I'm an aficionado of Chicago's oddest show venues. I've stomped through warehouses, back alleys and other people's houses in pursuit of a night of theater. Take my word as a woman of authority: Nothing is weirder than the Chase Auditorium. You wend your way through the desolate, post rush-hour Loop, enter a sleek office building, and go down, down, down. After passing through seven circles of corporate anonymity, you'll arrive at a conference room packed end-to-end with cheery public radio fans. It's sort of a miracle.
"Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!" is actually the live taping of NPR's popular weekend quiz show, where panels of quick-witted and reasonably well-informed noteworthies answer questions about the latest news. Unlike most of the other audience members, I don't listen to the radio version. Or I didn't. After an evening full of Peter Sagal's jokes and Carl Kasell's magnanimous presence, I'm in love. I might go out and buy a radio.
Sagal is an ideal host. Even when suffering from a vicious cold, he comes off as that one guy at the party you want to stand next to all night, because he makes you feel almost as smart and funny as he is. Kasell, who is also the trusted voice of NPR's morning edition, lends a certain warm stateliness to the proceedings. Kyrie O'Conner, Tom Bodett and Aamer Haleem, part of a rotating cast of panelists, all do their part to keep the banter humming along. The overall effect is companionable, and makes one long for a beverage.
"Wait Wait," as a live evening, has two major flaws. The first is a lack of snacks or beverages of any kind. The second is the lack of an intermission. The energy level of the show may be just right for puttering around the apartment of a Saturday morning, making tea and tidying up, but it's a bit low for two-and-a-half hours of sitting downtown on Thursday night. Still, the evening teems with charm, and gives fans a chance to bask in the host's charisma at close quarters.
This particular show taped on Nov. 9, resulting in an ebullient NPR demographic and plenty of material. Sagal started things off by blinking at the audience, and purring "So...did anything happen this week?" Even in less interesting months than November, "Wait Wait" makes that a question worth answering.