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Alan Pergament: 'Wait, Wait' was even more fun watching the sausage being made at Shea's

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Peter Sagal

Peter Sagal talked about his first trip to Buffalo.

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There are multiple things I can tell fans of NPR’s “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” if they only listened to the program over the weekend that was taped at Shea’s Performing Arts Center on Thursday night.

The episode that ran on WBFO-FM was fun, but not as much fun as it was being at Shea’s Thursday night.

That’s because most of the Buffalocentric material was in the humorous 15-20 minutes preshow led by extremely entertaining host Peter Sagal before the show got down to serious business. Well, business, anyway.

Sagal opened the night by saying it was the first time he has been in Buffalo so fans here could finally see what he looks like.

A noted runner who has finished 16 marathons, Sagal’s most entertaining preshow material concerned arriving in Buffalo unprepared for the cold weather and needing warmer clothes to run.

He said he headed over to an Allen Street sports store to buy some running clothes and was given some unusual advice. Sagal said the salesperson at the store advised him an alternative was “to suffer” and save some money.

That was sooo Buffalo.

Sagal also made some cracks about Buffalo’s eating habits, which he joked led to heart attacks.

Standup comedian Alzo Slade, who along with columnist Amy Dickinson and Irish comedian Maeve Higgins comprised the show’s panel, said before coming here he was asked if there were any Black people in Buffalo. With that, he humorously gazed out at the Shea’s crowd, which was overwhelmingly white and made the question seem reasonable.

The preshow fun at Buffalo’s expense was followed by a 90-minute or so taping that had to be whittled down to about 50 minutes of material to fill the weekend’s on-air version, with news and promos filling about 10 minutes of the hour.

The taping allowed the 3,000 or so who filled Shea’s to see how the sausage was made, so to speak.

People attending at Shea’s could listen to the show over the weekend to see what was cut and what was “revised.”

Not surprisingly, a crack that announcer Bill Kurtis made about the hatred that actress Jane Fonda inspires from Vietnam veterans didn’t make it on the show.

I can’t remember if that remark came during the preshow or the taping, but presumably it was unscripted.

But in an interview last week, Sagal acknowledged that the staff and colleagues “spend a fair amount of time every week writing a script.”

“We do a lot of research on what's going on in the news with the main stuff, the obscure stuff,” he told me. “You write a script, you write a lot of jokes (with) very, very funny, collaborators and friends who provide a lot of the great jokes that you can reset.

“We go into the show with that script in front of me, but then we don't know what's going to happen, especially with our panelists. And a lot of times, the panelists will take it in a whole new direction, and I'll just have to go with them.

“So, sometimes what you hear me say is stuff that was written and polished in the standard writers’ room. Sometimes, what you hear me say is off the top of my head and reaction of what just happened. Part of the fun of seeing our show is that we don't know exactly what's going down. So it's often fun for the people who are there as well.”

The panelists appeared to have defined roles.

Slade, who previously appeared only remotely, was the funniest of the trio. At least, intentionally.

Higgins was funny, too, but her humor seemed unintentional out of lack of understanding. The older among us would call her an Irish version of Gracie Allen.

Dickinson served as the adult in the room, who actually follows current events.

After the taping was over, Sagal, Kurtis and the panel cleaned up some of the dialogue for a few minutes so the show would flow better when it hit the air.

There were some noticeable changes. While Sagal offered Slade the choice of whether to go first in one segment, in the retake he claimed that he told Slade he had to go first.

Unfortunately, some funny things had to hit the cutting room floor.

The on-air version had some fun when a caller named Maeve Higgins was part of a show that featured panelist Maeve Higgins.

But some funny interaction between the two in which caller Higgins told panelist Higgins that she sometimes receives email intended for her was cut from the show, presumably to save time.

The guest on the show, Myles Stubblefield of Buffalo Worm Works, showed Slade that, yes, indeed, there are some Black people in Buffalo.

A good sport, Stubblefield was there to discuss how his work with worms has turned into a good business. Then he became part of an earworm game in which he had to identify certain tunes that people can’t get out of their heads.

When Sagal asked Stubblefield about something special about Buffalo, Stubblefield jokingly went to a Buffalo cliché about there being nine months of winter here.

Preserving Buffalo’s image, the weather line never made it on the show.

The most memorable line – at least as far as Buffalo was concerned – came from Dickinson at the end of the program.

When Sagal asked the panel what they would do if they had the $45 billion that Elon Musk paid for Twitter, Dickinson cracked she’d use it to put a dome on the Buffalo Bills’ new stadium.

It isn’t happening. In keeping with the sports store salesman’s attitude about dealing with the weather, Bills fans will just have to suffer while the team, the state and the county save money.


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TV Critic

Alan Pergament has had a variety of roles at The News since 1970, including as a news and sports reporter. He has been the TV columnist since 1982, with more than year off for good behavior. He is a member of the national Television Critics Association.

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