How many times was Peter Sagal told he has the perfect radio voice before he became host of National Public Radio's weekend news quiz game Wait Wait...Don¹t Tell Me!? Exactly none, he says, mellifluously. In fact, smooth-talker Sagal's elegant vocal cords had never set foot, so to speak, in a radio studio before the show's advent in 1998. "I came from my apartment in Brooklyn," says Sagal, a writer who was the serendipitous recipient of a call from a friend of a guy who knew a guy. He was picked as a panelist, and the rest is history -- well, minorbroadcast history. But it's the sort that might interest anyone who's ever tuned in to the irreverent call-in show that pits outlandish made-up news stories against the real thing and makes fun of both. The weekly program is also notable because it lets sterling NPR newscaster Carl Kasell (Sagal calls Kasell "the closest thing National Public Radio has to Cronkite") be a clown.
But the humorist role fit Sagal well. "All I ever really wanted in life was one hour a week on NPR to gas on about all the things I thought about," he says in a serious tone.
He and everyone else. Here's your chance to partake in the NPR experience: On Thursday night, Wait, Wait, which is usually taped in a Chicago studio, comes to Boulder with Sagal, Kassel and panelists Adam Felber, Sue Ellicott and Mo Rocca for a rare stint in front of a live audience.
Just what makes the show so darn funny? "We're only as good as the actual news stories we get on air each week," Sagal says. "We love stories about the stranger, more unexpected side of serious things." There have been too many such true stories, he adds, to whittle down a list of the weirdest, but one of Sagal's favorites involved a CIA program that used cats as eavesdropping devices.
And they're always looking for more, too: Wait Wait accepts suggestions by e-mail. However, "We don't want the story about some guy in a trailer park getting his nose stuck in a faucet; we want the story about Secretary Rumsfeld getting hisnose stuck in a faucet," Sagal warns. "We like the news the people who make news would rather you don't know about."