Seeing Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me Live

This year for my birthday, I got to see “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” live at Carnegie Hall. It was the second show they taped in New York City that week. Our special guest was Rachel Maddow.

It’s been years since I’d hoped to see a live taping of “Wait Wait.” Back when I lived in the Philadelphia area, they had a show at the Keswick Theatre. I missed my opportunity to see the show then, and I always regretted it. Fast forward to this year, and “Wait Wait” had two nights at the Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. We live in Maine now. However, both shows were completely sold out.

While listening to that Portland, Maine show one Saturday, I heard that the show was coming to Carnegie Hall on my birthday. As luck would have it, I’d already planned a birthday weekend of taking live classes at Peloton Studios New York. So, I snagged a single ticket for myself and made it to Carnegie Hall — without practice (ba dump. IYKYK).

What it’s like seeing Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me Live

peter sagal front of carnegie hall stage wait wait dont tell me low res
Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

The host of the Carnegie Hall show was WNYC, the local public radio station. Coincidentally, when I was an undergraduate student at NYU, majoring in journalism, I worked at WNYC. I worked on a kids radio program called “Kids America,” behind the scenes and then during the actual weeknight broadcasts.

So, given my background seeing a radio show get produced, I thought I would have a sense of what it’s like to see Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me being taped live. It was everything and more than I could have imagined. Bottom line: it was so fun.

Who was on the show that week

When I arrived at Carnegie Hall, they’d already set up the stage for the show. There were two podiums to the left for host Peter Sagal and announcer Bill Curtis. Then, there was a table to the right for the three panelists. On the night of my show, those panelists (really, comedians and/or writers) were:

  • Negin Farsad
  • Karen Chee
  • Tom Papa
rachel maddow guest wait wait don't tell me cropped to show panelists
Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Once everyone came out on stage, Peter Sagal told us that the previous night’s show at Carnegie Hall was the legit one that would be broadcast on the coming weekend. Everyone (including me) gave out a collective, “Aw!”

But wait, he told us. There is a benefit to attending the unofficial taped recording. They could swear. And boy did they; it added a hilarity that you normally don’t hear on radio.

Another thing you don’t hear on the finished show — when they redo takes. For example, after Peter Sagal introduced our guest (Rachel Maddow) and started the “Not My Job” portion of the guest interview, he botched the transition. So, after the show was done, he re-recorded that part, as if Rachel Maddow was still sitting there. Also, there were a couple of times that he or Bill Curtis stumbled on their words and they stopped for a beat, and started again. I know that this was so they could cleanly edit it all together in post production.

The guest interview

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Not only did we get a different guest on the Friday night taping but it was a different panel. I just looked up and the Thursday night show at Carnegie Hall got to hear from Bethanny Frankel (guest) and these panelists:

  • Helen Hong
  • Alzo Slade
  • Josh Gondelman

I ended up listening to the Thursday show anyway and all of the jokes and questions were exactly the same, save for one that Peter asked Karen Chee on the night I attended. That’s because that morning a bull had gotten loose on the train tracks of Newark Penn Station and had snagged New Jersey Transit and Amtrak trains. That newsy tidbit was too good not to include, I get it.

Obviously, the guest interview was different and Bethanny Frankel sounded delightful. Also, the “Bluff the Listener” segment was different, too.

But back to the guest interview with Rachel Maddow on the night we attended. Peter told us that they wanted to talk about Rachel’s new book called Prequel: An American Fight Against Fascism. However, he ended up quizzing her about what he qualified as the worst prequel ever, the Star Wars prequel, “The Phantom Menace.”

rachel maddow guest wait wait don't tell me cropped to just rachel
Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Rachel Maddow claims to have seen only the very first “Star Wars” movie in 1977, when she was four years old. Man, I’m old. I saw it when I was 11. But I digress.

Because she was a “Star Wars” novice, the audience pretty much helped her answer the three questions. When you hear that part on the radio — the audience helping a guest answer questions — yes, we really were yelling the answers to her. Collectively, we got them all right. Rachel used her arms to pantomime asking us if the answer was A, B or C like she was doing the arm movements from Village People’s “YMCA”, probably because she had on radio headphones and likely couldn’t hear us.

Sound of the live taping

Speaking of hearing, I know I’m older (Gen X) and that I don’t hear quite as well as a younger person. However, when the audience was clapping or cheering and then anyone on the stage started talking, I couldn’t hear them at all until the din died down. Given the size and acoustics of Carnegie Hall, my guess is others couldn’t hear as well. If I’m wrong and you were at the show, please let me know.

Obviously, when you’re in the car or listening to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me as a podcast, you can hear the audience noise in the background. However, everyone talking is in the foreground, if you will. I’ve gotten so used to watching TV with subtitles or closed captions on the screen that I kind of wished Carnegie Hall had closed captions above the stage. I don’t know if this not-being-able-to-hear issue was exclusive to Carnegie Hall but it was frustrating.

Since we were the “extra” show — with extra swearing included for free — I had to listen to the taped show from Thursday a few days later on Saturday to hear what I missed. Like I said, the jokes and questions were pretty much exactly the same, including Peter’s commentary. So it was well worth the listen.

Other things about seeing a Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me live show

Here are some other questions I’m sure people have about seeing a live taping of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

How long is the show?

When you hear Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me on the radio, it fits nicely inside an hour. Not so much the taping. The show began about 7:40. It wrapped around 9:30. So when you go see a live taping of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, block off two hours or so on your calendar. Clearly, there is a lot of editing after the fact.

How much do Wait Wait tickets cost?

I’m not gonna lie — this was an expensive gift to myself. A single ticket on the second tier of Carnegie Hall was $174. The cheapest tickets were just under $100 but they were practically on the ceiling and supposed to have a partial view only.

My $174 seat was in a box with seven other people. Leg room was worse than an economy seat on an airplane. However, I had a front row in the box so the view was worth the squished legs.

Seats on the floor, in the orchestra, were almost double what I paid. I was happy to treat myself to this birthday present, but didn’t want to pay that much for a ticket.

Where do you buy Wait Wait live show tickets?

When I tried to get tickets to the Wait Wait show in Portland, Maine, I went to the Merrill Auditorium website. That’s where I discovered they were sold out for both nights.

So, when I knew I wanted to see Wait Wait at Carnegie Hall, I visited the Carnegie Hall ticketing site. Therefore, I would say that if you’re hoping to see Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me in one of their traveling shows, you should go to the venue where they’ll be taping.

Also, the Wait Wait page “See the Show Live” on the NPR website includes links to each venue as well. Finally, if you’ll be in Chicago and want to see the weekly taping, you can visit the Fine Arts Building website for links to tickets. to the Chicago shows only. Tickets go on sale six weeks in advance of shows.

What is the Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me live schedule?

Normally, Wait Wait broadcasts from Chicago. If you listened to the show before the pandemic, then you know that their broadcast home was the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago. Post pandemic they say that they are broadcasting from “the historic Studebaker Theater at the Fine Arts Building.”

I thought maybe the Chase Bank Auditorium had rebranded and they were in the same space. Nope, they’re in a completely different broadcast setting.

Where will Wait Wait live shows be in 2024?

The Fine Arts Building website has Wait Wait shows listed as taping there on Thursdays through March 2024. At least one Thursday of each month is blank, meaning the show might be on hiatus that day or perhaps on the road. However, since the road shows for 2024 aren’t on the website yet, I can’t offer any tips on where you might be able to see the show live next year. However, should I get my hands on that updated info, I’ll definitely add it to this article.

Question? Post a comment and ask away.

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