Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

Actor Tony Shalhoub Plays 'Not My Job'

Actor Tony Shalhoub i i
Courtesy Tony Shalhoub
Actor Tony Shalhoub
Courtesy Tony Shalhoub

Tony Shalhoub is a normal guy who's become famous playing eccentric people. He was the obsessed Italian chef in Big Night, the alien pawnshop owner in the Men in Black movies, and, of course, the obsessive compulsive detective on the TV series Monk. Now, Tony has gone back to Broadway in Lend Me a Tenor.

In true "Not My Job" fashion: because Tony has played a Monk, we're going to ask him three questions about nuns.

Originally broadcast March 6, 2010.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

CARL KASELL, Host:

From NPR and WBEZ-Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR News quiz. I'm Carl Kasell, and here again is your host, at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.

PETER SAGAL, Host:

Thank you, Carl.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Thank you everybody. Thank you so much. We are listening back today to interviews with some of our favorite celebrity guests, a list which has to include actor Tony Shalhoub. He's a normal guy. He's become famous playing eccentric people. There was his obsessed Italian chef in "Big Night," his alien pawnshop owner in the "Men in Black" movies. But mostly, of course, he's know as the obsessive compulsive Detective Monk on the TV series of that name.

KASELL: He joined us, along with Luke Burbank, Kyrie O'Connor and Paula Poundstone earlier this year.

SAGAL: Check my characterization. I've seen a lot of your movies and TV shows over the years. I cannot think of when you once played a normal person.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Is this true or am I not being fair?

TONY SHALHOUB: I think you're right. I don't remember normalcy in my career. I don't know, something overtakes me and I kind of try to turn them into something not so normal. So it's partly my fault.

PAULA POUNDSTONE: So the initial character is kind of Mike Brady standard issue?

SHALHOUB: Exactly. That's what Adrian Monk was, actually, to start with.

SAGAL: Really? And you showed up and started twitching.

LUKE BURBANK: He...

SHALHOUB: I said I think this guy twitches and then they, you know, built a series around it.

SAGAL: But by being a success in a TV series, you always run the risk of being identified with that role. So do you have people coming up to you and going, "Oh, I'll shake your hand. No, I won't, because I know how you feel."

SHALHOUB: Yeah, I've heard that about 6,000 times. Yeah.

SAGAL: I can imagine.

BURBANK: Today.

SAGAL: Today.

SHALHOUB: Yeah.

SAGAL: Does it get tired? Were you worried about that as you continued during the series that you were being known for this one role?

SHALHOUB: Well, you know that's always - it's always kind of a risk, an inherent risk, when you're an actor, even if it's a movie role. Sometimes people just get pegged as that one thing. But maybe when I was younger, typecasting might have been a problem. Now, it's any kind of casting is good, you know.

SAGAL: Yeah. Basically, you'll take typecasting...

SHALHOUB: I'll take fly casting at this point.

POUNDSTONE: It could have been a lot worse. People could have seen you and gone like, "dyn-o-mite."

SHALHOUB: That's right.

SAGAL: Oh yes.

SHALHOUB: That's right.

SAGAL: You could have a catch phrase.

POUNDSTONE: Yeah, exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You starred in "Big Night," one of my favorite movies. For those who haven't seen it, it's about two brothers from Italy who try to open an Italian restaurant in New Jersey and it doesn't go well. And it's about the last night of its operation where they serve the most amazing meal ever served on film.

SHALHOUB: Oh, Peter, I really don't think there's anybody who hasn't seen that.

SAGAL: That's true.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Was that meal real? Did you get to eat it?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHALHOUB: Yes. Well a lot of the things were real. We did actually make them over, you know, the course of the making of the film. Of course, you know while you're filming and doing multiple takes, you know food tends to - it tends to get a little undesirable. But...

SAGAL: It wouldn't stop me in the case of that meal.

SHALHOUB: No. But I've gotten a lot of free Italian meals in restaurants from people...

KYRIE O: Really?

SHALHOUB: ...people who like that. I consider it my backend on the movie.

SAGAL: Really?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHALHOUB: Kind of, yeah.

SAGAL: Just endless free pasta specials.

SHALHOUB: Exactly.

SAGAL: Which is weird because you are not, in fact, Italian.

SHALHOUB: I'm not?

SAGAL: Nor...

SHALHOUB: Oh, oh...

SAGAL: No. Yes.

SHALHOUB: Yes, you're right. No, I'm actually Lebanese.

SAGAL: You're Lebanese from Green Bay, Wisconsin.

SHALHOUB: Which is kind of like being Italian, I don't know,

SAGAL: I know. It's like you probably had to stand in for - you played all of the ethnic characters in the school plays, I'm sure, in Green Bay.

SHALHOUB: I actually played the black characters in the plays in Green Bay.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONNOR: Oh god.

BURBANK: Dyn-o-mite.

SHALHOUB: Yeah, you think I'm kidding but I'm not kidding.

SAGAL: No, I'm not. I've been to Green Bay. You were totally not kidding.

SHALHOUB: Yeah.

SAGAL: We have one last question for you. When we have a guest on, of course, we sit down to do a lot of research to learn all the things about them, and instead we just play video games all day, and then right before the show, go to Wikipedia.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And your Wikipedia mentions a connection between you and somebody named Dan Shalhoub.

SHALHOUB: Well, Dan would be my brother.

SAGAL: Dan is your brother.

SHALHOUB: That's correct.

SAGAL: And according to Wikipedia, Dan Shalhoub, your brother, has a particular claim to fame.

SHALHOUB: Well, he is the inventor of the Sha-Poopie.

SAGAL: The Sha-Poopie?

SHALHOUB: Which is a thing that all dog owners who live in urban areas should have. It's not just a pooper-scooper, it's better than that. It actually catches the poop before it hits the ground.

SAGAL: Wow.

POUNDSTONE: Whoa.

CONNOR: Now, no, wait, wait, we have to back up here because I have two dogs. Now, do you have to position this thing?

SAGAL: Oh my god.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHALHOUB: No, your dog does that. Yes, of course, you have to position it.

CONNOR: I have to position...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHALHOUB: But it...

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CONNOR: So...

SHALHOUB: But, you know, it wasn't always going to be called the Sha- Poopie. There were many, many pitches for names for this product.

SAGAL: Oh tell us them all.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHALHOUB: You see, the thing is, it has a telescoping handle. You see, so you can extend it.

SAGAL: Of course it does.

SHALHOUB: It's very small and compact to carry it. So one of - we were going to call it "The Long Arm of the Log."

SAGAL: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHALHOUB: That's enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

POUNDSTONE: I love this whole family.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, Tony Shalhoub, we were delighted to have you here.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: But we have asked you here to play a game we're calling...

KASELL: Sure, you solve crimes, but did you ever fly? I think not.

SAGAL: Tony Shalhoub, you played a monk, so we're going to ask you about nuns.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHALHOUB: Okay, that makes no sense.

SAGAL: That's how we do. Answer two questions about nuns, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice for their home answering machine. Carl, who is actor Tony Shalhoub playing for?

KASELL: Tony is playing for Nancy Martin of Venice, California.

SAGAL: Ready to do this?

SHALHOUB: Does Nancy have a dog?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: First question, Tony, first question, some nuns in Italy got in trouble with the law last year. What did they do? A: they got pulled over going 112 miles per hour in a Ford Fiesta, in a hurry to go see the pope? B: they made so much noise at a late night kaffee klatsch, the police were called by neighbors? Or C: they were busted for growing hallucinogen mushrooms?

SHALHOUB: Okay, well, I went to a Catholic school, you know, when I was a kid. And knowing the nuns, I'm going to have to go with C, hallucinogenics.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Wait a minute, knowing nuns as you do, you thought they were growing this?

SHALHOUB: That's right.

SAGAL: That's the sort of thing the nuns might be doing?

SHALHOUB: Well, they're very spiritually oriented, you understand.

SAGAL: They certainly are. So your choice is hallucinogenic mushrooms. No, actually, it was A. It was speeding.

POUNDSTONE: Oh wow.

SAGAL: Quoting the nun behind the wheel, "The police were shocked to find three nuns of a certain age in the Fiesta, but we were afraid of getting there late to see the pope." She was fined more than $500 and lost her license.

POUNDSTONE: Oh my.

SAGAL: It's all right, she could still fly though. She's a nun.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHALHOUB: Oh my god.

SAGAL: Two more chances here, two more chances. In 2008, an Italian priest was criticized for trying to bring attention to nuns by doing what? A: holding a nun beauty pageant? B: convincing Italian paparazzi to follow around nuns because, "they're celebrities in the eyes of God." Or C: creating a Nun of the Month club?

SHALHOUB: Oh my god, no pun intended.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Yeah, really.

SHALHOUB: All right, you know what, I'm going to go out on a limb here. I'm going to go for the beauty pageant.

SAGAL: And you're right.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: Well done.

POUNDSTONE: Oh wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: The priest said that the nun beauty pageant was only intended to show their "interior beauty," but the controversy caused it to be cancelled anyway.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right, this is great. You have one more to go. If you get this right, you win. The sisters of the St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist convent in Independence, Missouri helped out their community in an expected way last year. What did they do? A: they raised money for a community center by selling a Ladies of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist convent calendar?

SHALHOUB: Wow.

SAGAL: B: wearing habits and flip flops, they chased down a robbery suspect, leading to his arrest? Or C: they provided the hit Dunk-a-Nun booth at the Independence County Fair?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHALHOUB: I'm going to have to go with the Dunk-a-Nun booth.

SAGAL: Dunk-a-Nun. There sits a nun. You throw a baseball at the target, the nun is dunked.

SHALHOUB: Yes.

SAGAL: I'm afraid it was they chased down the robber.

SHALHOUB: No.

SAGAL: Yes.

POUNDSTONE: In flip flops?

SAGAL: In flip flops. The nuns looked out their window and saw a man hurrying by with a shotgun and boxing gloves. And they figured he was up to no good.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And they chased him down and got a description and sent it to the police and he was arrested for robbery. Carl, how did Tony Shalhoub do on our quiz?

KASELL: Well, Tony needed at least two correct answers to win for Nancy Martin, but he had just one.

SAGAL: Oh, I'm sorry, Tony.

BURBANK: The Sha-Poopie will have to do.

SAGAL: Yeah.

BURBANK: Send her one.

SHALHOUB: I'm going to send her one.

SAGAL: Send her a Sha-Poopie.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHALHOUB: Well I'm very, very sorry that I, you know, couldn't win this invaluable prize for your listener.

SAGAL: That's all right. Well, I think no on will ever remember it a moment from now.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Tony Shalhoub.

SHALHOUB: Remember what, Peter?

SAGAL: Exactly. There you go. Tony Shalhoub is an Emmy Award-winning star of TV's "Monk," seen on the USA channel. Tony Shalhoub, what a pleasure to have you with us. Thank you so much.

SHALHOUB: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SHALHOUB: Thanks to all of you.

SAGAL: Bye-bye, Tony, take care.

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