It's only fair that the quirky NPR quiz show Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me is coming to Tampa tonight for a sold-out live show. After all, this state provides the show's best fodder.
"Florida has been a boon to us," said Peter Sagal, the playwright and screenwriter who has helmed the comic news quiz as host since 1998.
"You've got the dumbest criminals, the strangest politicians and in addition to that you also have the great wildlife stories," Sagal said. "One of our favorites was last winter you had a freeze and all the iguanas were frozen and were falling out of trees and hitting people on the head. And then people were taking these frozen iguanas into their homes and they started waking up and running around.
"We don't even check the byline sometimes. If it's a criminal who put a bag over his head and forgot to cut the eyeholes out — it's Florida."
Wait Wait is one of NPR's most popular shows, with nearly 3 million listeners and a million monthly podcast downloads.
A revolving panel of comics and writers poke fun at both pop culture and politics as Sagal quizzes listeners and celebrity guests on that week's news. Sagal has asked Salman Rushdie about Pez dispensers and quizzed President Bill Clinton on My Little Pony, but getting the right answer feels secondary.
The point is to entertain lovers of trivia and oddball facts (Claiming that hand-raising is distracting, a school in England tells students to give a Fonzie-style thumbs-up. A murder case was solved when the family's computer recorded Google searches for the phrases "easiest way to kill an old person," and "dangerous drugs for the elderly.")
If they can get past the bluff-the-listener game or finish a news limerick, listeners win veteran newscaster Carl Kasell's voice on their home answering machine.
The best laughs usually aren't scripted, like when Tom Hanks once wondered aloud whether courthouses have snack bars and comic Paula Poundstone, who's had well-documented legal troubles, jumped in with "Why yes, they do." The audience roared.
The show will arrive in Tampa with Sagal and a panel made up of Adam Felber, a humorist and writer for Real Time With Bill Maher, author Roy Blount Jr. and Faith Salie, a television and NPR commentator. It will then be edited and on the air by the weekend on NPR stations nationwide. (See box for show times.)
In a phone interview, Sagal said he hadn't booked that week's celebrity guest yet, but given the Tampa Bay area's reputation he was hoping to land "a wrestler who strips." (Alas, no such luck. Sagal instead will have Bill Cosby on the phone.)
Given Tampa's reputation, how did an NPR news quiz sell out so quickly?
"Not to sound too vain, but we tend to sell out pretty quickly wherever we go," Sagal said. "We've gotten spoiled. If we don't sell out in a few days we're like, 'What's wrong with these people?' "
Seeing the show live, he said, is about one-third longer than the typical one-hour broadcast and a lot bluer.
"The great thing about not being live is we don't have to censor ourselves," Sagal said. "It gives us freedom to just go off in all directions and when the audience groans we say, 'That's what editing is for.' "
Count on a lot of Florida jokes in the mix. While Sagal loves Florida's oddball news, it's Gov. Rick Scott who makes him love us the most.
"I'll tell you why I love you. You basically elected a supervillain as governor. He's Lex Luthor. He even looks like Lex Luthor. I love you for it."