Letters: Bill Cosby, Faith in Politics, Peter Sagal

Listeners respond to Bill Cosby's comments about America's black communities, and weigh in on the relationship between faith and politics. Also, Peter Sagal, host of NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, talks about politics and humor.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

It's Tuesday, the day we read from your e-mails and blog comments. And we got plenty of both concerning our interview with Bill Cosby and Doctor Alvin Poussaint. They argued that many problems within the black community are self inflicted, and that the way for African-Americans to get ahead is to take more responsibility for their actions.

Many of you took issue with their argument including Joe Robinson(ph) in Phoenix.

To hear Mr. Cosby today hurt me to the core of who I am, he wrote. I witnessed what America did to blacks. I witnessed segregation in housing, school and work. I went south with my mother in 1957 and sat in a bus station for colored people, used separate bathrooms and water fountains and ate in the kitchen in the back. The picture that Mr. Cosby paints is only one aspect of what's going on with blacks we have and continue to overcome.

G.Q. Lewis(ph) in North Carolina disagreed.

Thank you, not only for your portrayal of a brilliant positive black male figure but also for saying so many things that needed to be said. I could allow myself to see me as a victim, but I simply choose not to. Yes, our race has been victimized but I refuse to continue to be victimized. No one hands you success in life, success is something you earn through hard work, dedication, and education. I grew up without my father in my life. But I made that negative into a positive. I am more than determined to be a better man and better father than he was to me.

Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential hopeful, gave a speech last week on politics and religion. We asked you to tell us how religion factors into your political decisions.

Pam Tabot(ph) e-mailed to tell us candidates shouldn't even be allowed to discuss their faiths. This is a political campaign and religion should be kept out of it. Good moral fiber has little, if anything, to do with faith. Faith is very personal, and that's the way it should be kept.

We also talked last week about the writers' strike in Hollywood. Without the late night comics making fun of politicians, how do we know what to ridicule?

One idea came by e-mail from Chicago. WAIT WAIT… DON'T TELL ME makes the jokes you speak about, wrote Rod Abid, who just happens to be the senior producer for WAIT WAIT, and was listening to our segment with host Peter Sagal, who joins us now from out member station in Chicago, WBEZ.

And, Peter, let me apologize. How could I forget WAIT WAIT?

PETER SAGAL: I'm sorry, who am I speaking to?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It's the TALK OF THE NATION.

SAGAL: TALK OF THE NATION. I almost vaguely remember hearing of that. You are an amusing little show involving people with phones, are you not?

CONAN: Ah, something like that, people with e-mails as well. And more and more people with jokes because they don't have anywhere else to go to, I guess except to your program.

SAGAL: Well, you know there is that. I - to paraphrase Nabokov in terms of all the people out there looking for political humor, why not stop over with us at WAIT WAIT… DON'T TELL ME, because you see you have nowhere else to go.

CONAN: Have you benefitted, do you think, from the writers' strike?

SAGAL: I don't know. I mean, it doesn't seem as if - well, let me put it this way. As everybody knows, NPR is not covered by the writer's guild, although I'm a member of the guild in hiatus, I'm not required to strike my own show, so we've been continuing on. People seem to enjoy WAIT WAIT… DON'T TELL ME. I don't know if our listenership has increased. I'll say one thing that we've noticed that there seems to be a failure about - of other, shall we say, outlets to really appreciate the true opportunities for humor.

Dana Perino came on our show over the weekend and said something amusing about herself. She confessed that she didn't know much about the Cold War incidents known as, of course, the Cuban Missile Crisis. And everybody went nuts, and pick it on poor Dana Perino for making this admission. You know, her life isn't perfectly…

CONAN: She is the White House spokeswoman, for example.

SAGAL: She is the White House spokeswoman. But I honestly believe that we're losing out sense of humor. She was on our humorous show. She was trying to be amusing. She told a story about herself. I think we need to encourage people to come on the radio and tell amusing self-deprecating stories, and not punish them for it. And I think that the fact that the reaction to her has been so harsh is partially because - well, let me look at it this way, the decision of what to mock is now in the hands of amateurs and it's scary.

CONAN: How much of your humor on the show would you say is political?

SAGAL: I would say a fair bit of it, but not all of it. We are not like, as our listeners know, like "The Daily Show" or Colbert in the sense that we don't spend most of our time talking about politics. We do a lot of it. We are mindful of the fact that one of the reasons that people tune in to our show is to get a break from the constant political battles that are going on on the airwaves. I know this is something that you guys at that show you do whose name I just can't remember. This is something that you probably think about, as do all programmers, is that people just can't take more Republicans yelling at Democrats and Democrats yelling at Republicans.

So we try to do a little bit different stuff. We try to talk about dumb criminals and bathroom humor and all the stuff you need to sort of cleanse your mind from the week's battles.

CONAN: Sort of the combination of the New York Review of Books and Mad Magazine.

SAGAL: Sort of like that, yes. I would say maybe Mad Magazine in its heyday, of course, back in the '70s when I was reading it. I'll take that comparison.

CONAN: One shameless plug. You have a new book out?

SAGAL: I do. It's called "The Book of Vice: Naughty Things (And How to Do Them)" and I recommend it for anybody who's sitting around just upset that there are no more "Daily Shows" to watch. Why don't you spend the time reading my book?

CONAN: You could read or listen to a lot of Peter Sagal's jokes, good and otherwise, political and otherwise every week on NPR's WAIT WAIT… DON'T TELL ME or in his new book.

Peter, thanks a lot.

SAGAL: Sure. Who am I speaking to, again?

CONAN: If you have comments, questions, or corrections for us, the best way to reach us is by e-mail. Our address is talk@npr.org. Please let us know where you're writing from and give us some help on how to pronounce your name.

Sagal, is that right?

SAGAL: It's good enough, Neal. Thank you.

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