Peter Sagal — host of National Public Radio’s weekly quiz show “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me” — is a political news junkie. “Obsessed,” he says.
So you’d think election season is carnival time for his show. But Sagal has learned variety is the program’s key to success.
“We can’t devote our entire show to national politics,” he says. “We aren’t Jon Stewart’s ‘The Daily Show.’ We have to be more eclectic.”
So when “Wait Wait” rolls into Atlanta Sept. 20 for a live show at the Fox Theatre, expect plenty of witty wordplay, droll silliness and — quite possibly, Sagal warns — “fart jokes.”
During the show’s first live taping in Atlanta, in 2009 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, the cast broached such topics as Tiger Woods’ sexual proclivities, diapers and urination.
“Even public radio needs a little juvenile behavior,” Sagal says.
The search for news bits that can be transformed into limericks and quirky quiz questions is akin to a “scavenger hunt.”
“We start in the morning and head out looking for stuff. At the end of the day, we share what treasures we find.”
Though it’s a radio show, first and foremost, Sagal says the show’s weekly live audience energizes the participants on stage. “You have to up your game. We’ll do a tasteless joke and get booed. We get punished. That’s OK. It’s a comedy show.”
“Wait Wait” enters its 15th year on NPR drawing more than 3 million weekly listeners and another 3.4 million monthly on podcasts. (The show airs locally at 11 a.m. Saturdays on 90.1/WABE-FM and you can listen to it on demand here).
Each program features three panelists, a guest star and callers who get quizzed on the past week’s news events. Normally taped in Chicago Thursdays for airing on the weekend, “Wait Wait” goes on the road about once a month.
The three panelists for the Atlanta show are all regulars: author and former Decatur resident Roy Blount Jr., comic and commentator Faith Salie and “CBS Sunday Morning” contributor and former “Daily Show” correspondent Mo Rocca.
“Three distinct and interesting personalities,” Sagal says. “Roy is avuncular. Faith is bright and funny and curious. Mo is just nuts. His mind goes a mile a minute.”
The idea, he says, is to create this “really great dinner party with smart, interesting people who are perceptive and witty in different ways.”
“Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me”
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20
$47.20 to $79.30. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-881-2100. www.foxtheatre.org.
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk