Sunday, April 15, 2012

Wait, wait, don't edit me

I caught the Wang Theatre taping of NPR's "Wait, Wait . . . Don't Tell Me" show last week - mostly because the partner unit, an avid listener, wanted to go.  For my part, I'm amused by "Wait, Wait" - when I happen to hear it - but I'm hardly addicted.

Alas, "Partner's Night Out" turned out to be more of a favor than I anticipated; the taping was only intermittently entertaining - although it was interesting as a peek into the way "live" experience is shaped and massaged into NPR fare.

 Now I'm not so naïve as to imagine that "Wait, Wait" - or any other radio show - is anything like "live;" still, I was surprised to find that in the flesh, as it were, it was so often half-dead.  The taping ran nearly two hours (to generate a half-hour show), and this was with only a little re-tracing of steps and re-recording (maybe five or ten minutes worth?) at the very end.  Basically, the real live version of "Wait, Wait" is four times longer than the "live" version you hear at home.  There's three shows' worth of filler.

Not that there's anything wrong with that!  Still, while you're trapped in the Wang Theatre, waiting for the assembled comics to hit on the fresh topical bit that's going to make it on the air (and there were some funny jokes), you do feel that sense of persistently escaping theatrical oxygen that, well, is supposed to be anathema to live theatre (imagine a production in which every actual line is preceded by an "ummm" and two "bum" lines, and you get the idea).  My partner was less fazed by all this - he told me he'd once sat through a taping of a Hollywood sitcom that lasted four hours (that's like most of Götterdämmerung!), so he told me I was being too demanding.

Maybe.  But I couldn't forget  that the slick, witty host, Peter Sagal, turned out to have far less presence than his voice does (which is in and of itself kind of intriguing); sidekick Carl Kasell has more, but still, you wouldn't call him magnetic.  The comics likewise clearly had personae that might have cast some low-grade spell, but they were sitting down - behind a conference table! - so the whole thing felt like you were tapping your heels through a corporate retreat in which upper management, bizarrely enough, was full of liberals.  They really should have served coffee.

I may have been alone in this response, though; the people around me seemed to be participating in some virtual event for which my ticket didn't provide admittance.  The full house whooped and applauded with surprising enthusiasm, and responded almost gratefully to the Boston references threaded like bait through Sagal's monologue.  They weren't experiencing it "live,"  but rather "on the air;" in their minds, they were at a show that was going to happen sometime in the future - and they were on it!

In fact, it happened yesterday; I heard it again on the radio, condensed down by three quarters, with my partner.  We agreed the "live" show was nothing like the experience of the live show; not only had all the hesitations and boring bits been banished, but some sequences seemed slightly re-arranged, and audience responses were far quicker on the trigger; the laughs were roars, and the cues were like pounces.  It was quite strange having the actual experience of the show fresh in the memory while listening to its new "live" version - but the remodel was also somehow re-assuring in its subdued sense of control; everyone knew what they were doing every single minute; there was no room for risk, or human error.

I looked at my partner when it was finished; he was smiling.  "You know, it was a lot better than I remember it being," he said.


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