Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me! is a radio quiz show that airs weekly on NPR and based in Chicago. It is hosted by Peter Sagal with veteran newscaster Bill Kurtis as announcer/scorekeeper. Previous to Kurtis, the announcer/scorekeeper was late NPR News anchor Carl Kasell, who stepped down in 2014 and was considered to be the show's scorekeeper emeritus until he passed away from complications of Alzheimer's disease in 2018.
The program, which premiered on January 3, 1998, is one of the few successful American attempts at adapting the quintessential British Panel Game format and is based loosely on the BBC's venerable The News Quiz (which also inspired Have I Got News for You). Every week, Peter and Bill are joined by a rotating cast of panelistsnote who play quiz games based on the previous week's news. The topics tend to be silly or focus on the more ridiculous aspects of otherwise serious news stories.
The showcase of each episode is "Not My Job", where a celebrity guest has to answer three trivia questions to try and win a prize for a listener. Listeners also get to call in for the chance to win a prize for themselves. For many years, the only prize available was the highly coveted chance to have Carl Kasell record the greeting on their answering machine/voice mail service. In 2017, however, the prize was updated so that winners can choose to have anyone associated with the show record a voice mail greeting.
- 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.
- Panel Segments: Usually two per episode, in which Peter asks the panelists to provide or guess an answer to a question from the week's news.
- Not My Job: At the midpoint of every episode, a celebrity guest is brought in (normally over the phone, although many will come in person if they're in Chicago or if the show swings by their hometowns) 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. Leonard Nimoy had to answer questions about not being the other Spock (Dr. Benjamin, child care specialist), either. Bill Clinton got My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic as his topic and got all three of the questions right.Peter: So youre a former president, youre a Rhodes scholar, youre famously well informed. What could we be sure that an accomplished person like you would know nothing about? And then the answer came to us: the TV show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
- 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.
Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me! provides examples of:
- The Ace: A downplayed example with Roxanne Roberts, but sometimes Peter will (semi-)jokingly claim that the purpose of "Lightning Fill-in-the-Blank" is simply to determine how many points she'll win by.
- 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; Bodett has been the voice of Motel 6's radio and television ads since 1986.
- Crossed with Black Humor after the 2016 election when someone referred to Maz Jobrani's name on a list and he replied: "Macio Giobranni, it's Italian". He had campaigned to convince Persian-Americans to put their real ethnicity on the 2010 Census.
- 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.
- Aroused by Their Voice: According to Peter Sagal, Bill Kurtis' voice for the NPR audience.Peter: We're so excited to bring a romance writernote to NPR listeners, especially Valentine's Day week because NPR listeners until now had nothing to turn them on but Bill Kurtis reading the underwriting credit for Lumber Liquidators.
Bill: (sultrily) That's 1-800-HARDWOOD.
- 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. Likewise Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings, who was a guest twice and then took a turn as a panelist.
- Keegan-Michael Key was a panelist on three shows in 2010 and returned as a guest in 2016.
- Faith Salie is a regular panelist and filled in for Peter as host during a 2018 show, subsequently hosting the 2018 twentieth anniversary "Naked and Ashamed" behind-the-scenes podcasts.
- 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.
- Auto-Incorrect: The correct answer for a "Bluff the Listener" quiz about prom trends involved the kids at a high school all wearing pastries instead of flowers as a joke after somebody's smartphone autocorrected a text about their date's corsage to "croissant".
- Bankruptcy Barrel: Referenced during the 2007-08 financial crisis for the title of an irregular panel segment on recession-related news items — combined with another trope.Peter: Now it's time for a new segment we're calling...
- Berserk Button: Usually parodied.
- After a caller displayed doubts in a "Bluff-the-Listener" story of an 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.
- Her love of ranting about surveys lead to NPR deciding to Spin-Off a weekly Los Angeles-based podcast with a live audience in mid-2017 known as Live from the Poundstone Institute, which revolves completely around comedic riffing of surveys and statistics by Poundstone. Adam Felber joins her as the sidekick (or "Head of Research") for the show.
- One of Paula's most famous moments on the show was her pretend berserk button response to host Peter Sagal 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: 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 Comedy:
- 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."
- The 9/5/20 "Who's Bill This Time?" episode had all the panelists groan at Peter's quip:Peter Sagal: If the vaccine ever comes, there won't be enough of it for a long time, so scientists are even now trying to figure out who should get it first, which is leading everybody to try to justify their place in the line [...] When you think about this problem, you have to thank Donald Trump for what he's done. In the last few months, he's made the line for the vaccine about 180,000 people shorter.
[groans and laughter]
Adam Felber: It's funny 'cause it's not!
- 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.
- Another one from the 10/03/15 Listener Limerick Challenge:Alonzo Bodden: So what is creepier, a hologram at your funeral or your yoga pants hugging you?
Peter: How about a hologram of you at your funeral with your hugging pants on?
- Citing a British study, Peter Sagal asks panelist Maz Jobrani what men talk about at a barnote :
- 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.
- Maz Jobrani is very fond of quoting or imitating people with various accents. According to Peter, NPR has received a lot of less-than-appreciative mail from listeners about that.
- Patrick Stewart did French!Captain Picard when he appeared on the show in 2014 and remarked that the undeniably goofy result was the real reason Picard didn't have an audible French accent on Star Trek: The Next Generation.Stewart: Space... ze final frontier.
- Bringing in the Expert: In lieu of ridiculing a particular news item Peter will sometimes phone up an expert to ridicule it for him.
- The most famous example is probably the item about Washington Mutual bankers on retreat reportedly performing a banking-themed version of "Baby Got Back" (the first line had "bucks" for "butts", and so on) at the height of anti-banker sentiment over the subprime mortgage crisis. To comment on this, Peter brought in Sir Mix-a-Lot himself (eliciting a surprised gasp from Mo Rocca). Mix got all the best lines.Sir Mix-A-Lot: You know, I was actually really strongly considering writing this song for them but I couldn't get "bonus" to rhyme with "anus".
- When a study stated that Boston had the sexiest American accent, they called up retired Car Talk host Ray Magliozzi to read various pick-up lines.
- The most famous example is probably the item about Washington Mutual bankers on retreat reportedly performing a banking-themed version of "Baby Got Back" (the first line had "bucks" for "butts", and so on) at the height of anti-banker sentiment over the subprime mortgage crisis. To comment on this, Peter brought in Sir Mix-a-Lot himself (eliciting a surprised gasp from Mo Rocca). Mix got all the best lines.
- Call-Back: A common practice with the panelists, especially during the final Lightning Fill in the Blank segment.
- In one lightning round, one of the first questions given to Paula Poundstone was about a study that had uncovered an unexpected factor skewing the results of scientific surveys, which turned out (much to Paula's incredulity) to be the smell of male scientists. Her last question was about a dead sperm whale that was trapped in Trout River, Newfoundland, which the locals were advertising as an opportunity to come and watch the whale explode. After Paula reacted to this story with even more incredulity, she asked:Paula: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Wouldn't that give off a terrible smell?Peter: It would.Paula: Wouldn't that cause people to answer questions oddly?
- In one lightning round, one of the first questions given to Paula Poundstone was about a study that had uncovered an unexpected factor skewing the results of scientific surveys, which turned out (much to Paula's incredulity) to be the smell of male scientists. Her last question was about a dead sperm whale that was trapped in Trout River, Newfoundland, which the locals were advertising as an opportunity to come and watch the whale explode. After Paula reacted to this story with even more incredulity, she asked:
- Catchphrase: Peter's use of "Well done" in response to Carl/Bill's announcing the score for a given player is so consistent and so closely associated with him that it's conspicuous by its absence whenever anyone else guest hosts.
- 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.
- Mo Rocca is planted firmly in this territory.
- 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.
- Maeve Higgins seems to digress a lot, and even got **0 correct answers** during a Lightning Fill-in-the-blank round.
- Comedic Sociopathy: Tim Kainenote shared a story about playing a prank on Bob McDonnell, his successor as governor of Virginia. Supposedly, Kaine gave McDonnell and his family a tour of the Executive Mansion before they moved in, and "just so happened" to remind them that the place was rumored to be haunted. Kaine then hid a cell phone with a "bloodcurdling scream" ringtone (gradually getting louder) somewhere in the mansion, and called it at random times for a while after McDonnell took office.Peter: I had a question here about how such a nice guy has succeeded in politics. I'm not going to ask you that anymore.
- 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 Pun on his first name when introducing himself.Bill: Get ready for my downward dog. I'm flexi-Bill. Bill Kurtis!
- Could Say It, But...: Played with during the Bernie Parent episode from July 2017. Peter devotes a segment to discussing the complaints they had received for comparing Senator Mitch McConnell to a "chinless owl" the previous week, before listing a number of other insults that they could have used but didn't so, therefore, nobody could complain.Peter: No, we didn't say these, so people had no reason to complain. We didn't say Mitch McConnell looks like a jack-o'-lantern that was left out on the porch till March.
- Cowboy Episode: During the 2008 election cycle they had great fun with a panel segment entitled "Wait Wait on the Trail!", the standing intro for which involved normally strait-laced newscaster Carl Kasell performing a cowboy yell (to great hilarity) followed by a different Western song quote or cliche. (Hear one from Jan. 19, 2008 here.)Peter: And now it's time once again for the segment we call... "Wait Wait on the Trail!"Carl: (cowboy music plays) YEEEEEEEHAW!! Git along little dogies, git along.
Korva: (cowboy music plays) YEEEEEEEHAW!! I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night!Peter: Bullseye, Annie!
- When Korva Coleman stood in as guest announcer and scorekeeper, she got a turn too and approached it with great relish, also to the audience's delight.
- Crazy Cat Lady: Paula Poundstone's fourteen cats are a recurring gag when she's a panelist, especially if there's a news trivia question about cats, dogs, and other pets and comfort animals.
- Creepy Monotone: Discussed during a panel segment involving a study purporting that women found men speaking in a monotone to be sexy, leading to a hilarious attempt to invoke this from announcer and scorekeeper Carl Kasell:
- They also discussed how the inverse of a creepy monotone can be just as off-putting:
- Crossover: Peter Sagal 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 of turns as a panelist on Wait Wait as well.
- The Cuckoolander Was Right: Sometimes, panelists answer correctly without intending to.
- Peter Sagal: Peter, a new study finds that people are more likely to believe in God after they do what?
Peter Grosz: (lasciviously) Have really great sex.
Sagal: That's exactly right.
Grosz: Is that really right?
- During the December 24, 2016 broadcast:Peter Sagal: In order to save an elderly woman from freezing in a locked car, a police officer in New York broke the window and discovered blank.
Amy Dickinson: And discovered that it wasn't an elderly woman. It was a... it was a blow-up doll dressed up as an old woman for a CHRISTMAS PARTY! What?
Sagal: I'm going to give it to you. It was a CPR dummy.
Dickinson: Oh, wow!
- A Degree in Useless: Any liberal arts student or graduate who calls in can expect some good-natured ribbing from Peter Segal and any panelists with similar degrees. This is occasionally averted with teachers and other public servants, who receive nothing but respect for their chosen professions.
- Drinking Game: A variant. According to Peter, the listeners of the show keep a "Maz Jobrani foreign accent scorecard" and mark off accents as he uses them.
- Dude, Not Funny!:
Adam Felber: She wants to get us into a "nice, warm, purple space".
- Joked about during the February 28, 2015 show about Hillary Clinton's comments on bipartisan cooperation:
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!?
- When a bit unexpectedly landed on a joke about Abraham Lincoln's assassination, the audience reacted with surprised laughter. The panelist responded, "Too soon?"
- 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 McCain 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.
- 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:
- The Eeyore: Call-in contestants have ranged considerably in personality types, but then there's Tim from Buffalo in the February 11, 2006 broadcast.Peter: [after a segment on Britney Spears where Tim sounded even more resigned than usual] What does make you happy, Tim?
- Epic Fail: On the November 16, 2019, episode featuring Senator Tim Kaine, Maeve Higgins made history by being the first panelist to get every question wrong in the final round.
- Eskimos Aren't Real: Amy Dickinson isn't convinced that Kyrgyzstan is a real country.Peter Sagal: Right. They're just like, "We're going to change our constitution, going to make some adjustments." But there's a problem.
Amy Dickinson: The problem is it's not a place.
- Everybody Hates Mathematics: For the "Lightning Fill in the Blank" segment, the third-place panelist leading into the segment goes first, then the second place and the lead. Before the last panelist goes, Peter asks the scorekeeper how many correct answers that panelist needs to get in order to win the game. Since the questions are worth two points in this segment, this involves a bit of math, and awareness of how the standing even or odd scores will affect whether a tally will be a tie or a win. (The formula is usually, "She needs five to tie, and six to win.") Peter sometimes lampshades this as "the math question". Guest scorekeepers can react to it with varying levels of enthusiasm.Corey Flintoff: (under his breath) I hate this.
- Freudian Slip: Peter Sagal fell into a real and hilarious example in the March 8, 2014 episode, creating one of the show's greatest unscripted moments:Peter: Faith, scientists at the University of Indiana have pinpointed the best way to crush a man's pride, next time you want to do that. What is that way?Faith Salie: I mean, it's beyond the obvious, like rejection or saying is that all?(laughter)Peter: Yes.Mike Birbiglia: I don't see this answer topping is that all.(laughter)Mike: I mean, she wasn't even saying it to me, and I feel terrible about myself.(laughter)Peter: I know. She said it, and I actually—people can't see me right now, I'm curled up behind my podium weeping. It's terrible.Faith: Can I have a hint?Peter: Here's your excuse. I mean... "here's your excuse," I don't know where that came from.(laughter, applause)Mike: Oh, that was excellent. That was so much better than anything anyone could ever write.Faith: Peter, I don't need any excuses. Just hold me.(laughter)Peter: Obviously, I'm having a combat flashback here.
- Funny Answering Machine: Before October 21, 2017, the prize awarded to most contestants for winning a game was to have Carl Kasell record a greeting for their home answering machine or voice mail. Since then, the contestant can choose any panelist or staff member to do the greeting, including Kasell.
- Fun with Acronyms: Unintentionally by Peter Sagal. In the May 21, 2016 show, Peter introduces the first piece of news as "This Week in Trump", and Faith points out that it creates the perfect acronym, "TWIT".
- 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.
- On another occasion, The Fleeting Obscenities.
- Grammar Nazi: For years, the intro for Lightning Fill in the Blank included the line "Each of our players now has sixty seconds to answer as many fill-in-the-blank questions as they can." At some point in the late Noughties they abruptly abandoned the "singular they" so that the intro now said "...as he or she can," the form in which it remained thereafter.
- 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.
- Guest Host: The show has had several, including Tom Hanks (yes, really) on the 1/14/17 episode.
- Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Bill Kurtis is occasionally asked to sing on the show. During those instances, he alternates between speaking the lyrics or singing horrendously off key and off rhythm as the panel and audience roar with laughter.
- Homemade Sweater from Hell: Mo Rocca made a comment about how he disliked homemade sweaters, claiming that homemade sweaters are "always itchy." The following week, host Peter Sagal reported that "the knitting community" was up in arms over the remark, and Mo phoned in a prepared statement apologizing for using the "i-word" and saying that his comments were indefensible even though there was a reason behind them involving his time as an exchange student in Ecuador, limited sleeping arrangements having forced him to bunk with the family's teenage alpaca, Chucho.
- The knitters' response to Mo's remark culminated in several members from Ravelry.com teaming up and presenting Mo with a sweater they'd made. He accepted the present, put it on, and good-naturedly admitted that his new sweater wasn't itchy at all. Observe.
- 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 Dickinson: 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.)
- Insistent Terminology: Mo Rocca always refers to the Tony Awards as the Antoinette Perry Awards.
- 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.
Roxanne: They're not?
Peter: I wouldn't know. I'm not yet that old.
- Jenny's Number: Peter Sagal uses this number in a February 2, 2008 episode, saying police who arrested a telephone spammer changed his number to 867-5309 to give him a taste of his own medicine.
- Jewish Mother: According to Peter, the Surgeon General is like the nation's Jewish mother.
- Lame Pun Reaction: The cast will often invoke this on themselves:
- While the panelists talked about Ted Cruz' "Making Machine-Gun Bacon" video (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.
- Faith Salie to a guest who is a lobbyist for a church council:Faith: Do you begin all your lobbying with, "We the steeple"?
Peter: Sandy, let me introduce you to our panel, except for Faith, who we are removing from the stage.
- 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?"
- Bill's trademark is introducing himself at the start of the show using a pun based around his name. The panel and audience usually receive these much more favorably that Peter's attempts.
- Peter once related a story of how an employee of a member station in Alaska had complained that there were no forks in the break room, after which NPR headquarters mailed them a dozen forks.Peter: ... proving once again that National Public Radio will stop at nothing... to fork us. (audience howls with laughter) Give us a call before they fire me for that joke...
- The Whos Bill This Time? for 10/28/17 had a question about former president George H. W. Bush having developed the habit of groping random women's butts and cracking, "My favorite magician is David Cop-a-feel."Peter: His spokesman said this is just because he's in a wheelchair. And when he reaches out, his hand just happens to be at that level. (laughter) I'm not kidding. (laughter) I wish I was. It doesn't address, though: what's the greater crime, the harassment or that joke?
Luke Burbank: I'm going with the harassment.
Adam Burke: Yeah, the only thing that is creepier than that David Cop-a-feel joke ... is the actual David Copperfield... (laughter) ...If you've ever seen him. And I also—
Paula Poundstone: No, the only thing creepier than the David Cop-a-feel joke is having George Bush grab your ass!
- While the panelists talked about Ted Cruz' "Making Machine-Gun Bacon" video (ostensibly by wrapping bacon around the barrel and firing the rifle), Roxanne says that is a twist on "pork barrel politics".
- Laugh Track: For the COVID-19 quarantine episodes, the show began using recorded applause and laughter, along with a host of other sound effects cued by producer Mike Danforth. Peter lampshades the hell out of these and also occasionally cites the source of the recorded sounds.
- My Eyes Are Up Here: Peter attempted to clue Paula Poundstone to the results of a slightly unnecessary University of Nebraska study concluding that men like to stare at women's breasts by alluding to this phrase. This only confused Paula, who seemed not to know the phrase, though she was quite familiar with the phenomenon itself. (The whole bit is transcribed here.)Paula: Give me a hint, would you?Peter: Hey, my research results are up here.Paula: Ah. OK, wait. I don't think I understood the last hint. My research results are up here, is that what you said?Peter: Yeah, that's what I said. You never heard that expression, hey my face is up here. My eyes are up here. You ever heard that? Never.Paula: No. (audience laughs) No. Why would anyone say that? I know where your face is.
- N-Word Privileges:
- 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)
- Bill censors a comment while quoting an analyst, and Peter makes it clear that wasn't exactly what was said:Bill: "This guy is such a total pussycat, it's stunning."
Peter: That was Fox News analyst Ralph Peters, who, by the way, left off the word "cat" in the original quote...
- 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.
- "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: Peter often embellishes parts of stories for comedy, and the audience and panelists know this, so when an actual story contains details that are particularly bizarre or unbelievable, he will preface it with one of these so everyone knows it's drawn from the real story and not one of his embellishments this time.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.
- Obligatory Joke: When given an obvious setup Peter is not above providing the expected punchline.
- During "Who's Bill This Time?" on the October 8, 2016 broadcast, which also counts as Lame Pun Reaction:Peter Sagal: Creepy clowns hiding in the woods, scaring people on social media. [...] Police are trying to get to the bottom of this. They took a mime in for questioning, but he wouldn't talk.
Luke Burbank: That's why we brought this story up!
Sagal: And then, and then...
Burbank: Wait, it gets worse.
Sagal: And then you know what they did, the police with the mime?
Burbank: I know what they did.
Sagal: They throw him in a box, but he was already in one.
Burbank: (gleefully) That's right. I knew that was going to happen. I knew that - you know, you guys, just when you think that he's made a really bad pun, you wait. He's always got another one.
- In 2006 Adam Felber's knack for guessing the setups in the panel questions he got was a running gag (collected in a Clip Show segment under "Is Adam Felber Psychic?"). In this case the obligatory punchline was not omitted either.Peter: Adam, a Florida man was arrested for shoplifting after he tried unsuccessfully to hide what in his shorts?
Adam: This is one of those questions where you want me to embarrass myself by saying something like "sausage", and the answer is in fact "sausage."
Peter: Yes, it was a 12-inch-long pepperoni.
Adam: Yeah. (laughter)
Peter: Rodney A. Covington's partially concealed sausage attracted the attention (Adam laughs loudly) of the manager of the Cash and Carry Convenience Store. Covington explained that he had put the meat into his shorts because he had hurt his hand, you see, and couldn't carry a shopping basket. The manager then noticed the pound of pepper-jack cheese in Covington's hip pocket and called the cops.
Adam: You know, if you're a criminal out there, just imagine the headline before you commit the crime. If you can't do the headline, don't commit the crime.
Peter: What the did the manager say? "Are you going to pay for that, Or Are You Just Happy to See Me??"
- During "Who's Bill This Time?" on the October 8, 2016 broadcast, which also counts as Lame Pun Reaction:
- Once an Episode: Since early 2016, the first question on Who's Bill This Time? has been about Donald Trump, with frequent lampshade hanging.
- Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?: In 2006 Adam Felber's knack for guessing the setups in the panel questions he got was a running gag (collected in a Clip Show segment under "Is Adam Felber Psychic?"), in this case leading inevitably to the trope punchline.Peter: Rodney A. Covington's partially concealed sausage attracted the attention (Adam laughs loudly) of the manager of the Cash and Carry Convenience Store. Covington explained that he had put the meat into his shorts because he had hurt his hand, you see, and couldn't carry a shopping basket. The manager then noticed the pound of pepper-jack cheese in Covington's hip pocket and called the cops.
Adam: You know, if you're a criminal out there, just imagine the headline before you commit the crime. If you can't do the headline, don't commit the crime.
Peter: What the did the manager say? "Are you going to pay for that, or are you just happy to see me?"
- Panel Game: A rare American one.
- Pocket Dial: One episode had a report wherein a thief was caught after butt-dialing the police department while talking about his latest escapade.
- Popcultural Osmosis Failure: Played straight and then subverted on the April 7, 2012 episode. Roy Blount Jr., asked about the "mother of Blue Ivy", doesn't know the answer and predicts it will be someone whose name he doesn't recognize. When he's told it's Beyoncé, at first he pretends not to know who that is before admitting he does recognize the name.Roy Blount Jr.: Mother of Blue Ivy, that sounds like an oath. "Mother of blue ivy!!"
- 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!
- Retroactive Wish: After Mo Rocca expressed his dislike of homemade sweaters, he was sent loads of them by irate knitters. When he related this story to the panel on a later show, another panelist announced, "You know what I can't stand? Bricks of gold!"
- Revisiting the Roots: In March, 2020, due to COVID-19, the show switched from recording in front of a studio audience to Peter and Bill recording from a studio at WBEZ Chicago and the panelists patched in remotely. Peter noted that this was the format the show used originally and joked that no one could understand how they survived those early years.
- 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 cyberattack that caused (blank)note to stop trading for several hours on Wednesday.
Peter: Experts say that it was a technical glitch and not a cyberattack that grounded (blank)'snote planes for several hours on Wednesday.
Peter: Experts say that it was a technical glitch and not a cyberattack 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.
- In several 2013 shows, "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.
- With every commercial he does for the NPR Politics Podcast, Peter becomes increasingly convinced that the 2016 US election will drive the Politics hosts insane. So far, he's been proven wrong.
- Russian Reversal: Yakov Smirnoff himself called in to give the correct answer in "Bluff the Listener" on the 02/11/17 show, prompting this comment from Peter:"That was, yes, comedian Yakov Smirnoff talking about Soviet jokes. Remember, in Soviet Russia, listener bluffs you."
- 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.
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?
- "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 wasPublic 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.
Faith Salie: I was on Star Treknote , 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).
- Signing-Off Catchphrase: Each show ends with funny predictions from the panel, after which is the regular sign-off from announcer Bill Kurtis followed by host Peter Sagal thanking the panel by name and telling listeners to come back next week. The final sentence is always, "This... is NPR."
- Small Reference Pools: Averted, naturally — this is NPR, after all.
- Some of My Best Friends Are X: On the 11/16/19 episode, the panel was discussing Disney+'s decision to put Content Warnings on some of the older works they deemed culturally insensitive. Peter had this to say, "That's the legal equivalent of, I'm not racist, really. Seven of my best friends are dwarves."
- 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 had a special episode beamed out to movie theaters in May 2013 in the same way as the Metropolitan 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.
- Speed Round: "Lightning Fill In The Blank" is a set of quick-fire questions to each panelist. Most of the questions are normal news questions, but the last one for each round is a sillier story which gets elaborated on.
- Spiders Are Scary: Peter and the panel spend some time discussing spider-related news in the April 1, 2017 broadcast.Peter: Oh, yeah, spider news. A hundred percent of homes surveyed have spiders in them, 100 percent, as do 68 percent of bathrooms and most likely your ear in the middle of the night tonight.
Luke Burbank: That is the ultimate cognitive dissonance. When you see a huge spider, you go to get something and then it's gone when you come back, like, with the tissue. And then you know that you have to go to sleep because it will soon be dawn.
- 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 (until the 2020 coronavirus pandemic), 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.
- Teenage Pregnancy: The fact that Luke Burbank's daughter was born when he was seventeen gets brought up a lot when he's on the show.
- Technology Marches On: The voice on your answering machine prize has become voice on your computer devices. Whenever Peter calls it "Carl Kasell's voice on your answering machine", the trope is occasionally lampshaded.
- The Triple: Used frequently.
- Sometimes used as a tactical Take That!, as when describing a hotel in Japan that is renting out rooms for crying women:
- Or as just a wry Non Sequitur, as when they were discussing the debut of Inspire, a glossy magazine especially for jihadi terrorists.Peter: No longer will terrorists have to rely only on magazines like Car Bomb and Driver... U.S. Jews and World Report... or Martha Stewart Living.
- Later in that bit came a more conventional Rule of Three version:Peter: If this works there's another line of jihadi magazines ready to go: Better Caves and Gardens... Bomb Apetit... Ladies Never Leave the Home Journal...
- Title Drop: Unintentionally used in the 1/17/15 show during the "Who's Bill this Time" segment, after a contestant hesitated on an answer. Hilarity Ensued.Peter: I'm upset that you actually said that and that it got the biggest laugh of the day so far.
- Toilet Humor: Peter normally really doesn't like poop jokes, but in one bonus clip from December 2016, he couldn't help making one during a discussion about hearing corn grow that went Off the Rails.Peter: I'm sorry - I have the worst joke. Are you ready? When corn poops, does it have little bits of people in it?
- Trade Snark: Did an entire segment on Thomas Kinkade, The Painter of Light for this Not My Job segment with Scott Simon.
- The Unpronounceable: In the lightning round on the 14 Jan 2017 show, Tom Hanks (filling in for Peter) made a crack about not saying the name of the Polish foreign minister "because it would blow NPR's annual consonant budget".
- Waxing Lyrical: In "Who's Bill This Time?" on the Oct. 22, 2016, broadcast, Peter asks the caller who won the Nobel Prize in Literature. As he has the question repeated and ponders (or searches the internet for) the answer:Paula Poundstone: Hey, Michael. How many times can a man be asked?
(audience laughter and applause)
Adam Felber: The answer, my friend...
Amy Dickinson: The answer, my friend, is being Googled as we speak.
Adam, Amy, & Peter: The answer is Googled as we speak.
- Roy Blount occasionally turns the current topic into a poem or a song. In one "Bluff the Listener" segment that jokingly suggested hairdressers had taken a hit after a midterm election that had gone to the Democrats (because they don't go for vertical hairdos), Roy asked if he could add a little song, which turned out to be "Great Big Hair and a Little Bitty Heart". After the applause Peter advised him he did not need to ask permission—he could break out a song whenever he liked.
- 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.