Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

Larry King Plays Not My Job

Larry King.
Courtesy Larry King

Larry King has chatted with an astonishing range of humanity, from various presidents down (or is that up?) to Snooki. He left CNN in 2010, has been touring the country with a comedy act, and his newest book is Truth Be Told.

We've invited King to play a game called "What are you supposed to say when God sneezes?" King is known for his "King's Things" — bits of wisdom or observations about daily life. So we've decided to ask about "Queen's Things" — items belonging to the various queens of England.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

PETER SAGAL, Host:

And now the game where we invite big names on to answer little questions. Larry King has interviewed everyone from various presidents down, or I guess arguably up, to Snooki.

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SAGAL: He left CNN last year. He's been touring the country with a comedy act, and his newest book is "Truth Be Told." Larry King, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

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LARRY KING: Thank you.

SAGAL: So some people may not know this but long before you were an icon on television you were on radio. How did you get into radio?

KING: I always wanted to do it. When I was a kid, 5, 6 years old, I'd listen to the radio. I'd imitate the announcers. I never wanted to be anything else. Other kids wanted to be doctors or firemen or whatever kids want to be.

SAGAL: And how did you get that first show? How did you convince them to put you on the air?

KING: I knocked on doors, and they tested my voice and the guy liked it. And it was a very small station, and he said, listen, as soon as there's an opening, you got it. And an opening occurred. One guy quit because he was making $55 a week and his alimony was $60 a week.

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KING: And he figured out that that could never work. So, on Friday afternoon they told me Monday morning I would start. I would have a disc jockey show. It was $55 a week. I would play music in the morning. I would do sports and news in the afternoon. And I just stayed up all night practicing, good morning, good morning, good morning.

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SAGAL: Really?

KING: Picking out music. And now, it's about ten minutes before I'm about to go on the air. It's ten to nine, Monday morning, May 1st, 1957. And the general manager called me in and he said what name are you going to use? And my name was Larry Zeiger, which was, you know, that was my name.

SAGAL: Yeah.

KING: And he said that that won't do. Too ethnic and people won't know how to spell it. You need a new name. So now it's ten minutes before I got to go on the air. It's my lifetime dream and they're going to give me a new name. And he had the Miami Herald in front of him and there was an ad for Kings Wholesale Liquors.

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KING: And he said, how about Larry King? I said, okay.

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KING: So I went into the studio. This is the God's honest truth, Peter. I turned on the mike, I fade the music, nothing came out. I brought up the music, brought down the music, brought up the music and I was just scared to death. All the audience has been hearing is music go up and down.

SAGAL: Now, wait a minute. When you say nothing came out, you mean you opened your mouth and you couldn't speak?

KING: Correct. I was scared.

SAGAL: You were too nervous. Okay.

KING: And so I said to myself, all this lifetime wish is not going to come true because I'm too nervous. And the general manager kicked open the door to the control room and he said, "This is a communications business. Dammit, communicate."

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KING: So I just turned on the microphone, and I did something that day that I would do today.

SAGAL: What was that?

KING: I said good morning, my name is Larry King. That's the first time I've ever said that. I've just been given that name. I'm sitting here, I always wanted to be in radio. I'm scared to death. But the general manager just kicked open the door and he said I have to communicate, so I better communicate.

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KING: And I discovered something which is true to this day. If you're honest with your audience, you can never go wrong. Broadcasting is simple. Just be yourself. It ain't brain surgery.

SAGAL: It ain't.

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SAGAL: But eventually you did very well. You made enough to cover your alimony, I know.

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SAGAL: So that's no small thing.

KING: Peter, this show's local or what?

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SAGAL: No, no, we're coast to coast, as you used to say.

KING: Well, I'm happy to be with you.

SAGAL: I'm happy to be with you too.

ROXANNE ROBERTS: Roxanne here. I have a question, which is something I've never asked you, which is how did the whole suspender thing start.

KING: It was my ex-wife.

ROBERTS: Which one?

KING: Sharon.

SAGAL: Yeah, well.

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KING: Roxanne?

ROBERTS: yes.

KING: Never approach me again.

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KING: It could have been you, Roxanne.

SAGAL: He's lost track Roxanne.

KING: No, I had just had my heart surgery and I had lost a lot of weight and I was feeling very good. I recovered very quickly. We were out to dinner, and we were always friendly. And she said, you know, you wear these half sweaters and stuff, why don't you try something different? You're in a visual media. You're on every night. You ever wear suspenders? And I said no, I never have. She said why don't you try it? So I tried it one night. And a couple of people called in and said it looked good, and that's all I had to hear. And then it stuck, you know. So now it became part of the lore.

SAGAL: Speaking of your look and your costume, we read in an interview you did with Esquire magazine that Ryan Seacrest buys you your jeans.

KING: I'm wearing a pair right now.

SAGAL: All right.

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KING: Ryan Seacrest is a very close friend. And the first time he saw me I was wearing jeans that were the old fashioned kind of jeans, you know the baggy...

BRIAN BABYLON: Mom jeans.

SAGAL: Mom jeans we call them.

KING: And he said that they're wrong for you; you got to wear this. Then he asked my size, which was 32. And so he started giving me jeans. I got all the modern American jeans, religious jeans. I mean there's one named Religion, True Religion, Fake Religion.

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KING: Jew Jeans, Kappa Jeans, Mormon Jeans.

SAGAL: I'm sorry.

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KING: I got every jean in the world.

SAGAL: Jew Jeans?

KING: Whenever I get them, they got to put buttons on them to sew on the suspenders.

SAGAL: Right. There was a long period, decades, when if somebody was in the news, if somebody wanted to get their side of the story out, if somebody wanted to talk directly to the people, they went on Larry King. That was the first stop.

KING: Yeah, that was the place to go, because they knew they would be asked good questions, that I left my ego at the door. I had no agenda. I never tried to get anyone, nor did I try to praise people. I just tried to learn. The less a host knows, the better. If the host knows too much, then he or she is not curious. I'm intensely curious about people. So sometimes the less I know, the better the show.

SAGAL: I've based my entire career on ignorance.

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SAGAL: We were wondering - we covered on this show when you retired and we were wondering how you would go from being America's preeminent interviewer to not interviewing people. Do you, like, stop people in the grocery store and ask them questions?

KING: I'm still curious. I ask questions of people. You don't want to sit next to me on an airplane.

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KING: When do I play the game here?

SAGAL: Oh, hey.

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SAGAL: We can go now if you're - we were enjoying talking to you.

KING: Yeah, I'm ready.

SAGAL: But if you're...

KING: Yeah, I know. But you told me we got to play the game.

SAGAL: I know.

KING: We have plans and now you...

SAGAL: All right. No, no, no, sir, I understand. If you're pressed for time, we'll get right on it. That's fine.

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SAGAL: Larry, we have invited you here to play a game we're calling?

CARL KASELL, Host:

What are you supposed to say when God sneezes?

SAGAL: That was just one of your famous "Kings Things."

KING: Correct.

SAGAL: Bits of wisdom or observations about daily life. So we thought we'd ask you about queen's things, some of the stuff belonging to various queens of England. Get two right, and you will win for one of our listeners. Carl, who is broadcast legend Larry King playing for?

KASELL: Larry is playing for Judith Bottiggi of Swampscott, Massachusetts.

SAGAL: All right, ready to play?

KING: Okay.

SAGAL: First question. Queen Elizabeth the Second is required to travel all around the world, but she likes to bring along certain comforts of home, such as which of these? A: the Royal Walkman, along with several of her favorite royal cassettes? B: the Royal Seat, her own portable white leather toilet seat? Or C: the Royal Fuzzy Slippers, made from two of her dearly departed Corgis.

KING: I'll go with number one.

SAGAL: You're going to go with the Royal Walkman? She likes that old cassette technology.

KING: Yeah, that's probably it.

SAGAL: No, actually, it's in fact the Royal Seat.

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KING: Hold it, hold it. First of all, you're telling me the Queen of England.

SAGAL: Yes.

KING: Carries around a royal toilet seat.

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SAGAL: Well dude, that's what's in the purse. No, someone carries. She has a retinue, as I'm sure...

KING: How the hell do you know that?

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TOM BODETT: We tapped her phone.

SAGAL: Yeah.

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SAGAL: All right, you still have two more chances here.

KING: Go ahead.

SAGAL: Foreign dignitaries who met Queen Elizabeth the First, back in the early 17th century/late 16th century, when they met Queen Elizabeth the First in person, they often noticed something remarkable about her physical appearance, what? A: she had a pretty thick and noticeable mustache? B: she had black teeth? Or C: she had incredibly long toenails that sometimes poked out of her shoes?

KING: Are these all gags or one of these is true?

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SAGAL: One of them is actually true.

KING: I'll go with the teeth.

SAGAL: The teeth. You're right.

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SAGAL: She had terrible teeth.

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SAGAL: This was before the advent of Colgate. She liked sugary treats but they did not like her.

KING: So now what?

SAGAL: Now what? Now we have one more question. If you get this one right, you've won it all. Queen Victoria may have had the first ever celebrity stalker, a man known as "The Boy Jones." He snuck into Buckingham Palace on numerous occasions and took souvenirs. He reportedly once stole what from Queen Victoria? A: her royal underwear? B: her beloved "Crimean War Scrapbook"? Or C: her complete Delft porcelain woolen mill playset?

KASELL: I'll go with the underwear.

SAGAL: You're right, sir.

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SAGAL: So did he. He went with the underwear.

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SAGAL: This is a guy who used to break into Buckingham Palace whenever he could. He also sat on her throne and hid under her sofa. Carl, how did Larry King do on our quiz?

KASELL: Larry had two correct answers, Peter, and that's good enough to win for Judith Bottiggi.

SAGAL: Well done, sir.

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KING: Thank you.

SAGAL: Thank you. Before you go, I know you're on the road doing a comedy show. I have not seen you do comedy. So is there any way you could give us and our audience a sample of what you do?

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KING: All right, I'll give you a quick joke.

SAGAL: Please. A quick joke from Larry King, ladies and gentlemen.

KING: A train goes every night from New York to Chicago. It's an all sleeper train. It leaves New York at midnight, gets to Chicago 9:00 in the morning. A man gets in, checks into his berth, getting ready for the evening. It's an all sleeper train. Suddenly the door opens, and the next passenger comes in and it's a women.

Now normally, Amtrak would not sell a ticket on a sleeper train to a man and a woman who are not man and wife. But the woman did not object, the train was sold out. And she got into the lower berth, the man gets into the upper berth, and the train begins its trek to Chicago.

KING: man and wife? The guys says, sure. She says good, get your own damn blanket.

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SAGAL: Larry King is touring the country with his comedy show. He has a new book out called "Truth Be Told." Larry King, thank you so much for being with us on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

KING: Thank you.

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