Not My Job: Jameela Jamil Of 'The Good Place' Gets Quizzed On 'The Wood Place'
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where people who've come a long way take a short trip to nowhere. It's called Not My Job. Jameela Jamil was already a successful radio host in her native Great Britain when she decided to move to LA and try to get into the entertainment industry. And she went on one audition, booked the job and became a star in the sitcom "The Good Place" because that's what happens to everybody who moves to LA.
MAEVE HIGGINS: (Laughter).
SAGAL: We are delighted she's joining us now. Jameela Jamil, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE SOUND EFFECT)
JAMEELA JAMIL: Hello. Thank you for having me.
SAGAL: I cannot think of someone who we've spoken to who has a more interesting background than you. It is true, as far as I know. You moved to LA. Somebody said, oh, you should audition for this role. And then you were cast as the lead in a network sitcom.
JAMIL: Yeah. I had about $17 left in my bank account the day...
JAMIL: ...That I got given the role as Tahani and called me at, like, 10 p.m. All of my agents were on the phone, and I knew something really big was happening. But I couldn't possibly imagine it was that. I didn't think he was going to put me on camera opposite Ted Danson.
SAGAL: So, yeah, that - I do want to go back into your background. You - professionally, you were a radio presenter, as they call it, right?
JAMIL: Well, before that, I was an English teacher. So I was an English teacher who was discovered in a pub by a producer who thought that I would be good on television. And they called me in for an audition, and one week after that, I was put live on national television on the biggest youth entertainment show in the history of the U.K. by myself, having never done any kind of media training.
And I went on from that show to hosting more and more shows about music and art and fashion. And then in 2012, I wanted to get away from being on screen because I felt like people had developed an obsession with my appearance, so I went into radio.
SAGAL: I do find it amazing, though, that you told that story that you were an English teacher in a pub where someone came up to you and said, hey, you're amazing. I want to put you on television. And a week later, you were on television. And then you went to LA some years later, and you said...
SAGAL: And the first meeting you took, they said, we want to give you the lead in this major TV show.
JAMIL: I really think I must have done some sort of deal with the devil in a past life if they exist...
JAMIL: ...Because I don't understand it either. I don't think it's acceptable either. I understand that it is not a popular story amongst my peers.
MAZ JOBRANI: (Laughter).
JAMIL: I understand why. I didn't even sleep my way to the top. I wish I could even say that.
JAMIL: (Unintelligible) I can sleep my way out of a job, I reckon.
SAGAL: Yeah, I know...
PAULA POUNDSTONE: Jameela, were you a good English teacher?
JAMIL: Oh, no.
POUNDSTONE: Did you study to be...
POUNDSTONE: ...An English teacher? Or did someone just come up to you?
JAMIL: No, I mean, someone came up to me...
JOBRANI: Someone heard her speak English.
JAMIL: ...In a pub.
POUNDSTONE: Yeah, exactly.
JAMIL: No. I was teaching English as a foreign language, and so...
JAMIL: It's a fairly easy-ish job to get. But you are in front of a classroom of people of all different ages, from all different countries. None of them speak the same language...
JAMIL: ...Definitely not your language. And you have to teach them from scratch the very basics of English by only the art of mime. That's the only tool...
SAGAL: Really - because they don't speak English.
JAMIL: ...You have to be able to teach them how to communicate. So I'll never forget this. I had this room full of Polish nuns, and I had to...
JAMIL: ...Teach them via the art of mime why it's very important to not pronounce sitting as [expletive], which they were doing. And so I had to mime a [expletive] coming out of...
SAGAL: You did not.
JAMIL: ...With my hand in front of women of God and watch in horror as they learned to understand pronunciation.
JOBRANI: Jameela, usually if you just speak louder to foreigners, they'll get it.
JOBRANI: You've just got to say it - you just scream it to them. They appreciate that.
SAGAL: Or fake their accent. That always works for Maz.
JAMIL: Oh, yeah.
POUNDSTONE: I've done a little bit of that.
SAGAL: Did you - I am kind of amazed - as you say, Ted Danson is a legendary actor, especially in television.
SAGAL: And so how did - all right, you're going to be - have a major role in this TV show. How did you prepare? You've never done anything like that before, I assume.
JAMIL: No, I hadn't done anything. I'd never acted professionally in any kind of capacity. And so I comfort-ate. I'd say that was my biggest preparation.
SAGAL: I'm sorry, say that word again.
JAMIL: I comfort-ate. I ate...
SAGAL: You comfort-ate.
JAMIL: ...My feelings.
JAMIL: I stress-ate. And by the end of season one, I was fully just exploding out of all of my costumes. They'd all been fitted to my original size, and everything was open at the back...
JAMIL: ...Because I couldn't fit into anything anymore, so I wore everything like an apron. Any shot you see of me in "The Good Place," I'm fully nude at the back.
SAGAL: So before you moved to Hollywood, we heard you had a job as a party DJ?
JAMIL: Are you referring to my one - my first-ever gig?
SAGAL: Yes, that is what I am referring to, and I was hoping you could tell that story.
JAMIL: Yeah, OK. So this is perfectly in line with all of the other stupid things that have ever happened to me in my career. I was once at an event, and I was talking to a woman who I didn't know what her job was, her background. She's being very nice to me. I was telling her how much I wish I could be a DJ with I have terrible social anxiety. And she was, like, oh, you know, I actually - I need a DJ for Elton John's party next week.
SAGAL: Elton John.
JAMIL: So she was, like...
JAMIL: Yeah, I need a DJ. Elton John's party - it's next week. Do you think you could come? Are you available? And I was, like, yes.
JAMIL: Yes, I am. I am a DJ who is available next week...
JAMIL: ...For Elton John's party (laughter) and...
JAMIL: ...Found myself with six and a half days after that moment to find a teacher and learn how to DJ for Elton John.
JAMIL: I'm looking at this - what seems to be a Grammy Award behind you. And I'm assuming you just won it when one day, someone invited you to record a solo album.
JAMIL: Yeah. I just met a guy in a supermarket, and he handed me his phone. I sang into it. I won this Grammy. It was...
POUNDSTONE: That's fantastic.
JAMIL: No, that is my boyfriend's Grammy. He is a singer and a producer, and he made a song with Kendrick Lamar, who's a rapper, and they won a Grammy.
SAGAL: There you are.
JAMIL: I have zero Grammys - unbelievably, considering my luck otherwise.
SAGAL: (Laughter) I know. It does seem strange, weirdly.
SAGAL: Well, Jameela Jamil, we could talk to you all day, but we have business to do. We have invited you...
SAGAL: ...Here to play a game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: Welcome to the Wood Place.
SAGAL: You starred in "The Good Place," so we thought we'd ask you about the wood place - that is, various places you might find wood. Answer 2 out of 3 questions correctly - you'll win our prize for one of our listeners - the voice of anyone they might choose on their voice mail. Bill, who is Jameela Jamil playing for?
KURTIS: Liz Hill (ph) of Newark, N.J.
SAGAL: All right. Ready to do this?
JAMIL: You know what? I've had good beginner's luck up until now. I feel confident.
SAGAL: There you are. Given your record, you will actually win the Nobel Prize somehow for doing this. I don't know...
JAMIL: Oh, God. Imagine if this is where I lose my lucky streak.
SAGAL: (Laughter) Oh, God.
JAMIL: I will never forgive you.
SAGAL: Ruin it - oh, Lord.
JAMIL: I will never forgive you.
SAGAL: All right. Well, let's see how this goes.
JAMIL: OK, go on.
SAGAL: Our first wood place is the redwood forest of Northern California where the movie "The Return Of The Jedi" was shot in the early 1980s. Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca, had extra protection at all times on the set. Why? Was it, A, he was given a helmet after his fourth concussion from hitting his head on low branches; B, he had to be constantly sprayed with pesticide after hornets kept making nests in his fur; or, C, he was constantly accompanied by crew members in brightly colored vests so he wouldn't be mistaken for Bigfoot and shot?
JAMIL: I would say the first one is true - the helmet.
SAGAL: He was given a helmet - him being a very tall person, Chewbacca being very tall. And he had to be given a helmet because he kept walking into the branches. Is that your guess?
JAMIL: That is my guess.
SAGAL: I'm afraid it was not. It was actually he was constantly accompanied by bodyguards to keep him from being shot by people hunting for Bigfoot.
JAMIL: Oh, my God. I didn't presume that was possibly true.
SAGAL: Next question - another great place for wood is The Home Depot.
SAGAL: The stores - the store chain helped change the fast food industry how? A, the first Shake Shack was a booth at an exit to a Home Depot in Scranton, Pa.; B, the first Chicken McNuggets were made by throwing chicken scraps into a Home Depot wood chipper; or C, the first Doritos Tacos Locos (ph) had its flavoring sprayed on it by using a paint gun from Home Depot.
JAMIL: My instinct says the Dorito gun, but the sensible answer was number one.
SAGAL: All right. So...
JAMIL: I'm going to say number three...
SAGAL: That's what happened.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: That's the correct answer.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE SOUND EFFECT)
JAMIL: Well, thank God for that.
SAGAL: I know. All right. That is true. That's what happened - that the first Doritos Locos - which, by the way, is the most successful product ever sold at Taco Bell - was started with a little paint gun spraying, I guess, Dorito powder onto a taco. All right. Get this last one right, and you win. The ultimate wood place, of course, is a treehouse. Tarzan's Treehouse in Disneyland...
SAGAL: ...That's an attraction there - made the news last year after a visiting dad did what? A, he broke one of the rope suspension bridges by jumping on it to show his kids it was totally safe; B, he moved his family into the treehouse for a whole week before they were caught; or C, he attempted to chop it down for firewood?
JAMIL: I feel like it would've been a sadder story of death had he done the first one. I'm going with number two.
SAGAL: I'm afraid it was, in fact, number one.
SAGAL: That's what happened, in fact. The dad was not injured, but he still insists it was that way when he jumped on it. Bill, how did Jameela Jamil do on our quiz?
KURTIS: Well, we won't keep her in suspense, but 1 out of 2 is almost a win, as a matter of fact. How could we say no to Jameela? Congratulations, Jameela. Thanks for coming.
SAGAL: That's what's great about having an arbitrary power over a meaningless contest. You won.
SAGAL: We just decided.
SAGAL: Jameela Jamil is an actor, writer and TV host. You can currently see her on "The Misery Index" on TBS and "Legendary," which is streaming on HBO Max.
Jameela Jamil, what an absolute joy to talk to you. Thank you so much for joining us here on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
JAMIL: Thank you for having me and asking me questions about my entirely silly life.
SAGAL: Thank you so much.
SAGAL: You were great. Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID SCHWARTZ'S "THE GOOD PLACE THEME SONG")
SAGAL: In just a minute, in space, no one can hear you sniff. It's our Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.