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Not My Job: Band Leader Paul Shaffer Gets Quizzed On Sidekicks

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Not My Job: Band Leader Paul Shaffer Gets Quizzed On Sidekicks

Not My Job: Band Leader Paul Shaffer Gets Quizzed On Sidekicks

Not My Job: Band Leader Paul Shaffer Gets Quizzed On Sidekicks

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/520525184/520658425" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Brian Ach/Getty Images for Ride of Fame
Musician Paul Shaffer on May 5, 2015 in New York City.
Brian Ach/Getty Images for Ride of Fame

For more than 40 years, Paul Shaffer has been providing the soundtrack for late night TV. He was on the first generation of Saturday Night Live and appeared for 30 years with David Letterman. He was the band leader who could play any song and would laugh at any joke. He's just released an album called Paul Shaffer & The World's Most Dangerous Band.

We've invited Shaffer to play a game called "Holy supporting role, Batman!" For decades Shaffer was a TV sidekick, but as far as we're concerned, you're not a true sidekick until you put on matching tights and follow a superhero around. We'll ask him three questions about comic book sidekicks.

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

And now the quiz where people who've done a lot of big things come on and do one little thing. It's called Not My Job. For more than 40 years, Paul Shaffer basically has been providing the soundtrack for late night TV, first on that first generation of "Saturday Night Live" shows and then for 30 years with David Letterman. He was the band leader who could play any song and would laugh at any joke. He's releasing a new album with his band, The World's Most Dangerous Band, and taking them on tour. But he's stopping by here first.

Paul Shaffer, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL SHAFFER: I can't tell you how thrilled I am to be here.

SAGAL: One of the things we loved is that you got your big break, as so many eventual superstars do, music directing a Canadian production of "Godspell."

SHAFFER: Well, yes, that is absolutely true. And the year was 1972. And I had just graduated from college in Toronto. I was playing bar mitzvahs and weddings and anything else I could. And then I - just at an audition, I was playing for a girlfriend who was auditioning for this show "Godspell," the '70s rock musical about Jesus, working with Martin Short, Gilda Radner, Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas, Andrea Martin, Victor Garber, all these hilarious people who are still my best friends.

SAGAL: Yeah, and everybody knows that once you music direct a production of "Godspell" in Toronto, the next step is international fame in New York City.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I'm hoping young, ambitious musicians will all want to music direct...

SHAFFER: Well, they're going to want to try. But not everybody, you know, has the looks that I have.

SAGAL: That's true.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Speaking of looks, the "Late Night With David Letterman," you were with him for so long. It's been on the air - off the air now for about three years. How long is your beard?

(LAUGHTER)

SHAFFER: Yes, that's right. David has - his beard has its own agent now.

SAGAL: I know.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAFFER: That's how serious he's gotten about it.

SAGAL: Was the relationship we saw between you two on camera for so many years, was that like how you were in real life?

SHAFFER: I would say so. Yes, I would say so. And we still get together every three, four weeks. You know, I - he's endlessly entertaining. And once in a while I can make him laugh, too.

SAGAL: Really?

SHAFFER: And that's what the relationship was based on.

SAGAL: He seemed - and this is actually one of the reasons why it was so much fun to watch you guys is you genuinely liked him, obviously. But he seemed to just love you. Every time he turned to his right to see you he seemed to be delighted that he found Paul Shaffer there. Like it was a wonderful surprise. Like, oh, my gosh. It's Paul Shaffer. I love that guy.

SHAFFER: I don't know what to say. But he was very sweet. What can I tell you? He was a wonderful guy to work for. And he heard every single musical note that we played for 33 years. It was always very encouraging.

SAGAL: Right. Did you...

SHAFFER: Except he didn't like jazz. He didn't want us to play too much jazz.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Yeah. Well...

SHAFFER: That though...

SAGAL: You were a sidekick, did you - and this is not what you trained to do. Obviously, you're a gifted musician and arranger. Did you, like, study on how to be a sidekick before you took on that job with Letterman?

SHAFFER: I don't think I had to go to any kind of sidekick school.

SAGAL: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So you're about to go out on tour with your band. Your first single is "Happy Street." And you brought in an amazing guest vocalist to front you. It's Bill Murray.

SHAFFER: He's fantastic on it. Yeah, Billy Murray, who has been a friend, you know, since before "Saturday Night Live." We used to do things together for the National Lampoon Radio Hour...

SAGAL: Oh my, God. That's going back.

SHAFFER: ...In '74.

SAGAL: Yeah.

(APPLAUSE)

SHAFFER: We go back. Yes. And he was, you know, so sweet to do this - thank you all. And he worked very hard on this vocal. He really wanted to sound good and he does. He does a sort of a Dean Martin relaxed kind of thing.

SAGAL: Who - do you have any other guest vocalists we might be interested in hearing about?

SHAFFER: Yes. Yes. Jenny Lewis sings a song called "Sorrow" that Bowie - a Bowie cover that he did on that "Pin Ups" album. Dion, the great Dion from - "The Wanderer."

SAGAL: Really? Dion?

SHAFFER: A beautiful song. Yeah, The actual Dion, phenomenal. Other guests on the album, Darius Rucker from Hootie And The Blowfish.

SAGAL: Hootie? You have Hootie?

SHAFFER: Yes, Hootie himself and...

SAGAL: You should have led with that, man.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAFFER: And Shaggy. We have Hootie and Shaggy.

SAGAL: You have Hootie and Shaggy?

SHAFFER: Shaggy, you know the - yes, the great Jamaican dancehall guy. So Hootie and Shaggy on one record. I mean, we are doubly blessed.

SAGAL: That's true. I don't know how anybody else can compete. Some people might have Hootie. Some people might have Shaggy. You have Hootie...

SHAFFER: Nobody would Hootie and Shaggy...

SAGAL: ...And Shaggy.

SHAFFER: No. Yeah.

SAGAL: So we were...

SHAFFER: Thanks for noticing.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: We were researching you and we came across a bit of trivia that you were at one time offered the role of George Costanza on "Seinfeld."

SHAFFER: Well, yes.

SAGAL: Whoa.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAFFER: My wife hates it but - I got this call from Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld's getting a show. He wants you to be his sidekick. And I was just, you know, so busy. And I said, what - Jerry Seinfeld, what could he possibly do on television?

SAGAL: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAFFER: And he is only, you know, the most beloved show in the history of television. But yes, you know, I was too big for my britches. And I could have been Jason Alexander.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAFFER: My own parents, God bless them, they said the most wonderful thing to me - well, you wouldn't have been any good in the role.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAFFER: God bless them. That's what parents are for.

SAGAL: I agree. Well, Paul Shaffer, we're delighted to talk to you. But we've invited you here to play a game that this time we're calling...

BILL KURTIS: Holy supporting role, Batman.

SAGAL: So for decades, you were one of the great TV sidekicks. But you're not a true sidekick, in our view, unless you put on matching tights and follow a superhero around.

SHAFFER: OK.

SAGAL: So we're going to ask you three questions about comic book and other kinds of pop superhero sidekicks. If you get two right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners. That's Carl Kasell's voice on their voicemail. Bill, who is Paul Shaffer playing for?

KURTIS: Daniel Patterson, of Roanoke, Va.

SAGAL: All right, here we go. First question. Not all sidekicks are young and eager helpers like Robin. Which of these was a real sidekick to comic book hero Captain Marvel - A, Mom Marvel, his actual mother, whose signature line was, you're not going out dressed like that, are you?

(LAUGHTER)

SHAFFER: Funny. Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B, Lieutenant Normal, an insurance actuary who would constantly advise Captain Marvel of the risks of his latest adventure; or C, Uncle Marvel, an older, chubby guy who pretended to be a superhero but just wore tights and ran around making dad jokes?

(LAUGHTER)

SHAFFER: Yeah, so I'm going to say Lieutenant Normal, but only because it reminds me of the British recording artist Captain Sensible, who I used to love.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, I wish it was, but it was actually Uncle Marvel.

SHAFFER: OK. All right.

SAGAL: When asked - he faked it. When asked why he wasn't using his supposed super powers, he would say his, quote, "shazambago" (ph) was acting up.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAFFER: OK.

SAGAL: Dad jokes. All right...

SHAFFER: Pretty funny. All right.

SAGAL: Comic book sidekicks do not get the cool names. Those go to the heroes. Comic book hero Mr. Scarlet, back in the 1940s - Mr. Scarlet had a sidekick named what - A, Pinky the Whiz Kid?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B, Scarlet's Pimple?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Or C, the Surprising Squirt?

(LAUGHTER)

SHAFFER: Well, I have been known in my day as the Surprising Squirt. So...

(LAUGHTER)

SHAFFER: ...I am going to - that will be my guess.

SAGAL: You're going to go for the Surprising Squirt?

SHAFFER: Yes, sir.

SAGAL: No, I wish it were. It was actually Pinky the Whiz Kid. Pinky the Whiz Kid was the name of Captain...

SHAFFER: Oh, well, that would have been my second choice, of course.

SAGAL: ...Mr. Scarlet's hero. You get one more chance here to get this right. Last question. We would've seen one of our beloved heroes finally get a sidekick if only the script had actually been made. Which of these actually exists as a screenplay - A, "Batman And Robin And Ted And Alice"?

(LAUGHTER)

SHAFFER: Right.

SAGAL: B, "Serial: The Animated Series," where Sarah Koenig solves crimes with the help of Lil' Ira, the talking radio?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Or C, "Forrest Gump II," which finds Forrest Gump fighting in Desert Storm with Sue, his sidekick orangutang?

SHAFFER: All right, well, to me it's got to be the second choice.

SAGAL: "Serial: The Animated Series."

(LAUGHTER)

SHAFFER: Yes.

SAGAL: Where intrepid hero Sarah Koenig solves crimes - help me, Lil' Ira. (Imitating buzzing noise) Yes, Sarah?

(LAUGHTER)

SHAFFER: That's my guess.

SAGAL: That's your guess. I like your style, Paul Shaffer, even though the answer was actually "Forrest Gump II."

(LAUGHTER)

SHAFFER: Wow.

SAGAL: There wasn't a commission but unproduced screenplay in which Forrest Gump did in fact also crash the Exxon Valdez and invent New Coke and fight the battles of Desert...

SHAFFER: Well, it was an - it was unproduced. Who wrote it? You may have - you wrote it...

(LAUGHTER)

SHAFFER: ...And now it's like a question (unintelligible).

SAGAL: I did not write it.

SHAFFER: It was unproduced.

SAGAL: Yes.

SHAFFER: I protest. I protest.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Bill, how did Paul Shaffer do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Paul, as one sidekick to another....

(LAUGHTER)

SHAFFER: Yes.

KURTIS: ...This is the Chicago way. We're going to call you a winner anyway.

SAGAL: There you go.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Paul Shaffer's new album, "Paul Shaffer & The World's Most Dangerous Band," is out now. Paul Shaffer, thank you so much. It was such a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you. Take care.

SHAFFER: Bye, everybody.

SAGAL: Bye-bye, Paul.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY STREET")

BILL MURRAY: (Singing) Everything's groovy when you're walking down happy street. Sometimes it might seem...

SAGAL: In just a minute, when we take a selfie we prefer to be by our selfies. It's our Listener Limerick Challenge game. Call 1-888-WAITWAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.

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