In this episode of the Wait Wait… Steve Martin is a comedian, a playwright, an author, an art collector, an actor, a Grammy-winning banjo player, a composer and, as we all know, a “wild and crazy guy.”
So we’ve decided to ask him three questions about the most mundane and dull guys we could find: the speakers at London’s , which we in the Wall Street Journal.
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PETER SAGAL, HOST: And now the game where we ask interesting people about completely uninteresting things.
SAGAL: Steve Martin is, among other things, a comedian, a playwright, an author, an art collector, an actor, a Grammy-winning banjo player, composer, and I’ve just run out of time. So we’ll leave it there and say, Steve Martin, welcome to WAIT, WAIT…DON’T TELL ME!
STEVE MARTIN: Thank you very much.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
SAGAL: Great to have you. That’s for sure.
SAGAL: So you do all these things.
MARTIN: Yeah, ish.
SAGAL: Yeah? And I mean, is it that you just get bored or you’re just unhappy, you keep moving on?
MARTIN: I don’t – I always think I’m doing essentially one thing…
MARTIN: …which is writing.
MARTIN: And it translates into performing and writing more.
MARTIN: And it’s all kind of one aspect of being in show business, I guess, which I’ve always loved.
MARTIN: Show business and performing. And in order to do that, I’ve started writing my own things, and I always wrote comedy for television. When I first started, that was my first real professional job, although I started as a stand-up comedian…
MARTIN: …and banjo player, actually.
SAGAL: Well, yeah, this is interesting. The banjo is a big thing for you right now. You were touring with your band, and now you have a new album with Edie Brickell, songs you wrote.
MARTIN: And that album is out now, yeah.
SAGAL: Yes, we know.
MARTIN: We love it, we’ve been listening to it…
MARTIN: …so an amazing coincidence that I’m here talking about it.
SAGAL: I know.
SAGAL: Well, it’s so lucky that you happened to be on this show, that we can actually bring it up.
MARTIN: Total coincidence.
SAGAL: So what was it like…
MARTIN: I saw the lights on in the theater…
MARTIN: …and stopped in.
SAGAL: And came in.
MARTIN: My 10-year-old, who’s got quite a lot of musical ability, said to me, he said, Dad, I want to learn how to play the banjo listening to your new record, so…
PAULA POUNDSTONE: Oh, that’s very nice.
SAGAL: Well, I’ll give you…
SAGAL: Are there people in the banjo world, I mean, the bluegrass music world, who don’t know you except as a banjo player. Like, yeah, that Martin guy, he’s OK.
MARTIN: I doubt that.
MARTIN: Yeah, yeah.
SAGAL: Conversely, does it bother you when people who know you from your films or your plays or your books expect you to be funny when you’re playing the banjo?
MARTIN: No, because, you know, when I travel around and do shows with the Steep Canyon Rangers…
MARTIN: …I always make sure there’s a healthy dose of comedy, and I really like it.
SAGAL: You really do that?
MARTIN: I really like doing it.
SAGAL: You give some comedy to the people who want you to be funny?
MARTIN: What would I do, turn my back and say, just now, be quiet, I’m going to play.
SAGAL: Do you know any good banjo jokes because the banjo has inspired many…
MARTIN: I stay away from them…
MARTIN: …because, you know, the banjo has suffered.
SAGAL: It has?
MARTIN: Yeah. And…
MO ROCCA: Not like the ukulele.
MARTIN: I think of it as a very sophisticated, emotional instrument. And it’s just now recovering from Hee Haw.
SAGAL: A lot of people who were comedians were always funny, like Paula, right? You were always cracking jokes in high school and earlier, right?
POUNDSTONE: Well, yeah. But whether or not it was funny depended on who was in the room.
SAGAL: So were you one of those kids who was always trying to be funny and crack up the classroom?
MARTIN: I don’t know I wanted to be funny. I know what you mean, Paula. It’s, you know, when you’re a kid, you’re just stupid. You know…
MARTIN: You’re, you know, acting silly. But fortunately, your classmates are equally stupid, so…
MARTIN: I wouldn’t call it sophisticated.
SAGAL: You’ve done a lot of other things. One thing you’ve done is you’ve hosted the Oscars three times, right, twice by yourself, once with Alec Baldwin. Right.
MARTIN: Yeah, three times.
SAGAL: And every year…
ROCCA: That’s two and a half then.
SAGAL: Two and a half.
SAGAL: Yeah. Every year, they seem to be trying somebody new recently. And every year, they’re like, oh, that wasn’t very good, people seemed unhappy. But you did…
MARTIN: Well, that’s what they say even if it was good.
SAGAL: So it does seem like a job that you can’t, according to public opinion, do well.
MARTIN: I don’t know that that’s really true. I think, you know, you can say – for example, you host a show, and let’s say it goes over well.
MARTIN: And the next year, they go, after last year’s disaster…
MARTIN: Yeah. You don’t know what – I found that the critics will remember what they need for that year’s commentary.
MARTIN: Yeah. So…
SAGAL: Right. Really? You just need to fend them off.
MARTIN: Do I sound bitter?
POUNDSTONE: You know, when all those Hollywood people are gathered together, though, and the camera does that sort of vast shot looking out at them, and they’re all lit, don’t you find it hard to get past all of that plastic surgery in one place?
POUNDSTONE: I mean, it just cries out. To me, it’s like looking at a large group of big birds flying into a strong wind.
MARTIN: Well, you know, I looked – there’s a famous Johnny Carson joke, and I think it was from the ’80s. And his joke was so many new faces in the audiences, you know, new faces on the old faces.
SAGAL: They are.
MARTIN: Something like that. I really disrespected Johnny just now by…
SAGAL: That’s all right.
MARTIN: …quoting it so badly. But this has been going on forever.
POUNDSTONE: No, it’s like you channeled him. It’s like he was here, honestly.
POUNDSTONE: That was – now was that a…
POUNDSTONE: …direct quote, Steve? Because that was unbelievable.
MARTIN: I think…
POUNDSTONE: What was it again? So many new faces on the old faces, yeah.
MARTIN: I just kind of brought Johnny back. Like, what I’m trying to do is damage Johnny’s reputation.
SAGAL: I know.
ROCCA: It’s like a critic.
POUNDSTONE: Yeah, we…
ROCCA: It’s also the same teeth. Everybody has the same teeth now. I don’t know how all of these celebrities are going to be identified later.
SAGAL: I think it’s…
ROCCA: They all…
ROCCA: Because they all have the same smile.
SAGAL: That’s true.
POUNDSTONE: There’ll be just a big Hollywood mass grave except for David Letterman and Lauren Hutton.
ROCCA: That’s exactly it.
SAGAL: All right, Steve Martin, we have invited you here to play a game we’re calling…
CARL KASELL: We are two boring and mundane guys.
SAGAL: We all watched you “Saturday Night Live” in the ’70s and ’80s. You were known for being a wild and crazy guy, so we’re going to ask you about the most boring and dull guys we could find, the speakers at London’s Boring Conference. We read about it in the Wall Street Journal. Get two questions right, you’ll win a prize for one of our listeners, the sound of Carl yawning on their voicemail.
SAGAL: Are you ready to play?
MARTIN: Yeah, sure.
SAGAL: OK. Carl, who is Steve Martin playing for?
KASELL: Steve is playing for Alton Morris of Cash, Oklahoma.
SAGAL: Well, (unintelligible)…
KASELL: Wait a minute, I know him.
POUNDSTONE: Oh, this is awful.
SAGAL: Well, we’ll have to go with it and see what the FCC says.
SAGAL: Here we go. First question, one of the big hits at Boring 2010 was which of these sessions: A, like listening to paint dry in which a speaker read off the names of all 415 colors in a paint catalog in alphabetical order; B, but not so fluffy in which a speaker showed pictures of everyday objects that looked like clouds if you squint; or C, sit right here a minute in which conference-goers went to a nearby store with the speaker’s girlfriend while she tried on clothes?
MARTIN: Can you repeat my introduction?
SAGAL: We’ll go back here. And now is the game where interesting people…
MARTIN: So we have…
MARTIN: …paint chips…
SAGAL: No, you have somebody who read off all the names of colors from a paint catalog in alphabetical order.
SAGAL: You had someone who showed slides of things that he thought if they were blurry looked like clouds.
MARTIN: OK. Uh-huh.
SAGAL: And you had a group going over to sit with the speaker’s girlfriend while she tried on clothes.
MARTIN: Who am I playing for?
KASELL: Alton Morris of Cash, Oklahoma.
ROCCA: But he’s not playing for cash.
SAGAL: No, he’s playing for Alton who lives in Cash.
MARTIN: Well, I assume, it’s NPR.
MARTIN: I’m going to go with A.
SAGAL: You’re going to go with A, like listening to paint dry? You’re correct, very good.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
ROCCA: I bet that that would be relaxing, actually, to listen to all the colors.
SAGAL: The speaker began the talk by saying, brace yourself for five piping-hot minutes of inertia.
SAGAL: Despite the name of the Boring Conference, there was a lot of variety there. A man named Ed Ross held which of these: A, a milk tasting, comparing five different milks and their flavor finish and ideal food pairing; B, a self-explanatory show called Things I Found in the Bottom of my Bag at the End of the Day; or C, a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate about which actor was the better Darrin on the old TV show, “Bewitched.”
ROCCA: York, York.
KASELL: I rise to defend Dick York.
MARTIN: Yeah. Well, I think it’s clear I didn’t come here to lose.
SAGAL: Your business-like demeanor has been very…
POUNDSTONE: You’re a natural at this.
MARTIN: I’m going to go with A.
SAGAL: You’re going to go with A? And he gets it right.
SAGAL: All right. Let’s see if you can be perfect. Here’s your last question. A speaker named Peter Fletcher worked for three years on his talk. Was it: A, quote, “What Happens To a Pencil If You Suck On It For Three Whole Years Without Biting It?”; B, a display of three years’ worth of photographs of the contents of his refrigerator; or C, an in-depth documentation of the 2,267 times he had sneezed over a three-year period?
MARTIN: I’m going to go with B.
SAGAL: You’re going to go with B, the contents of his refrigerator? I’m afraid it was actually C.
SAGAL: It was a time – he documented the 2,267 times he had sneezed. He even documented the time he sneezed while he was documenting a sneeze. Carl, how did Steve Martin do on our game?
KASELL: Steve had two correct answers, Peter. That’s good enough to win for Alton Morris.
SAGAL: Well done.
POUNDSTONE: All right. Way to go.
SAGAL: Steve Martin’s new album with Edie Brickell is “Love Has Come For You.” Steve Martin, what a pleasure to have you with us on WAIT WAIT…DON’T TELL ME!
MARTIN: Thank you very much.
SAGAL: Steve Martin, ladies and gentlemen.
MARTIN: Bye-bye. Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “WHO YOU GONNA TAKE?”)
EDIE BRICKELL: (Singing) Who you gonna take to the show, who you gonna take to the picture show, who you gonna take to the show, who you gonna take, who you gonna get in the background, who you gonna get if you don’t get (Unintelligible).
SAGAL: In just a minute, Carl shows off his guns in our listener limerick challenge. Call 1-888-Wait-Wait 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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