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Peter Sagal has been very naughty.

August 20th, 2008 by Bill Corbett · 18 Comments

My old pal Peter Sagal, host of National Public Radio’s WAIT WAIT DON’T TELL ME, has been up to no damned good.


In case you missed it, Peter recently wrote a book about the human propensity for bad behavior titled “The Book of Vice.”

When I first heard the title — before I saw it written out — I was wondering why Peter had written an homage to Robert Van Winkle. Though I was relieved to learn that his tome wasn’t, in fact, offering fond analyses of lyrics such as…

    “Something grabs a hold of me tightly / Flow like a harpoon daily and nightly,”

…the reality of Peter’s book was even more alarming. But let me back up a tad…

Before Peter hit it big as someone who can actually order Carl Kassell to fetch his dog’s dry cleaning, he and I were struggling playwrights here in the Twin Cities, during that swinging decade historians have called “the 1990s.” We were punk writers, hoodlums really, and we’d barge into theater directors’ offices and demand that our stuff be produced, ’cause it would be a real shame if something happened to that nice George Bernard Shaw paperweight sitting so pretty on the desk.

    sagal 200

    Wait wait, don’t tell him. (You already told him, didn’t you?)

Peter moved on to N.Y., then did a bank shot back to the Midwest when NPR came a-calling. He is now an NPR megastar, serving as the smart, congenial and quick-witted host of WAIT WAIT (Full disclosure: I always thought the show should have at least another three WAITs in the title, but… NPR never responded to my many letters of bitter complaint).

But here’s some honest-to-Susan Stamberg facts about Peter and myself:

– He introduced me to Korean food. I’ve never forgiven him for that.

– I once acted in a play of his, as a folksy, friendly landlord who beats the living snot out of the play’s hero with a flashlight. God help me, I enjoyed it immensely.

– The man is a fine writer, stellar radio talent and an all-around lovely guy. Korean food notwithstanding.

But now Peter has has bravely plunged into the world of naughtiosity like only a wry, self-described vanilla guy can do. THE BOOK OF VICE is a very fun read. And though most of the P.R. around the book has defaulted to the Ess-Ee-Ecks parts, some of my favorite writing in the book revolved around the “gluttony” section, where Peter and his lovely wife Beth venture into a very tony, hip Chicago restaurant. Lazy sod that I am, let me quote this review from the St. Petersburg Times, which in turn quotes the book:

    One of the most hilarious chapters is about a dinner Sagal and his wife have at Alinea, a highly acclaimed Chicago restaurant. Its chef, Grant Achatz, is a practitioner of molecular gastronomy, an elaboration of culinary art cross-bred with chemistry, a rather chilly type of extreme cuisine.

    As Sagal writes, a molecular chef “would look at a banana and see something to be frozen, microtomed, processed into foam or liquid, or maybe, through some magic bit of alchemy, turned into a meatball.”

    The result is both strange and irresistible: “Waiters carefully place in front of us: a square of Lucite, four inches by four inches by half an inch, standing on edge. On top of the square: a sliver of metal, holding what looks like a single yellow die on which the spots were applied by a blind person with a tiny brush. This is, according to the menu: ‘Corn, with coconut, cayenne, and lime.’ It looks no more like Corn (or coconut, cayenne, or lime) than a Whopper looks like the Queen of Romania.”

    But when he eats it, the result “is quite literally indescribable – as if somebody poked your brain with an electrode and all of a sudden you started tasting things nobody had invented words for.” After a couple of dozen courses and a lot of very fine wine, Sagal writes, “I paid the $750 bill and licked the glass.”

The BOOK OF VICE paperback edition is set to come out in about a month. Do check it out. It’s a very funny book.

In the meantime, here’s Peter Sagal — the King of all Public Media — a man who can, at whim, order Garrison Keillor to beat himself with a sack of oranges — addressing the tribe at Google last month:

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18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Invisible Cracker Mom on Aug 20, 2008 at 7:26 am

    Well! Such unabashed hucksterism. However, as the old saying goes, “consider the source,” and the conclusion is quickly reached that this author and his book are indeed worthy of investigation. And I love “Wait Wait- Don’t Tell Me.”
    Humor and intelligence- one can never get enough of either in these times.

  • 2 Doug on Aug 20, 2008 at 7:33 am

    Oh what I would give to be able to command Keiller to beat himself violently with a bag or oranges.

    Or at the very least have the power to have Jesse Ventura silenced once and for all.

  • 3 Courtney on Aug 20, 2008 at 8:28 am

    Carl Kassell leaving the message on my answering machine is number one on my bucket list. Screw going to China, I live right above a noodle place, that’ll do. It’s alllllll about Carl Kassell.

  • 4 Bill Corbett on Aug 20, 2008 at 9:08 am

    I am so abashed! In other words, I’m very much NOT unabashed.

    I’m the very opposite of an anti-not-unabashed person, is all I’m saying.

  • 5 Kyle on Aug 20, 2008 at 10:31 am

    I love “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me”.
    When are you going to be on the show, Bill?

  • 6 Dan Noutko-Kennedy on Aug 20, 2008 at 10:45 am

    At the risk of sounding like Eddie Haskell your kind-heartedness to your friends is exceeded only by your gift for creating so many laughs through your writing in praise of them.

  • 7 Kyle on Aug 20, 2008 at 10:49 am

    Hmmm…Another Kyle posting here? That’ll get confusing.

    And I was looking for a new book to read. I guess I know what I’ll be buying next.

  • 8 Bill Corbett on Aug 20, 2008 at 11:04 am

    I’m already on the show, in my drag alter-ego “Paula Poundstone.”

  • 9 Bill Corbett on Aug 20, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Woo-hooo! We finally have a two-Kyle site!

    (pops champagne)

  • 10 Tim (not Kyle) on Aug 20, 2008 at 1:12 pm


    Thank you for phonetically “spelling” it out, Bill. I’m far too young, innocent and sensitive.

  • 11 karen on Aug 20, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    yes!!! another installment of faboo! plus the mention of korean food is awesome!!!!

  • 12 RemmieBarrow on Aug 20, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    “as a folksy, friendly landlord who beats the living snot out of the play’s hero with a flashlight. God help me, I enjoyed it immensely.”

    Yikes, sometimes you just scare me, Bill.

  • 13 DoubleplusunKyle on Aug 20, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    I bet you look cute when you’re abashed.

  • 14 Darth Chimay on Aug 20, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    I had never heard of the show or Peter Sagal until he was on the now-cancelled Penn Jillette radio show. He was a speaker at The Amazing Meeting 5, which I thought was really nifty. I wonder if he ever followed through with Penn’s advice to go to a bar wearing a fireman’s coat to pick up women. I’m sure his wife was proud.

  • 15 Courtney on Aug 20, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    Ballistic: Ess Ee Ecks vs. Sever?

    I deserve whatever punchings, slappings and floggings come my way after that one.

  • 16 Kyle on Aug 20, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    I challenge the other Kyle (the one who loves “Wait, Wait…”) to a duel!

    Or I’ll just change my name to “Kyle from Maine”. Yeah, that might be easier. And it would involve fewer hospital bills.

  • 17 Heather on Aug 20, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    I think the fact that you are aware that Ballistic ever existed is probably punishment enough.

  • 18 Suzanne on Aug 21, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    This new Facebook group has more on this very interesting subject.