Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

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PETER SAGAL, host: And now, the game where we invite people on to our show just to answer questions about things they know nothing about. What can I tell you, they keep agreeing to do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Some years ago, Seth MacFarlane was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, where as his thesis he did an animated film about a rather peculiar family. This eventually became the TV series "Family Guy," which MacFarlane produces and writes and stars in.

He's also the creator of "American Dad" and "The Cleveland Show," and he even has a new album of classic American show tunes, which he sings really well. Seth MacFarlane, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SETH MACFARLANE: Thank you very much.

SAGAL: I want to ask you about that student film. You did it when you were how old at RISD?

MACFARLANE: Let's see, I was, I want to say, what, 21.

SAGAL: Twenty-one, okay.

MACFARLANE: I think I was 21.

SAGAL: And what it is, is it's interesting, because I always thought it was just like a short subject, it's actually kind of a description of an imaginary TV series, with you introducing it. And it's exactly like "Family Guy." It's got so many of the elements that we love "Family Guy" for.

Not only the characters, the father and his large son and his very rational talking dog, but also, for example, your habit of making a throwaway joke and then illustrating that joke at great length, which is great.

MACFARLANE: Yeah, that student film was a very rough, very crude version of "Family Guy." And most of the jokes in that film were later pilfered for various episodes of "Family Guy." So I stole from myself at great length.

SAGAL: But what's amazing to me is that you knew what you wanted to do at that point. Is that right? I mean, had you envisioned doing that TV series?

MACFARLANE: Yeah. I mean I had wanted to work for Disney for a long time. Certainly, when I got in college, I wanted to be a Disney animator, and, you know, thank God that wore off.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MACFARLANE: And sense then kind of redefined what was possible for primetime shows and really indicated now that adult animation was going to have a resurgence. And so I thought, yeah, that's more kind of my style. I want to do stuff that makes me laugh. So I kind of changed my whole approach and did that pilot.

SAGAL: Now, "Family Guy" has some of the most obscure cultural references I've ever seen.

MACFARLANE: Yes.

SAGAL: There was one episode in which I think it was Stewie did a recreation of a viral video of something that William Shatner did at an awards ceremony in 1974.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MACFARLANE: Yeah. Well, yeah, I mean, you know, we're in the age of YouTube and whatnot, and so we want to kind of stay abreast of what is not just on television and in mainstream popular culture but also, you know, what's the latest viral video going around. We want to kind of stay up to date, because those are things that can be parodied as well.

And that Shatner Rocket Man video had been going around for years and every once in a while it has a little bit of a resurgence and we just knew it was something that our fans would all be pretty well familiar with.

CHARLIE PIERCE: Also, when in doubt, go to Shatner.

SAGAL: Absolutely.

MACFARLANE: Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And I want to say, and this is in that really interesting pilot that you made in school, you do an amazing Shatner. Would you bless us with your Shatner?

MACFARLANE: Death, disease, destruction, horror, that's what war is councilman, that's what makes it a thing to be avoided.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MACFARLANE: It's neat and simple, so neat and simple, you've got no reason to stop it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: I just want to say...

PIERCE: Peter, Peter, he's doing something from "A Taste of Armageddon."

SAGAL: I know. I was about to say, ladies and gentlemen, that text was conical. I just want...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PIERCE: Seth, there are people on Eminiar VII who are standing up and cheering you right now.

MACFARLANE: Wow.

SAGAL: He's good.

MACFARLANE: I know the reference, sadly.

SAGAL: I had watched "Family Guy" for years before I knew that you did most of the voices, which is pretty remarkable considering everything else you do. Was this a skill you had as a kid? Did your parents drag you out at parties?

MACFARLANE: Yeah, you know it's something I always kind of had a little bit of a knack for. I had done standup when I was in college and impressions were a pretty big part of that fare. And with "Family Guy" it was a combination of, you know, having a really clear idea of how I wanted certain lines delivered and it just being easier to do it myself.

And also, there was no money. There was no money to make that pilot.

PIERCE: Seth, do you have a voice before you have a character or do you write the character and then find the voice?

MACFARLANE: It can go either way. For the voices that I do, I conceive the voice first and then drew the character based on just a visceral idea of what the voice sounded like it should look like. Stewie has that football-shaped head for really no other reason that it was one of about 30 drawings that I did that just on an instinctive level looked like the voice sounded.

SAGAL: And you had already had this. Where did you get Stewie? Because Stewie sounds, to me he sounds like Basil Rathbone almost.

MACFARLANE: Yeah. He's sort of loosely based on Rex Harrison.

SAGAL: Rex Harrison.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

AMY DICKINSON: Oh, yeah.

SAGAL: Could you demonstrate that transition?

MACFARLANE: Why don't you demonstrate that transition, you foul little boy?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Well done. Now this is the other thing, talking about your voice, you've just released this record, an album, it's called "Much Better Than Words," if I've got it correct. And it is an amazingly, if you know your background and your work on "Family Guy," un-ironic renditions of you in a beautiful sort of classical crooner's voice of doing sort of show tunes from the 40s and 50s.

MACFARLANE: Yeah, there's some Rodgers, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer...

SAGAL: Yeah, this is...

DICKINSON: Can you just sing just a phrase? I'd love to hear.

MACFARLANE: I'm standing in an alley in the middle of Los Angeles.

SAGAL: All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DICKINSON: Sorry.

SAGAL: No, people do that in an alleyway all the time.

MACFARLANE: I don't want to get my ass kicked.

SAGAL: Oh, I understand. Hey, that guy over there is doing Johnny Mercer, let's kick his ass.

PIERCE: Yeah, let's get him.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MACFARLANE: I don't need that.

SAGAL: Well, Seth MacFarlane, we are delighted to have you with us and we've asked you here to play a game that this time we're calling?

CARL KASELL: Five hours in the slammer will change a man.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: People were amazed this week when Lindsay Lohan was allowed out of jail after less than five hours for her latest criminal shenanigans. It turns out that celebrity felons get treated differently than you and me, at least differently than me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: At least according to an article in Prison Legal News by Matt Clarke. Now, we're going to ask you three questions about celebs in the big house, based on that article. If you get two right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their voicemail. Are you ready to play?

MACFARLANE: Yeah, I think so.

SAGAL: Well, Carl, who is Seth MacFarlane going to play for?

KASELL: Seth is playing for Kathy Macleod of Pownal, Maine.

SAGAL: First question, Pasadena, like many cities in southern California, maintains a special jail for wealthier inmates who can pay to serve their time. And when the pay to stay jail was opened in the 90s, it needed an advertising campaign. What was the slogan picked at that time to sell that jail?

Was it A, quote, bad things happen to good people? B: you got caught, now get comfortable? Or C: here, we call it doing easy time?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MACFARLANE: Gosh, man, this sounds like a Martha Stewart question.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MACFARLANE: Let's see, I'm going to say A. I actually have already forgotten what is it but I'll just say A.

SAGAL: You'll say A...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: It's like Rick Perry, he doesn't know either.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Bad things happen to good people, is that your choice?

MACFARLANE: Yes.

SAGAL: That's right. That's how they advertised it.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: The Pasadena pay to stay jail still has a glossy brochure. It says "serve your time in our clean, safe, secure facility, all yours for $135 a day." The second question, you may remember that Paris Hilton, after she was let out early, was famously ordered back to jail where she had to do a good part of her DUI sentence. This was back in 2007.

She had to serve her time, like anybody else, but she was allowed to make an emergency late night call, though, to whom? A: her dog? B: that day's boyfriend? Or C: Barbara Walters?

MACFARLANE: Wow. All right, I'm going to say B.

SAGAL: You're going to go for B that she was able to call her boyfriend of that day?

MACFARLANE: Yeah.

SAGAL: No, I'm afraid it was Barbara Walters.

MACFARLANE: Oh god.

SAGAL: Emergency late night call to Barbara Walters.

MACFARLANE: Did she get through? Did she...

SAGAL: She did, she got through, Barbara took the call. Paris, according to Barbara, which she said later on in her show "The View," Paris told Ms. Walters that prison had inspired her to open a, quote, Paris Hilton Playhouse for sick children.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: That was four years ago. The sick kids, we believe, are still waiting.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MACFARLANE: Then I have so much to learn about show business.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right, you have one more question. You don't have to be famous, you can just be wealthy. Tuvia Stern was a wealthy financier arrested for scamming clients, and he was allowed to do what in a New York jail? A: install a pool table? B: hold a bar mitzvah for his son? Or C: bring in his personal trainer for ten sessions?

MACFARLANE: Okay.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MACFARLANE: All right, I'm going to say B.

SAGAL: You're going to go for the bar mitzvah?

MACFARLANE: Yeah.

SAGAL: Mozel tav, you're right. That's right.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

MACFARLANE: There we are.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Big scandal. The bar mitzvah, held in the Tombs, as the jail is known, had about sixty guests, with music and a fully catered kosher meal. Carl, how did Seth MacFarlane do on our quiz?

KASELL: Well, Seth had two correct answers and that's good enough to win for Kathy Macleod.

SAGAL: Well done.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MACFARLANE: There we are.

SAGAL: Congratulations.

MACFARLANE: I'm gong to be able to sleep tonight.

SAGAL: There you are.

MACFARLANE: I'm going to be able to sleep well tonight.

SAGAL: Seth MacFarlane's first album "Music is Better Than Words" is out now. it's terrific. Go listen. Seth MacFarlane, thank you so much for joining us. Great to have you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MACFARLANE: My pleasure.

SAGAL: Bye-bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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