News Buffs on NPR 

Popular quiz show Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me! comes to Berkeley.

Only a radio host like Peter Sagal would have the audacity to deem the Obama administration "a failed presidency" after the abortive nomination of Tom Daschle, the would-be health and human services secretary who didn't pay his taxes. In Sagal's version of the story, Daschle not only failed to report the gift of a chauffer and limousine from businessman Leo Hindery, but also kept mum about "a chef, a feng shui expert, free eyewear consultation from Sally Jessy Raphael, and half a dozen maidens who threw rose petals in the path of his chauffered Cadillac." ("Those maidens were interns," interjected Boston Globe contributor Charlie Pierce.) Sagal, whose Chicago Public Radio show Wait Wait ...Don't Tell Me! is by far the most witty and entertaining news quiz show to ever hit the airwaves, was delighted to razz President Obama only two weeks into his presidency. Like all other talk show hosts and comedians, he had worried that the next four (possibly eight) years would be void of political scandals, and that he would have to scour the gossip rags for material on Paris Hilton.

Now eleven years old, Wait Wait airs on NPR stations throughout the US and on an Internet podcast, reaching several million listeners each week. Its success owes largely to Sagal, a New Jersey actor and playwright who seems to have been hardwired for this form of edutainment: He's smart enough to quip with the likes of Paula Poundstone, Mo Rocca, and P.J. O'Rourke, all of whom appear on the show regularly. His jokes are always on point, always hilarious, and so topical that most of them have a three-day expiration date. (When the New Yorker released its controversial magazine cover featuring Obama in a turban giving dap to a machine-gun-toting, camouflage-clad Michelle, Sagal commended its "subtle irony.") Moreover, the show's format — a series of fast-paced, funny segments that all require listener participation — keeps everyone engaged. For one hour, Sagal and NPR news anchor Carl Kasell (the show's official scorekeeper) preside over such news trivia games as "Bluff the Listener," "Who's Carl This Time?," "Not My Job," "Lightning Fill in the Blank," and the "Listener Limerick Challenge." Similar to beer-drinking games, but with a newsy edge, these segments reward listeners for being up-to-the-minute on current events, White House snafus, and pop culture ephemera. What sounded sordid on NPR's Morning Edition gets a light-hearted spin on Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!, where even Obama drama seems funny. Sagal and friends invite you to be part of their studio audience Thursday, Feb. 18 and Friday, Feb. 19 at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall (Telegraph Ave. at Bancroft Way). 8 p.m., $24-$46.


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