Wait, wait. Don’t tell me. Let me guess who’s coming to the Baton Rouge River Center Theatre.
Is it that widely traveling Chicago-based public radio quiz show featuring quick-witted host Peter Sagal and his silver-toned, score-keeping sidekick, Carl Kasell?
Yes, my fellow Louisianians, indeed it is. The “Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!” road show comes to Baton Rouge on Sept. 26.
Just as sure as the sandwich-loving Sagal will be sampling those Louisiana specialties known as poboys while he’s in Red Stick town, his River Center audience will be primed for a rapid-fire “Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!” episode of quips and riffs based on the week’s news.
It’ll be Sagal’s first visit to Baton Rouge, for any purpose whatsoever, but the show’s occupation of the River Center Theatre next week follows an ecstatically received 2010 “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” appearance at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts in New Orleans.
“People ask us where the best audience is,” Sagal said recently from Chicago. “I usually go, ‘Audiences are great!’ But without question the loudest, most enthusiastic, raucous audience was New Orleans that day. It was awesome.”
Sagal’s many visits to New Orleans through the years came in part because his brother attended Tulane University as both an undergraduate and a law student.
“So he was there for a good seven years,” Sagal said. “I was down there a lot visiting him. I love New Orleans, as all right-thinking people should.”
“Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me’s” on-location tapings have taken Sagal to 47 of the 50 United States, from Alaska to Florida, from Maine to Washington, Oregon and Hawaii.
“We’ve been all over the place,” Sagal said. “And I have to tell you that, although there are great pleasures in playing places like Portland, San Francisco and Seattle, the places I have loved going to most aren’t typical public radio cities. We had a great time in Oklahoma City, in Houston and Dallas.”
As much as Sagal likes talking to guys who work at think tanks, to lawyers, doctors and such, he likewise enjoys speaking with truckers, farmers, ministers.
“I love the fact that our show appeals to a lot of different kinds of people,” he said. “And I really want our show to be a break from the constant partisan ideological warfare that goes on. I don’t want to be on a side. I want to give everybody a break from that.”
Sagal began his “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” career as a panelist when the show made its debut in January 1998. By May of that year, the Berkeley Heights, N.J., native had gladly moved to Chicago to be the show’s host.
“People ask how I got this job,” he said. “I basically fell into it. I can’t recommend to other people who have ambitions that they sit around and wait for a phone call out of the blue, but that worked for me.”
Before “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!”, Sagal worked as a literary manager, movie publicist, stage director, actor and an extra in a Michael Jackson video. He’s written several plays that have been produced in the U.S. and abroad.
“I’ve had this eclectic life where I did whatever seemed like a good idea at the time,” he recalled. “Sometimes it went well, sometimes it didn’t, but it always led me to something cool.
“It finally led me to maybe the perfect job for me. A job for someone who likes to talk, doesn’t know a lot about any one thing, but knows a little about a lot of things. I really enjoy a good conversation, which, basically, is what I’m helping facilitate every week.”
Radio may be, relatively speaking, old media, but Sagal trusts that the audience for well-produced audio will never die. If it’s quality audio content, he believes, the method of transmission, be it over the air, real-time broadcasts, online streaming or podcasts, isn’t so important.
“There is and there always will be, I hope, an appetite for interesting conversation, great music, brilliant editing, even radio theater, because the human voice and the spoken word are really powerful,” Sagal said. “All we need to do, and this is true of anybody who wants to get into this, is make sure it’s good.”