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The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

Review | ‘Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!’ in Pittsburgh and a love letter to NPR

Radio hosts Bill Kurtis and Peter Sagal participate in the comedy news quiz show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” presented by National Public Radio.
Courtesy of National Public Radio
Radio hosts Bill Kurtis and Peter Sagal participate in the comedy news quiz show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” presented by National Public Radio.

From a young age, I’ve found solace in the Pavlovian pleasure of the brassy “All Things Considered” chime. While other kids were begging their parents to turn the dial to Top 40 pop radio, I preferred to hear two old brothers banter about auto maintenance on “Car Talk.” NPR has been an omnipresent voice in my ear, whispering tidbits of worldly happenings, accompanying me on my walks, drives, rows and rides. The centerpiece of NPR’s catalog is the witty weekly news quiz show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” 

Last week, I was listening to the sweet sounds of “Wait Wait” when host Peter Sagal, seemingly jumping out of my phone and speaking directly to me, said the cast would venture from their home base in Chicago to record a show at the Benedum Center in downtown Pittsburgh. I studied up on all the headlines until I felt like a news know-it-all walking down Penn Avenue towards the theater. 

As I settled into my seat on Thursday night, I realized I had no idea what the cast looked like. They were always just little voices that live in my headphones and gab about Boeing and fiber supplements during my bus rides to Aldi. I don’t know how I expected Sagal to look — I could’ve imagined him as some mousey bespectacled variant on the dad from “Caillou,” but instead he more closely resembled Michael Stipe from R.E.M. with a liberal arts degree. 

Hearing Bill Curtis speak sounded like God himself had taken an earthly vacation to Pittsburgh and stopped by the Benedum Center to host a quiz show. I can only compare the sensation of hearing Peter Sagal’s voice come out of Peter Sagal’s body to the uncanny feeling of seeing Tom Kenny do his SpongeBob voice in real life. Likewise, hearing Sagal drop an f-bomb in his opening monologue felt like hearing that SpongeBob voice narrate a reproductive anatomy chart. 

The audience was what you might call an “NPR crowd.” These folks love a good charcuterie board and live for Shakespeare in the Park. They sip their coffee over the New York Times crossword on a Sunday morning after posting their Wordle on Facebook. Earlier that day, each one of them had told someone about an article they “read,” although in reality, they just saw the headline on their phone. These were my people.

Before the recording began, Sagal addressed the audience to mark the show’s return to Pittsburgh and lament the change from Heinz Field to Ac — Acri — sorry, I’m so bitter that it pains me to even type the new name. I resent that our sports writers have to call it that A-word, like how news publications are gradually warming us up to calling Twitter “X.”

Contestant Maeve Higgins said Pittsburgh reminded her of home in Ireland because everyone was pale and it was raining. And boy, did it rain — at one point in the show, a jarring flash flood warning alarm erupted from every iPhone in the audience. I figured that if the 71B washed away into the Monongahela on the ride back to Oakland, at least I heard the voice of Bill Curtis in person before I drowned. 

Only once the game began, with Sagal and Curtis standing at name-tagged podiums sitting a disco ball away from the three headphone-clad contestants, did I breathe in the absurdity of this show’s premise. A troupe of nerds and news junkies yap about Ozempic and cicadas while some consultant from Connecticut sits on the phone and tries to get a word in edgewise. I love it. I could’ve been born a 12th-century feudal peasant shoveling pigswill until I died of the bubonic plague, but instead I’m lucky enough to live in the same time and place as “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!”

The special guest for the evening was legendary Steelers coach Bill Cowher. A Crafton native, Cowher riled up the niche of NPR Yinzers in the theater with stories about being trapped on the Gateway Clipper cruise and winning the Super Bowl. When Sagal confronted him on Heinz Field’s transition to Ac — nope, still can’t do it — he said in his mind, it was still Three Rivers Stadium

As contestants pored over the topics and trends of the week, I came to appreciate how much the producers polish each episode before it hits the air. There are so many line rereads, gaffes, awkward pauses and off-color quips that escape the final product. Contestant Mo Rocca even got up to use the bathroom mid-show, sneaking offstage with a Grinch-like gait before reestablishing his presence with a silent ballet routine. These weren’t just disembodied voices emanating from a podcast app — they’re real people who went to the Pittsburgh Banjo Club from their hotel last night and can hear your phone ringing in the mezzanine. 

Perhaps the most potent auditory set piece of the show was the audience. When Sagal mispronounced “Primanti,” the crowd chastised him with an instantaneous nasal “a.” Two men presented Sagal and Curtis with hand-drawn parchment portraits. The woman sitting in front of me stood up for an impromptu audition to take Sagal’s job, handing him her heartiest “This is NPR.” I feel like I’ve left a little legacy in my laughter and applause, lost in the sea of sound splashing at the stage, immortalized over the airwaves.

About the Contributor
Patrick Swain, Culture Editor
Patrick Swain is a junior economics major with a minor in Hispanic language and culture. He begrudgingly removes Oxford commas as the culture editor of The Pitt News. You can find him rooting for the Buffalo Bills, invoking the third amendment and remembering the Alamo.