Actor Jason Bateman Plays Not My Job

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Jason Bateman i
Courtesy Jason Bateman
Jason Bateman
Courtesy Jason Bateman

Jason Bateman is that rarest of creatures: a former child star who seems sane and successful. He starred in many '70s and '80s sitcoms, and of course, the classic Teen Wolf Too. He went on to play the nice-guy lead in Arrested Development, and also appeared in the movies Hancock, Juno, Horrible Bosses and The Change-Up.

Since Bateman was a famous child actor, we've decided to ask him about the one thing even cuter than child actors — animal actors. He'll answer three questions about Cheeta, the chimpanzee who played opposite Johnny Weissmuller in Tarzan.


And now, the game where we invite on people we really like and ask them to do something dumb. That's why we have so few friends.


SAGAL: Jason Bateman is that rarest of creatures: a former child star who seems sane and successful. He was the star of many '70s and '80s dramas and sitcoms and of course, the classic "Teen Wolf 2."


SAGAL: He's gone on to play the nice guy lead in the brilliant TV show "Arrested Development."




SAGAL: Plus movies such as "Hancock" and "Juno," and the new films "Horrible Bosses" and "The Change-Up," out now. Jason Bateman, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!


M: I wish every time I picked up the phone I had applause like that.


SAGAL: There you are. We are very curious about that, particularly because I'm old enough to have - basically - watched as you grew up, on screens big and small. Most child actors turn out to be completely nuts. So how have you concealed your criminal activity?


M: Well, a lot of my convenience store shoplifting was done before the advent of the cell phone camera. So I just - I was smarter about it.

SAGAL: I understand. Did it every worry you, looking around and seeing what was happening to your fellow child stars as they aged? Did you - like, oh gosh, is that going to happen to me?

M: You say worry, I say opportunity.

SAGAL: Really?



M: When you thin out the herd, opportunity abounds.

SAGAL: That's true. Do you ever - I mean, you have this odd experience of having your childhood on film. Do you ever go back and look at yourself?

M: Only if I want to cry in my bowl of cereal, looking at hairdos and clothes.

SAGAL: Right. Speaking of hairdos, do you ever watch "Teen Wolf 2"?


M: Oh boy, yeah, that was - we're coming up on the 25-year anniversary of that little gem. Can you believe that?

M: Yeah, I got an invitation to the AFI tribute.


M: That may have been a piece of joke mail.

SAGAL: I have pre-ordered the Criterion edition DVD.


M: I have to interject here, before we move on from the hairstyle. The best hairstyle was the "Little House" hairstyle, the bowl cut.

SAGAL: Oh yeah, you were in "Little House."

M: I was. I was on "Little House" and I did, I self-cut my own hair.

SAGAL: Did you really?

M: You have to do that.

SAGAL: If you're on the prairie, that's what they do.

M: Yes.

M: They didn't have barbers back then.


SAGAL: That's true. And you're that kind of methody actor. You were also on one of my favorite TV shows, "Valerie," that then became "The Hogan Family."

M: It was one of those rare shows that actually had four names. It started as "Valerie," then "Valerie's Family." Then Valerie Harper, I guess, had some sort of disagreement with the powers that be. They elected to remove her from the show...

M: They killed her off.

M: episode where she burned a horrible death in a house fire.


M: And then they called the show "The Hogans," and then "The Hogan Family."

SAGAL: Well that - I mean, I never actually watched it. It was my favorite show for that reason. It was so existentially frightening.

M: Yeah.


SAGAL: Like, you could be the star of your own show; your name could be in the title and the next day, you burn in a horrible accident - off-screen.

M: Yeah. I can't wait to see what they're going to do with Charlie Sheen.

SAGAL: Yeah.



SAGAL: So we were thinking about your recent career, in that starting with "Arrested Development," you seemed to have kind of a lock on the normal, sensible guy in the middle of the madness. Would you think that's accurate?

M: Well, a lock? I'm not sure until the next one comes along. But it was definitely my job on that show to sort of react to all of the absurdity. And I really, really enjoyed doing that because I'm a big fan of comedy, and you need that component. Otherwise, you basically have Martians on Mars and there's nothing that interesting about that. You need to somehow make it relatable.

SAGAL: Right.

M: "Change-Up," actually, is a movie where I organically get to play the opposite of the character that you would normally hire me to play, which is how I start the film - as a real, normal guy. And then when we pee in the magic fountain, you switch lives. I mean, that's what happens, obviously.


SAGAL: Is that what happens when you pee in a magic fountain?

M: Yeah. Don't do it.



SAGAL: By the way, were we hearing your daughter in the background a little?

M: It was. I am doing this call in her bedroom. And she just came in and gave me a look like, what the hell are you doing in my room?

M: Are you sitting under like, a canopy bed kind of thing, on your stomach?

M: There is no canopy, but I am now wearing a hand sock puppet, made out of some awful sport sock from her school. I don't know what kid she took this off of, but I don't even want to risk smelling it.


SAGAL: I understand. And how old is your daughter?

M: She'll be 5 in October.

SAGAL: Oh, wow. So I'm just imagining you sitting there talking to us, hugging her My Little Pony pillow.

M: No. Well, I'm not hugging her pillow; I'm not hugging her either. I put my boot in her ass and told her to get the hell out.


SAGAL: Daddy's doing an interview.


SAGAL: Why do you need to use your daughter's bedroom to talk to us?

M: Well, because she's already invaded my office because she likes to play games on my computer.

SAGAL: Right.

M: My wife is talking to anyone who will listen, on her phone in the kitchen.


M: And the TV is on in the den. And the only quiet place is Frannie's little bedroom, until she walked in here and started pissing me off.



M: What did you do with all the stuffed animals that are arranged on her bed, I'm guessing?

M: Oh, those stuffed animals are keeping me nice and comfortable.

SAGAL: Absolutely.


SAGAL: I know, we know. We know that everybody asks you this, but you know what the fan base is like. We really have no choice. Will there ever be a "Little House on the Prairie" movie?


M: That is not where I thought you were with this.


M: That actually, I bet you, would be sneaky profitable.

SAGAL: You think?

M: I would do that in a heartbeat. But if you're speaking of the "Arrested Development" movie, that seems to be moving along quite nicely.

SAGAL: Oh, is it really?

M: Yeah.


M: Yeah.

SAGAL: Well, Jason Bateman, we are delighted to have you. We've invited you hear to play a game we're calling...


"What's That, Cheeta? You Sense Danger?"

SAGAL: So...


SAGAL: You were a famous child actor. So we're going to ask you about the one thing even cuter than child actors - animal actors.

M: Okay.

SAGAL: There's no more famous animal actor than Cheeta, the chimpanzee who played opposite Johnny Weissmuller in all those "Tarzan" movies. Answer three questions about Cheeta and you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. So Carl, who is Jason Bateman playing for?

KASELL: Jason is playing for Lenny Sapozhnikov of Brooklyn, New York.

SAGAL: You ready?

M: I'm ready. Do I need to stretch out or anything?

SAGAL: Yeah, you might. You don't want to pull anything. So if you want to take a second.

M: All right. OK, I'm ready.


SAGAL: OK. All right, first question. Cheeta is the holder of the Guinness World Record as the oldest chimp in captivity. He's been in retirement for many years, doing what? A, watching TV and doing abstract paintings at his home in Palm Springs, California; B, working as Chiquita Banana's global, banana-loving ambassador; or C, just living quietly with the retired Lassie?


M: Well, I think he is definitely out there in Palm Springs, painting away and sunning and sunning, and sunning - because his hair's all got to be gone by now. He's got to sun that skin.

SAGAL: You're right, actually. I don't know about the hair but Cheeta is, in fact, living in Palm Springs.


SAGAL: Where he likes to paint.


SAGAL: Looks at National Geographic, watches TV. Second question: For his 75th birthday in 2007, it was a huge to-do and it included what special honor? A, the State of California declared Cheeta the official state non-human primate...


SAGAL: B, great ape expert Jane Goodall sang him "Happy Birthday" in chimpanzee language; or C, actor Clint Eastwood sent over a cake with the words, To a Better Actor Than Me?


M: I've got to go with C.

SAGAL: You're going to go with Clint being modest in his Clinty way? No, actually it was B. Ms. Goodall was at the party for Cheeeta and attempted to sing "Happy Birthday" with the chimpanzee hoots she had learned in Africa.

M: Wow.

SAGAL: Yeah, OK.

M: You gave me a stumper.

SAGAL: I did. But here's the last one. You get this one right, you still win. The last question: Just a year later after that, in 2008, an enterprising reporter made a shocking discovery. What was it? A, that Cheeta wasn't a chimpanzee at all, but a gorilla with mange...


SAGAL: B, that Cheeta and Tarzan hated each other and constantly fought during the filming for the affections of Jane; or C, that the Cheeta living in Palm Springs was really only about 40 years old, had never been in a "Tarzan" movie and was generally a complete fraud?

M: Oh, my gosh.


M: I have to go with C.

SAGAL: Yes, you're going to go for C: that Cheeta is, in fact, a fraud. You're right.


M: There it is.


SAGAL: Although Cheeta has been living in Palm Springs, celebrated - had a big birthday party, the Guinness Book of World Records, none of that is true. It turns out he really was born in the 1960s and has never been in a movie in his chimpanzee life.

M: Monkeys are notorious liars.

SAGAL: It's true. Carl, how did Jason Bateman do on our quiz?

KASELL: Jason had two correct answers, Peter, and that's good enough to win for Lenny Sapozhnikov.

SAGAL: Well done.


SAGAL: Jason Bateman's new movie, "The Change-Up," opens this weekend. Jason Batman, thank you so much for joining us.

M: Thanks for having me, you guys.


SAGAL: All right, thank you.

M: Thanks, Jason.

M: Bye.

SAGAL: Bye-bye.

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