After A Year On The Job, Stephen Colbert Finds His Voice On ‘The Late Show’




MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

“The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” made headlines earlier this week. Vice President Joe Biden sat for his first TV interview after the election. It was a bright spot for a show that once struggled to find its voice. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans spoke to Colbert’s executive producer and writers during Biden’s visit to discover how they turned the show around.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Vice President Joe Biden seemed pretty relaxed when he stopped by Colbert’s “Late Show” on Tuesday. In fact, he was so relaxed, he let a little profanity slip during a sketch where he and Colbert played America’s dads, delivering a pep talk to the camera during a family meeting at the end of an emotional election season.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT”)

JOE BIDEN: We don’t want to hear those swear words from you – hogwash, baloney, malarkey, you know?

STEPHEN COLBERT: Joe – Joe, we’re on CBS, they’re going to have to bleep half of that.

BIDEN: Hey look, I’m sorry, I’m so gosh damn – oh, darn disappointed.

DEGGANS: Of course, that might have also happened because Biden didn’t rehearse the sketch earlier that day with Colbert. Instead, the host practiced his lines with writer, performer Brian Stack, playing Biden.

COLBERT: We overheard you using some pretty salty language, mister.

BRIAN STACK: (As Joe Biden) You’re better than that. I don’t want to hear any more swear words from you, like hogwash or baloney or malarkey.

COLBERT: Joe – Joe, we’re on CBS.

DEGGANS: Then Colbert got an idea.

COLBERT: Does this need to have any little life to it? Like, ’cause we’re using steadicam for a reason, right? So we’ll probably want…

DEGGANS: He asked the camera operator, using a device called a steadicam, to move up and down during the skit to make the audience watching on TV feel as if they were briefly walking away. Head writer Opus Moreschi says such hands-on feedback from Colbert was pretty common.

OPUS MORESCHI: He’s very specific about the way he wants the show to be. And if we’re doing our job perfectly, we’d basically be, like, outsourced versions of Stephen’s brain.

DEGGANS: But when Colbert first debuted as host of “The Late Show” last year on CBS, that level of involvement presented some problems. The show could be uneven. Colbert, who had played a character on his Comedy Central show “The Colbert Report,” didn’t seem as comfortable hosting “The Late Show” as himself. He hadn’t really found his authentic voice.

CHRIS LICHT: He didn’t have time to find his voice because before I got here, he really was running the show and every element of it.

DEGGANS: That’s Chris Licht, who moved from a job as executive producer of “CBS This Morning” to become the executive producer and showrunner for Colbert’s “Late Show” earlier this year. His job – to handle all the non-comedy stuff so Colbert could focus on the funny.

LICHT: He was able to find his voice because he had a second to think about what his voice was. And then the conventions came at a perfect time.

DEGGANS: The show found new energy with live shows during the Republican and Democratic conventions. That included the return of a character who acted suspiciously like the guy who used to host “The Colbert Report.”

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT”)

COLBERT: Truthiness has to feel true, but Trumpiness doesn’t even have to do that. In fact, many Trump supporters don’t believe his wildest promises. And they don’t care.

DEGGANS: Then came their live election night special on Showtime. At times, that show felt a bit like a wake as Colbert, who had regularly skewered Trump on air, tried to process the results in real time.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SPECIAL, STEPHEN COLBERT’S LIVE ELECTION NIGHT – DEMOCRACY’S SERIES FINALE: WHO’S GOING TO CLEAN UP THIS S***”

COLBERT: So how did our politics get so poisonous? I think it’s because we overdosed, especially this year. We drank too much of the poison.

DEGGANS: The show hadn’t prepared much for the option that Trump would be declared the winner while they were on air. Sensing the audience’s gloom, Licht said he turned to Colbert with three words – no more funny.

LICHT: The great thing about that Election Night was you peeled away everything and you were left with just him. And it was pretty compelling.

DEGGANS: Viewership for Colbert’s “Late Show” often lags behind Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” on NBC. But Colbert’s show is seeing growth. CBS says the Biden episode beat Fallon with their best Tuesday ratings in more than a year. Licht laughed off the idea floated in a New York Post story earlier this week that CBS might flip Colbert with James Corden.

Corden hosts “The Late Late Show,” which now follows Colbert at 12:30 a.m. on CBS. Licht said Colbert has found his footing and will focus on calling out hypocrisy, no matter who’s in charge.

LICHT: And whether it’s in politics or whether it’s in just day to day institutional life, that’s our villain. So that’s an apolitical villain.

DEGGANS: Colbert’s new challenge may be continuing to grow his audience when the thrill of a singular election is long past. I’m Eric Deggans.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Not My Job: We Quiz Sen. Bernie Sanders On KFC’s Colonel Sanders




PETER SAGAL, HOST:

And now the game where we make important people wonder how much more important they have to be in order to have avoided this. It’s called Not My Job. So a few years ago, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was approached by an aide about running for president in 2016. His response was more or less, I’d have to be crazy to do that. Well, if he wasn’t crazy then, he sure is by now. Senator Bernie Sanders, welcome to WAIT WAIT… DON’T TELL ME.

(APPLAUSE)

BERNIE SANDERS: Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: So I was reading about that very conversation in your new book. You’ve written a book about your campaign and your philosophy. This one’s going to be a hot property at the Trump rally book burnings, I’m sure.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: When it was first suggested to you that you, an independent socialist of Vermont, could run for president, what did you say?

SANDERS: Well, other than the fact that we had no money, no political organization and we were taking on the entire Democratic establishment – other than that, I thought we were in pretty good shape.

SAGAL: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Was it fun? Did you actually enjoy yourself through that grueling process?

SANDERS: I enjoyed many aspects of it.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Not all of it, needless to say.

SAGAL: All right. What’s the worst thing about running for president?

SANDERS: I think the nature of media coverage was very difficult for me in the sense that the most important issues that we tried to deal with – those were not necessarily the issues that the corporate media were particularly interested in.

SAGAL: Yeah. Yeah, that’s boring. Let’s talk about your hair.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

SANDERS: That was a major issue, as well. You got it.

SAGAL: I know. But there was a lot of coverage of your hair. Did you actually ever get self-conscious about it and go, maybe I should comb it.

SANDERS: No.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: We are told by our friend from Vermont, Tom Bodett, that you are the thing that unifies all Vermonters no matter – whether politics – no matter if they’re farmers or tech guys. They all love Bernie. So what’s the secret for making everybody in Vermont love you?

SANDERS: Well, I don’t think everybody in Vermont loves me.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: The first part of your book, where you talk about your background in Vermont, is interesting. You were on a farm for a while, which must’ve been interesting for a guy from Brooklyn. You – did you, in fact, record a folk album?

SANDERS: Oh, God.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Well, a guy I knew said, why don’t you come on down? We’re going to record something. There were some really very fine Vermont musicians. And I kind of got into it. So it really is an important CD because it is the worst album in the history of music.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Really?

SANDERS: Yeah, it’s about the worst.

SAGAL: Would you say it’s in the top 1 percent of the worst albums in the history of music?

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: The top one-tenth of 1 percent.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You also have something in common with the other senator from Vermont, Patrick Leahy, in that you have been in movies.

SANDERS: I have been in several movies. I first met Susan Sarandon. Susan has become a very good friend – in a movie done in Vermont way back when called “Sweet Hearts Dance.”

SAGAL: Yeah. And did you – are you in that movie? Do you play a character?

SANDERS: I am, yeah.

SAGAL: And who do you…

SANDERS: I play a character named Bernie.

SAGAL: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Was it a stretch?

SANDERS: No. I opened the door and said hello.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: That was my role.

SAGAL: How did you do?

SANDERS: I thought I was great, actually.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: What can I say?

SAGAL: Yeah.

FAITH SALIE: Senator Sanders, in 2010, you did this eight and a half hour filibuster…

SANDERS: Yes.

SALIE: …Which is kind of amazing and legendary. And I mean, I can talk. But eight and a half hours? Like, did you know what you were going to say? Or did you get to a point where it’s just, you know, free association? And did you put in a catheter and stuff? What did you – how did you do that?

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Well, the latter point is perhaps the most important.

SAGAL: Yes.

SANDERS: Many people can talk for a long period of time. But controlling, you know, your urinary tract…

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: …Is maybe the more difficult issue.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: So the answer is, you know, we made it barely. Yes.

SAGAL: You made it barely.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Barely.

SAGAL: Yeah, those filibusters do get a little harder as you get older. Am I right?

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Well, what was interesting about that – I learned something which I did not know. What the doctor apparently told my staff is you should not stand in one place. You should move around. I guess if you don’t, then you have circulation problems.

SAGAL: So you’re supposed to move around…

SANDERS: So the next time you do a filibuster, keep walking around.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Don’t stay in one place for eight or nine hours.

SAGAL: I have a feeling your advice about filibusters might come in handy in the upcoming session. It’ll be like, yes, it’s 25th hour. And Bernie is still doing laps around the Senate chamber.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, Senator Sanders, we are delighted to talk to you. And we’ve asked you here this time to play a game we’re calling…

BILL KURTIS: You’re Finger-Licking Terrible.

SAGAL: You are, of course, Senator Sanders. We thought we’d ask you, then, about Colonel Sanders…

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: …The real man who was a real person named Harland Sanders. He founded Kentucky Fried Chicken. Answer two out of these three questions about Colonel Sanders correctly – you win our prize for one of our listeners, the voice of Carl Kasell telling them to watch their cholesterol.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So, Bill, who is Senator Bernie Sanders playing for?

KURTIS: Shayne Silver-Riskin of Berea, Ohio.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: So first question – Harland Sanders, the future colonel, tried and failed at a lot of businesses before he stumbled on the fried chicken business. For example, his career as a lawyer ended when what happened? A, he referred to a judge as your royal lardbutt (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B, he got into a fistfight in court with his own client. Or C, one of his clients was not only convicted but was declared extra, extra guilty.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Let’s go with B.

SAGAL: You’re going to go with B, the fistfight?

SANDERS: Yeah.

SAGAL: You’re right. And they approve.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Yeah, the good colonel had a temper.

SANDERS: That gets me an extra vote from Ohio.

SAGAL: Yeah, you are.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: By the end of this, you’ll have won the state in retrospect. Here we go.

SANDERS: All right (laughter).

SAGAL: Next question – the colonel’s first big break as a restauranteur came when he was running a service station with a restaurant and managed to beat the competition across the street. How did he do it? A, he got into a gunfight with the other owner. B, he moved his entire building half a mile down the road so motorists got to him first. Or C, he simply set fire to the other owner’s restaurant.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Let’s try B again.

SAGAL: You’re going to go – he moved the building half a mile down the road? That would’ve been clever. But it wasn’t violent enough for the colonel.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: He actually got into a gunfight. It’s a famous…

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: …Famous part of Kentucky Fried Chicken lore. In the gunfight, which – they didn’t like each other – he didn’t – the colonel didn’t kill anybody. But the other owner did, got sent to jail, clearing the market for the colonel.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: There you go.

SAGAL: All right, Senator, last question. If you get this right, you win it all. That’s right, Senator Sanders. You will win it all.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Colonel Sanders sold the Kentucky Fried Chicken, once he started the business, for only $2 million. And he became rather bitter about that. In fact, the company then paid him $1 million more just to stop him from saying things about KFC, like which of these?

A, quote, “might as well call it Kentucky Fried Rat the way it tastes.” B, quote, “crispy recipe is nothing in the world but a damn fried dough ball stuck on some chicken.” Or C, quote, “better hold on to that bucket, folks, cause your meal’s coming back for seconds.”

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: I think I’m going to be consistent and stay with B again.

SAGAL: You’re going to go with B? And you are right, Senator Sanders. That’s what he said.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Colonel Sanders – not a happy man. Bill, how did Senator Bernie Sanders do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Senator, enjoy this. Bernie Sanders won.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has a new book. It’s called “Our Revolution” – about his history-making run for the White House and the situation he sees in our country. Senator Sanders, thank you so much for joining us.

(APPLAUSE)

SANDERS: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “MR. SANDMAN”)

THE CHORDETTES: (Singing) Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream. Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen. Give him two lips like roses and clover.

SAGAL: In just a minute, crack open the pistachios. It’s our Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAITWAIT to join us on the air. We’ll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT… DON’T TELL ME from NPR.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Not My Job: We Quiz Sen. Bernie Sanders On KFC’s Colonel Sanders




PETER SAGAL, HOST:

And now the game where we make important people wonder how much more important they have to be in order to have avoided this. It’s called Not My Job. So a few years ago, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was approached by an aide about running for president in 2016. His response was more or less, I’d have to be crazy to do that. Well, if he wasn’t crazy then, he sure is by now. Senator Bernie Sanders, welcome to WAIT WAIT… DON’T TELL ME.

(APPLAUSE)

BERNIE SANDERS: Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: So I was reading about that very conversation in your new book. You’ve written a book about your campaign and your philosophy. This one’s going to be a hot property at the Trump rally book burnings, I’m sure.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: When it was first suggested to you that you, an independent socialist of Vermont, could run for president, what did you say?

SANDERS: Well, other than the fact that we had no money, no political organization and we were taking on the entire Democratic establishment – other than that, I thought we were in pretty good shape.

SAGAL: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Was it fun? Did you actually enjoy yourself through that grueling process?

SANDERS: I enjoyed many aspects of it.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Not all of it, needless to say.

SAGAL: All right. What’s the worst thing about running for president?

SANDERS: I think the nature of media coverage was very difficult for me in the sense that the most important issues that we tried to deal with – those were not necessarily the issues that the corporate media were particularly interested in.

SAGAL: Yeah. Yeah, that’s boring. Let’s talk about your hair.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

SANDERS: That was a major issue, as well. You got it.

SAGAL: I know. But there was a lot of coverage of your hair. Did you actually ever get self-conscious about it and go, maybe I should comb it.

SANDERS: No.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: We are told by our friend from Vermont, Tom Bodett, that you are the thing that unifies all Vermonters no matter – whether politics – no matter if they’re farmers or tech guys. They all love Bernie. So what’s the secret for making everybody in Vermont love you?

SANDERS: Well, I don’t think everybody in Vermont loves me.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: The first part of your book, where you talk about your background in Vermont, is interesting. You were on a farm for a while, which must’ve been interesting for a guy from Brooklyn. You – did you, in fact, record a folk album?

SANDERS: Oh, God.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Well, a guy I knew said, why don’t you come on down? We’re going to record something. There were some really very fine Vermont musicians. And I kind of got into it. So it really is an important CD because it is the worst album in the history of music.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Really?

SANDERS: Yeah, it’s about the worst.

SAGAL: Would you say it’s in the top 1 percent of the worst albums in the history of music?

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: The top one-tenth of 1 percent.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You also have something in common with the other senator from Vermont, Patrick Leahy, in that you have been in movies.

SANDERS: I have been in several movies. I first met Susan Sarandon. Susan has become a very good friend – in a movie done in Vermont way back when called “Sweet Hearts Dance.”

SAGAL: Yeah. And did you – are you in that movie? Do you play a character?

SANDERS: I am, yeah.

SAGAL: And who do you…

SANDERS: I play a character named Bernie.

SAGAL: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Was it a stretch?

SANDERS: No. I opened the door and said hello.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: That was my role.

SAGAL: How did you do?

SANDERS: I thought I was great, actually.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: What can I say?

SAGAL: Yeah.

FAITH SALIE: Senator Sanders, in 2010, you did this eight and a half hour filibuster…

SANDERS: Yes.

SALIE: …Which is kind of amazing and legendary. And I mean, I can talk. But eight and a half hours? Like, did you know what you were going to say? Or did you get to a point where it’s just, you know, free association? And did you put in a catheter and stuff? What did you – how did you do that?

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Well, the latter point is perhaps the most important.

SAGAL: Yes.

SANDERS: Many people can talk for a long period of time. But controlling, you know, your urinary tract…

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: …Is maybe the more difficult issue.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: So the answer is, you know, we made it barely. Yes.

SAGAL: You made it barely.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Barely.

SAGAL: Yeah, those filibusters do get a little harder as you get older. Am I right?

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Well, what was interesting about that – I learned something which I did not know. What the doctor apparently told my staff is you should not stand in one place. You should move around. I guess if you don’t, then you have circulation problems.

SAGAL: So you’re supposed to move around…

SANDERS: So the next time you do a filibuster, keep walking around.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Don’t stay in one place for eight or nine hours.

SAGAL: I have a feeling your advice about filibusters might come in handy in the upcoming session. It’ll be like, yes, it’s 25th hour. And Bernie is still doing laps around the Senate chamber.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, Senator Sanders, we are delighted to talk to you. And we’ve asked you here this time to play a game we’re calling…

BILL KURTIS: You’re Finger-Licking Terrible.

SAGAL: You are, of course, Senator Sanders. We thought we’d ask you, then, about Colonel Sanders…

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: …The real man who was a real person named Harland Sanders. He founded Kentucky Fried Chicken. Answer two out of these three questions about Colonel Sanders correctly – you win our prize for one of our listeners, the voice of Carl Kasell telling them to watch their cholesterol.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So, Bill, who is Senator Bernie Sanders playing for?

KURTIS: Shayne Silver-Riskin of Berea, Ohio.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: So first question – Harland Sanders, the future colonel, tried and failed at a lot of businesses before he stumbled on the fried chicken business. For example, his career as a lawyer ended when what happened? A, he referred to a judge as your royal lardbutt (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B, he got into a fistfight in court with his own client. Or C, one of his clients was not only convicted but was declared extra, extra guilty.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Let’s go with B.

SAGAL: You’re going to go with B, the fistfight?

SANDERS: Yeah.

SAGAL: You’re right. And they approve.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Yeah, the good colonel had a temper.

SANDERS: That gets me an extra vote from Ohio.

SAGAL: Yeah, you are.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: By the end of this, you’ll have won the state in retrospect. Here we go.

SANDERS: All right (laughter).

SAGAL: Next question – the colonel’s first big break as a restauranteur came when he was running a service station with a restaurant and managed to beat the competition across the street. How did he do it? A, he got into a gunfight with the other owner. B, he moved his entire building half a mile down the road so motorists got to him first. Or C, he simply set fire to the other owner’s restaurant.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Let’s try B again.

SAGAL: You’re going to go – he moved the building half a mile down the road? That would’ve been clever. But it wasn’t violent enough for the colonel.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: He actually got into a gunfight. It’s a famous…

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: …Famous part of Kentucky Fried Chicken lore. In the gunfight, which – they didn’t like each other – he didn’t – the colonel didn’t kill anybody. But the other owner did, got sent to jail, clearing the market for the colonel.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: There you go.

SAGAL: All right, Senator, last question. If you get this right, you win it all. That’s right, Senator Sanders. You will win it all.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Colonel Sanders sold the Kentucky Fried Chicken, once he started the business, for only $2 million. And he became rather bitter about that. In fact, the company then paid him $1 million more just to stop him from saying things about KFC, like which of these?

A, quote, “might as well call it Kentucky Fried Rat the way it tastes.” B, quote, “crispy recipe is nothing in the world but a damn fried dough ball stuck on some chicken.” Or C, quote, “better hold on to that bucket, folks, cause your meal’s coming back for seconds.”

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: I think I’m going to be consistent and stay with B again.

SAGAL: You’re going to go with B? And you are right, Senator Sanders. That’s what he said.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Colonel Sanders – not a happy man. Bill, how did Senator Bernie Sanders do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Senator, enjoy this. Bernie Sanders won.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has a new book. It’s called “Our Revolution” – about his history-making run for the White House and the situation he sees in our country. Senator Sanders, thank you so much for joining us.

(APPLAUSE)

SANDERS: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “MR. SANDMAN”)

THE CHORDETTES: (Singing) Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream. Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen. Give him two lips like roses and clover.

SAGAL: In just a minute, crack open the pistachios. It’s our Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAITWAIT to join us on the air. We’ll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT… DON’T TELL ME from NPR.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Not My Job: We Quiz Sen. Bernie Sanders On KFC’s Colonel Sanders




PETER SAGAL, HOST:

And now the game where we make important people wonder how much more important they have to be in order to have avoided this. It’s called Not My Job. So a few years ago, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was approached by an aide about running for president in 2016. His response was more or less, I’d have to be crazy to do that. Well, if he wasn’t crazy then, he sure is by now. Senator Bernie Sanders, welcome to WAIT WAIT… DON’T TELL ME.

(APPLAUSE)

BERNIE SANDERS: Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: So I was reading about that very conversation in your new book. You’ve written a book about your campaign and your philosophy. This one’s going to be a hot property at the Trump rally book burnings, I’m sure.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: When it was first suggested to you that you, an independent socialist of Vermont, could run for president, what did you say?

SANDERS: Well, other than the fact that we had no money, no political organization and we were taking on the entire Democratic establishment – other than that, I thought we were in pretty good shape.

SAGAL: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Was it fun? Did you actually enjoy yourself through that grueling process?

SANDERS: I enjoyed many aspects of it.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Not all of it, needless to say.

SAGAL: All right. What’s the worst thing about running for president?

SANDERS: I think the nature of media coverage was very difficult for me in the sense that the most important issues that we tried to deal with – those were not necessarily the issues that the corporate media were particularly interested in.

SAGAL: Yeah. Yeah, that’s boring. Let’s talk about your hair.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

SANDERS: That was a major issue, as well. You got it.

SAGAL: I know. But there was a lot of coverage of your hair. Did you actually ever get self-conscious about it and go, maybe I should comb it.

SANDERS: No.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: We are told by our friend from Vermont, Tom Bodett, that you are the thing that unifies all Vermonters no matter – whether politics – no matter if they’re farmers or tech guys. They all love Bernie. So what’s the secret for making everybody in Vermont love you?

SANDERS: Well, I don’t think everybody in Vermont loves me.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: The first part of your book, where you talk about your background in Vermont, is interesting. You were on a farm for a while, which must’ve been interesting for a guy from Brooklyn. You – did you, in fact, record a folk album?

SANDERS: Oh, God.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Well, a guy I knew said, why don’t you come on down? We’re going to record something. There were some really very fine Vermont musicians. And I kind of got into it. So it really is an important CD because it is the worst album in the history of music.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Really?

SANDERS: Yeah, it’s about the worst.

SAGAL: Would you say it’s in the top 1 percent of the worst albums in the history of music?

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: The top one-tenth of 1 percent.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You also have something in common with the other senator from Vermont, Patrick Leahy, in that you have been in movies.

SANDERS: I have been in several movies. I first met Susan Sarandon. Susan has become a very good friend – in a movie done in Vermont way back when called “Sweet Hearts Dance.”

SAGAL: Yeah. And did you – are you in that movie? Do you play a character?

SANDERS: I am, yeah.

SAGAL: And who do you…

SANDERS: I play a character named Bernie.

SAGAL: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Was it a stretch?

SANDERS: No. I opened the door and said hello.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: That was my role.

SAGAL: How did you do?

SANDERS: I thought I was great, actually.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: What can I say?

SAGAL: Yeah.

FAITH SALIE: Senator Sanders, in 2010, you did this eight and a half hour filibuster…

SANDERS: Yes.

SALIE: …Which is kind of amazing and legendary. And I mean, I can talk. But eight and a half hours? Like, did you know what you were going to say? Or did you get to a point where it’s just, you know, free association? And did you put in a catheter and stuff? What did you – how did you do that?

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Well, the latter point is perhaps the most important.

SAGAL: Yes.

SANDERS: Many people can talk for a long period of time. But controlling, you know, your urinary tract…

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: …Is maybe the more difficult issue.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: So the answer is, you know, we made it barely. Yes.

SAGAL: You made it barely.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Barely.

SAGAL: Yeah, those filibusters do get a little harder as you get older. Am I right?

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Well, what was interesting about that – I learned something which I did not know. What the doctor apparently told my staff is you should not stand in one place. You should move around. I guess if you don’t, then you have circulation problems.

SAGAL: So you’re supposed to move around…

SANDERS: So the next time you do a filibuster, keep walking around.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Don’t stay in one place for eight or nine hours.

SAGAL: I have a feeling your advice about filibusters might come in handy in the upcoming session. It’ll be like, yes, it’s 25th hour. And Bernie is still doing laps around the Senate chamber.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, Senator Sanders, we are delighted to talk to you. And we’ve asked you here this time to play a game we’re calling…

BILL KURTIS: You’re Finger-Licking Terrible.

SAGAL: You are, of course, Senator Sanders. We thought we’d ask you, then, about Colonel Sanders…

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: …The real man who was a real person named Harland Sanders. He founded Kentucky Fried Chicken. Answer two out of these three questions about Colonel Sanders correctly – you win our prize for one of our listeners, the voice of Carl Kasell telling them to watch their cholesterol.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So, Bill, who is Senator Bernie Sanders playing for?

KURTIS: Shayne Silver-Riskin of Berea, Ohio.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: So first question – Harland Sanders, the future colonel, tried and failed at a lot of businesses before he stumbled on the fried chicken business. For example, his career as a lawyer ended when what happened? A, he referred to a judge as your royal lardbutt (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B, he got into a fistfight in court with his own client. Or C, one of his clients was not only convicted but was declared extra, extra guilty.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Let’s go with B.

SAGAL: You’re going to go with B, the fistfight?

SANDERS: Yeah.

SAGAL: You’re right. And they approve.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Yeah, the good colonel had a temper.

SANDERS: That gets me an extra vote from Ohio.

SAGAL: Yeah, you are.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: By the end of this, you’ll have won the state in retrospect. Here we go.

SANDERS: All right (laughter).

SAGAL: Next question – the colonel’s first big break as a restauranteur came when he was running a service station with a restaurant and managed to beat the competition across the street. How did he do it? A, he got into a gunfight with the other owner. B, he moved his entire building half a mile down the road so motorists got to him first. Or C, he simply set fire to the other owner’s restaurant.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Let’s try B again.

SAGAL: You’re going to go – he moved the building half a mile down the road? That would’ve been clever. But it wasn’t violent enough for the colonel.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: He actually got into a gunfight. It’s a famous…

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: …Famous part of Kentucky Fried Chicken lore. In the gunfight, which – they didn’t like each other – he didn’t – the colonel didn’t kill anybody. But the other owner did, got sent to jail, clearing the market for the colonel.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: There you go.

SAGAL: All right, Senator, last question. If you get this right, you win it all. That’s right, Senator Sanders. You will win it all.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Colonel Sanders sold the Kentucky Fried Chicken, once he started the business, for only $2 million. And he became rather bitter about that. In fact, the company then paid him $1 million more just to stop him from saying things about KFC, like which of these?

A, quote, “might as well call it Kentucky Fried Rat the way it tastes.” B, quote, “crispy recipe is nothing in the world but a damn fried dough ball stuck on some chicken.” Or C, quote, “better hold on to that bucket, folks, cause your meal’s coming back for seconds.”

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: I think I’m going to be consistent and stay with B again.

SAGAL: You’re going to go with B? And you are right, Senator Sanders. That’s what he said.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Colonel Sanders – not a happy man. Bill, how did Senator Bernie Sanders do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Senator, enjoy this. Bernie Sanders won.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has a new book. It’s called “Our Revolution” – about his history-making run for the White House and the situation he sees in our country. Senator Sanders, thank you so much for joining us.

(APPLAUSE)

SANDERS: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “MR. SANDMAN”)

THE CHORDETTES: (Singing) Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream. Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen. Give him two lips like roses and clover.

SAGAL: In just a minute, crack open the pistachios. It’s our Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAITWAIT to join us on the air. We’ll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT… DON’T TELL ME from NPR.

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Taking A Crack At A New ‘Nutcracker': This One’s Set At The World’s Fair


Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has created a brand new Nutcracker for the Joffrey Ballet that premieres on Saturday. It’s a fresh take, but Wheeldon promises: “We follow the structure of the story quite closely.”

Cheryl Mann/Joffrey/Boneau/Bryan-Brown


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Cheryl Mann/Joffrey/Boneau/Bryan-Brown

In the world of ballet, The Nutcracker is sort of a gateway drug. Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon danced his first Nutcracker when he was 11, with London’s Royal Ballet. After he moved to the U.S., he danced the Balanchine production with the New York City Ballet.

Wheeldon is the choreographer behind a brand new Nutcracker created for the Joffrey Ballet. Expectations are high for this $4 million production, which premieres Saturday. It replaces the version that founder Robert Joffrey choreographed in 1987 — his last work before he died of AIDS.

“From the business side of the Joffrey, The Nutcracker generates over 50 percent of our annual box office revenue,” says Greg Cameron, executive director of the Joffrey. The annual production doesn’t just bring in revenue, it also expands audiences. “It helps us introduce them to ballet and then, I think, helps us extend invitations to them to return and see the other kinds of work that we do,” he explains.

So, when the Joffrey production grew a bit long in the tooth, the company raised more than $4 million for a new production. Wheeldon says he was game, but he definitely had questions.

“If I’m going to approach a classic like The Nutcracker, how can I put my stamp on it?” he asked. “You know, why is it worthwhile to look at this?”

The key for him was setting the new production in Chicago — specifically at the famous World’s Fair of 1893, a period that’s actually contemporaneous with the original ballet. Doing research, Wheeldon came across a photograph of a worker’s shack, surrounded by towering buildings under construction.

“And that sort of made us think … perhaps this is maybe the story of an immigrant worker’s family, rather than, you know, the child of a wealthy Victorian family,” he says.

So, Wheeldon’s Nutcracker — with a new scenario by children’s book author Brian Selznick — focuses on Polish immigrants.

“The largest innovation in this production is its setting …” Wheeldon explains. “The idea that it’s a poor family, that it focuses on a community that sort of comes together at Christmas and very much makes do with what it has.”

Wheeldon says the World’s Fair was a natural fit for The Nutcracker‘s second act. Above, Christine Rocas and Fabrice Calmels.

Cheryl Mann/Joffrey/Boneau/Bryan-Brown


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Cheryl Mann/Joffrey/Boneau/Bryan-Brown

Wheeldon says the World’s Fair was a natural fit for The Nutcracker‘s second act. Above, Christine Rocas and Fabrice Calmels.

Cheryl Mann/Joffrey/Boneau/Bryan-Brown

It comes with a large cast, including some 50 professional dancers and more than 100 kids. Principal ballerina Victoria Jaiani danced her first Nutcracker in Tblisi, Georgia when she was 11. She’s been with the company for 14 years and danced many roles in Joffrey’s Nutcracker, including the Sugar Plum Fairy. This year, she’s doing the equivalent part, but says Wheeldon has added a psychological dimension.

“Here we have a chance to build a story — it has a bit more depth, in my perspective, and meaning,” Jaiani says. “So, the first act I play the sculptress, also single parent to Marie and Fritz. She is sculpting one of the biggest sculptures of the World’s Fair in Chicago. And then, in the second act, in Marie’s imagination, it’s in her dream that her mom becomes a golden statue herself.”

The World’s Fair setting seems a natural fit for the second act where the magical Drosselmayer character, here named the Impresario, takes young Marie on a tour of the fair. (Wheeldon describes him as a cross between architect Daniel Burnham, Nikola Tesla and P.T. Barnum.)

“It seemed like a no-brainer in a way,” Wheeldon says, “because the international pavilions at the World’s Fair are kind of the perfect setting for the, sort of, standard national dances of the second act.”

Despite the fresh take, Wheeldon’s making sure his production delivers what’s expected of a Nutcracker.

“We follow the structure of the story quite closely,” he says, “and the things that are dictated by the score — like the Christmas tree growing, the land of the snow, the Waltz of the Snowflakes — all of those are still very much in this production.”

And, despite the high price tag, the Joffrey’s executive director Greg Cameron feels it’s worth every penny of the $4 million.

“It certainly is a very, very sound investment for the Joffrey, given that we have a 10-year license with the work — it is something that we will do every year,” Cameron says.

And he hopes the production can tour and be taped, so people outside Chicago can experience it, as well.