect is the listeners' chance to win radio's most coveted prize: having former NPR newscaster Carl Kasell, who serves as judge and scorekeeper, record a message on their answering machine or voicemail.

"The thing about our prize is that it's a joke. Our prize is both priceless and worthless. You can't buy it. You can't sell it," Sagal said. "People have called up and offered other things as prizes, but we don't want to offer anything that has any monetary value, because that would screw everything up."

The biggest change in the show's history came in 2005, when it started taping in front of a live audience every week.

"It's much better if you're doing a comedy show if there are people around that might laugh at you when you're funny," he said. "But less abstractly, we're just better than we used to be. If there's someone that might laugh at your joke, you work harder to make a better joke. We're like dolphins jumping for herring: If you get rewarded for a laugh, you'll do a backflip for it." "?Eric Webb

Photo/Anthony Nagelmann