Radio: Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!

Wait, wait, here's the stars of the show.

One of the few American attempts at the quintessentially British Panel Game format. Based loosely on The BBC program The News Quiz (which also inspired Have I Got News for You), Wait, Wait is produced in Chicago, airs weekly on NPR, and featured NPR News's former anchor Carl Kasell as announcer/scorekeeper. Kasell retired in 2014 and was replaced by Bill Kurtis, a former CBS news anchor and an extremely prolific documentary narrator. The host is Peter Sagal. Rotating panelists include Tom Bodett, P.J. O'Rourke, Paula Poundstone, Paul Provenza (director of The Aristocrats), and Mo Rocca (formerly of The Daily Show, currently of CBS Sunday Morning). Call-in contestants compete for the prize of getting Carl Kasell to record an answering machinenote  (or cell phone voicemail) greeting; panelists are scored on their performances but don't get anything for winning.

Segments include:
  • Who's Carl/Bill This Time?: Carl (later Bill) reads quotes from the news and the caller must identify who said them.
  • Bluff The Listener: The panelists each read an odd "news story". Only one panelist has a true story, and the listener guesses who.
  • Not My Job: At the midpoint of every episode, a celebrity call-in guest is brought in and quizzed about a topic far outside their expertise (except when they had John Hodgman on, of course; Ken Jennings also confounded them). Stephen King, for instance, got questions about Teletubbies and the like, while Lewis Black stumbled through three questions on Miss Manners. And, more recently, Leonard Nimoy had to answer questions about not being the other Spock (Dr. Benjamin, child care specialist) either.
  • Listener Limerick Challenge: Carl (Later Bill) reads most of a news-inspired limerick; the caller has to complete it.
  • Lightning Fill-In-The-Blank: The final "speed round" in which panelists quickly go through questions on the rest of the week's news.


  • Actor Allusion:
    • Often invoked in the Not My Job segment. For Henry Winkler, not only were questions about Ponzi (not Fonzie) schemes, every answer was A, to be pronounced Ayyyyyyy!
    • When Motel 6 became a corporate sponsor, when he is a panelist Tom Bodett is always asked to finish the ad blurb.
  • Are You Sure You Want to Do That?: If someone guesses the incorrect answer for their question, Peter Sagal will urge them to change it.
  • Ascended Extra: Peter Sagal was originally one of the show's regular contestants, before being promoted to host.
    • Neko Case was a popular guest first before becoming a panelist in 2013.
  • Audience Participation: The audience is free to collectively help guests and panelists (by yelling the answer, making noise, and so on), though they're not always correct. Peter often comments on their behavior.
  • Berserk Button: Usually parodied.
    • After a caller displayed doubts in a "Bluff-the-Listener" story of a alcoholic recovery/shooting camp, panelist P.J. O'Rourke got angry, saying that, as a Republican, his party is largely made up of drunks with guns.
    • Panelist Paula Poundstone has two:
      • She often displays anger over the idea of swearing and humor being bad, including moments where she became very angry over a Curse Free Week in California, and when a school district banned "Three-Stooge-Like behavior."
      • Paula also has a marked tendency to question the various 'studies' that form the basis of the out-of-segment questions, often triggering a rant about people being paid to do these things. For example, a study from a British psychologist who somehow found that women were more attracted to men who danced like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. This study was done in 2008, by the way.
      • One of Paula's most famous moments on the show was her pretend berserk button response to host Peter Segal continuing to milk humor out of the Dick Cheney hunting accident.
      "You know what, I don't know why you keep bringing that up. The victim has apologized. What more do you want?"
      • And then there's the time that she lost her temper at Michael Pollan for his disapproval of processed foods.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: Upon hearing that the pet-only terminal at JFK Airport will have an area for penguins to mate, Adam Felber complains.
    Adam: Wait, I don't even get one of those at the airport!
    Peter: I KNOW!
    Paula Poundstone: I don't think you should be having sex with penguins. I feel very strongly about that.
    Adam: And I feel like you're just trying to suppress my identity right there.
    Paula: NO! After what happened with the flamingos, I feel...
    Adam: That was consensual.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor:
    • When teenage fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson played Not My Job she was asked questions about "stuff old people like". One of them was about NPR.
    • Peter Sagal called Ukraine holding a fundraiser for its military the "public radio approach to national defense."
    • Peter on an ISIS recruiting tactic:
      Peter Sagal: Tom, according to the AP this week, in order to recruit more jihadis, ISIS has adopted the tactics of what other well-known evil organization?
      Tom Bodett: Um. That would be... it's not like the public radio fund drive thing?
      Peter: You're so close, yes. I'm going to give it to you on the base of the guess. It's NPR. [...] This comes as no surprise to you NPR listeners, who, a couple of times a year, get pledge boarded by your local station.
  • Black Humor: A literal example of Dead Baby Comedy on the 5/30/14 episode with Alicia Silverstone who just wrote a book on motherhood. Answering questions taken from hints on baby care in a 50's era guide, one answer concerned babies being rubbed with lard in the belief that the lard helps soften the skin. One of the female panelists piped up with "And it also makes the skin extra crispy when the baby is put on the spit.".
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Citing a British study, Peter Sagal asks panelist Maz Jobrani what men talk about at a barnote :
    Maz: Sex?
    Peter: Not according to the study.
    Maz: Uh, sports!
    Peter: Not according to the study.
    Maz: Um, sexual sports?
    Peter: Again, not according to the study.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Peter Sagal and the panelists do this a lot, though they all got in the fun in the September 5, 2015 broadcast doing Canadian and German accents.
  • Cheap Heat: At the shows produced outside of Chicago, the guest is a local and he or she always plays for a local caller; the other call-in contestants are often from the area as well.
  • Clip Show: "Best Of" episodes aired during NPR pledge break weeks, as well as on holidays.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Mo Rocca is planted firmly in this territory.
    • Recently, Bobcat Goldthwait has been this, especially during the final Lightning Fill-in-the-blank segments where he is usually lucky to get one correct answer.
  • Cool Old Guy: Both scorekeeper emeritus Carl Kasell and current scorekeeper and announcer Bill Kurtis fit this category, and of course, many of the show's guests fit as well.
  • Couch Gag: Since taking over as announcer and scorekeeper, Bill Kurtis uses a different adjective or series of adjectives to introduce himself.
  • Cross Over: Peter Segal was the guest for the 5/3/14 episode of fellow public radio show Ask Me Another. That show's host, Ophira Eisenberg, has had a couple turns as a panelist on Wait Wait as well.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • The show started in January 1998, but was relaunched in May of that year with several changes: Peter Sagal took over hosting from Dan Coffey, they introduced the "Not My Job!" segment with guests, and so forth. Some other differences from the early years:
    • For quite some time, scores in the Not My Job round were given nicknames after the first person to achieve that score. For instance, a Stamberg (named after the first guest), meant no points were scored.
    • The round was also much harder to play since the questions had no central context and were instead based on quotes made during the week (closer to the interstitial questions between rounds).
    • For the first few years, the guests were mainly NPR contributors since the show was done in-studio and those were the only people they could get. Their first major guest was John Mc Cain back in 2000... at least two years after the show started.
    • Carl's voice as a prize was more or less a placeholder since they really couldn't afford anything better. By the time they could, the message was such a beloved prize that they kept it that way (and it helped prevent any breaking of NPR's rules about contests.)
    • In the earliest shows, the final round was either an "essay" question had each contestant make up a funny story (scored by Carl out of 10 points), or Lightning True-False, before being replaced with the current Lightning Fill-in-the-Blank round.
  • Funny Answering Machine: The prize offered to most contestants for getting two out of three questions correct is a humorous recording from Carl Kasell.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • Subverted when the panelists realized that that they could say "hump" (as in dogs hump legs) and lampshaded it as much as possible.
    • After the FCC lifted the ban on "fleeting obscenities," Peter and Carl had this exchange:
    Peter Sagal: Of course, this means we no longer need to have Carl on an 8 second delay.
    Carl Kasell: Damn straight, Peter!
  • Golden Snitch: There are only seven to nine points available before the speed round; in Lightning Fill-in-the-Blank, each panelist has eight questions worth two points each.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: After a story about a lack of good names for new rock bands, Peter Sagal suggests some names based on the week's news, including: The Joe Lieberman Experience, Bart Stupak Shakur, Mega-Death Panel, and Joe Biden and the Big Folk-ing Deals.
  • Gretzky Has the Ball: During the 2010 World Cup, panelist Tom Bodett admitted that he knows nothing about soccer, which becomes a problem when his son asks him about the game.
    Son: Why are they upset?
    Tom: Uh, he was off-sides.note 

    Son: What's the yellow card for?
    Tom: Uh, he's special.
  • Homemade Sweater From Hell: Mo Rocca got into a bit of trouble when he invoked this and had an online knitting group up in arms.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Parodied during the 09/05/15 show (mocking Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis) when Peter Sagal said he and Bill Kurtis were going to go down to the county courthouse to get married, and then have the wedding reception at the county jail. (They're both straight in real life.)
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms: Adam Burke is asked what the mayor of Louisville inadvertently tweeted (he was taking a dump), and Adam doesn't really want to specify.
    Adam: He was um, he was in session, as they say.
    Peter Sagal: Who says that? Who says that?
    Amy Dickenson: Is that what they say? La-dee-dah.
    Adam: He was, you know, taking it in his chambers, as judges say-
    Peter: Oh, go on. More euphemisms.
    Adam: Uh, yeah, he was apropos, he was on the bog, he was on the loo.
  • Hurricane of Puns: During a "Bluff the Listener" challenge, Adam Felber ended his story thus:
    Adam: Mr. Nova, previously not a posterior fan, had high praise for the low parts, quote, "I never saw that as an asset before. But now that this bum's seated back behind the wheel, I fundamentally thank her from the bottom of my heart."
  • I Am One of Those Too: Hilariously, Kevin Smith had actually read the random book on which they based his Not My Job quiz. They even let him explain one of the ridiculous stories in it. (The book in question, incidentally, was a strange-science book called Elephants on Acid.)
  • Insult Misfire: Played for Laughs in the June 6, 2015 broadcast when Peter Sagal assumes one of the panelists is mocking his age:
    Peter: Bloomberg News reports that senior citizens are more active than ever - specifically, senior citizens are doing a whole lot more what?
    Roxanne: Having sex.
    Peter: No.
    Roxanne: They're not?
    Peter: I wouldn't know. I'm not yet that old.
  • Jewish Mother: According to Peter, the surgeon general is like the nation's Jewish mother.
  • Lame Pun Reaction:
    • While the panelists talked about Ted Cruz' "Making Machine-Gun Bacon" (ostensibly by wrapping bacon around the barrel and firing the rifle), Roxanne says that is a twist on "pork barrel politics".
    Roxanne: Sorry. I actually feel the need to apologize for that.
    • Peter Sagal will occasionally apologize for the pun on "rhyme" he uses to introduce the Listener Limerick Challenge.
    "Look, if you've got better ones, send 'em in, okay?"
  • N-Word Privileges:
    • With the N-word in question being "Nerd". Peter Sagal claims the right to mock nerds due to (nominally) being one himself.
    • Same thing with making New Jersey jokes.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: A "Not My Job" segment asking skier Mikaela Shiffrin about the Gloucestershire cheese race mentioned how the local authorities once tried to stop the race by telling the 86-year-old woman who makes the cheese every year that she'd be liable for any injuries sustained.
    Peter: Her answer cannot be repeated on public radio. (laughter) Although I'm sure it was said in a lovely Downton Abbey accent. (laughter)
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: Peter occasionally begins a piece of news with this disclaimer when it seems unbelievable, so the audience and panelists know he isn't joking.
    Peter: They've robbed twelve banks, and they nearly botched one of their getaways because - and this is true - one of the desperadoes had to keep stopping to pee.
  • Panel Game: A rare American one.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: A story about a British Airways flight that accidentally announced it was going to crash led to this exchange between the panelists:
    Maz Jobrani: The British are so polite. Was the button that announced it was wrong just a 'never mind.'
    Adam Felber: When we said 'water landing' we meant another round of drinks!
  • Rule of Three: A Lightning Fill-in-the-Blank segment in July 2015 for Amy Dickinson began with three very similar sentences for similar events:
    Peter: Experts say that it was a technical glitch and not a cyber attack that caused (blank)note  to stop trading for several hours on Wednesday.
    Peter: Experts say that it was a technical glitch and not a cyber attack that grounded (blank)'snote  planes for several hours on Wednesday.
    Peter: Experts say that it was a technical glitch and not a cyber attack that caused the website for the (blank)note  to go down several hours on Wednesday.
  • Running Gag
    • Paula Poundstone's ire at studies (or "studies") and the ridiculous results they produce.
    • The increasingly lame intros to the Limericks round.
    • Starting in 2013, "twerking" has become a popular answer to questions in the lightning round when they don't know the answer (partly because of Miley Cyrus' undeserving dominance of the news cycle and partly because it's an Inherently Funny Word).
    • Paula Poundstone's many, many cats (to a lesser extent than other gags) last tallied at 16.
  • Scotireland: During a show around St. Patrick's Day, Peter announces (being radio, we can't see) that Carl is wearing a kilt, noting that it's traditionally worn by the Scottish.
  • Self-Deprecation:
    • "Visit our blog which has been called 'sophomoric', 'a threat to NPR's integrity', and 'reason to review our intern hiring process.'"
    • When teenage fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson played Not My Job, she was asked questions about "stuff old people like". One of them was about NPR.
    • The pun with which Peter introduces the Listener Limerick Challenge (e.g. "In just a minute, Carl tells us about his favorite Transformer, Optimus Rhyme.") seems to get lamer every week, causing Peter to at one time crack, "Look, if you got better ones, send 'em in, OK?"
    • Variations of the intro to "Not My Job" along the lines of "Now our game in which Great People do Great Things and then wonder how the heck they ended up on this show...."
    • The "Surgeon General's Warnings" they gave when Vivek Murthy was a guest on the show was
    Public radio may cause extreme drowsiness. Before listening to public radio, make sure your doctor says you're healthy enough to have sex, not that it will matter.
    • Peter has made a number of jabs at Star Trek fans while being one himself, often switching between mockery and self-deprecation in the same segment.
    Peter: People who obsessively love Star Trek seem harmless: they go to conventions, they dress up as crew members, they host public radio quiz shows. [...] What were they [the British police] worried about? A whole bunch of pasty-faced nerds running around giving people the Vulcan Nerve Pinch and crying when it didn't work?
    Faith Salie: I was on Star Trek, and I was beamed up, and I have found the fans to be nothing but lovely and very timid. And very polite.
    Peter: Yes. First of all, you weren't on the real Star Trek, so shut up.
  • Shout-Out: One week after their somewhat unflattering portrayal of fans of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magicnote , they brought on a fan and former Wait, Wait intern for a brief interview, and used the show as the basis for that week's "Not My Job" questions... for guest contestant Bill Clinton (who got them all right, but they weren't very hard either).
  • Small Reference Pools: Averted, naturally — this is NPR, after all.
  • Sound to Screen Adaptation:
    • CBS ordered a pilot for a television version.
    • In a nod to the format's British origins, in December 2011 Wait Wait aired a version of the show on BBC America as a Christmas special, with one British panelist (presenter and comedian Nick Hancock) and a British Not My Job guest (Neil Gaiman). The format was altered to eliminate the audience call-in segments, since it was being taped in advance, so the panel got more questions and Carl's return-from-commercial intros for Peter were beefed up with jokes. A not-quite-identical audio version ran in the weekly slot on NPR.
    • The show will have a special episode beamed out to movie theaters in May 2013 in the same way as the Metropolian Opera's "cinecasts".
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Conversed after that week's episode of The Good Wife had Peter Florrick going down on Alicia while All Things Considered played on a radio in the background. Peter Sagal noted that it was the first time anyone had used NPR as the soundtrack to a steamy love scene.
  • Stealth Pun: Henry Winkler (AKA Fonzie from Happy Days) came on to play Not My Job. For all three questions, the correct answer was "Aaaaaaaaaay!". Winkler figured it out on the third question, managing a two-out-of-three victory.
  • Studio Audience: The first episodes were simply recorded "in Chicago" or "at Chicago Public Radio" and not in front of an audience. Occasionally they would go on tour and record episodes in front of audiences there. This proved to be so popular that now, all episodes are recorded in front of an audience; the ones in Chicago are recorded at the Chase Bank auditorium downtown.
  • Stupid Statement Dance Mix: One recap episode featured Mo Rocca's various stutters and hesitations mixed together into a raging techno beat.
  • invoked Technology Marches On: The voice on your answering machine prize has become voice on your computer devices.
  • Take That:
    • When describing a hotel in Japan that is renting out rooms for crying women:
    Peter: [The rooms] are equipped with everything needed for crying, such as tissues and really sad movies, such as Steel Magnolias, Terms Of Endearment, and Cars 2
  • Title Drop: Unintentionally used in the 1/17/15 show during the "Who's Bill this Time" segment. A contestant was asked about how an NPR correspondent thought it was a bad idea for Boston to host something, and what it was (the 2024 Olympics in case you were wondering). After dropping the title, she got some of the loudest cheering and laughter of that night's show. Peter was not amused.
    Peter: I'm upset that you actually said that and that it got the biggest laugh of the day so far.
  • Too Soon: invoked Joked about during the February 28, 2015 show about Hillary Clinton's comments on bipartisan cooperation:
    Adam Felber: She wants to get us into a "nice, warm, purple space".
    Ophira Eisenberg: That's nice!
    Felber: What her husband's been trying to get into for years.
    Felber and Peter Sagal: [amidst laughter] Too soon? TOO SOON!?
  • The Windy City:
    • Chicago is the home base of the show, though they do a few road episodes a year too.
    • The guests usually call in, but when the show is on the road, they always have a local celebrity come in to be the show live (such as ZZ Top while they were in Houston). The person they're playing for is also from the city.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: If Peter Sagal urges you to change your answer, your answer is wrong. Celebrity guests playing "Not My Job" frequently haven't listened to the show and think it's a trap.

Alternative Title(s):

Wait Wait Dont Tell Me