'PEN15' Creator Anna Konkle Plays 'Not My Job' On 'Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!' Konkle, who also co-stars in PEN15, is an expert on junior high, so she'll answer three questions about junior highs — specifically, the vague sense of agitation you get from drinking Red Bull.

Not My Job: We Quiz 'PEN15' Co-Creator Anna Konkle On Junior Highs

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And now the game where we ask people who've done something very interesting about things that do not interest them. The comedy "PEN15" was created by Maya Erskine and our guest Anna Konkle, all about their adventures in junior high school. Apparently, they couldn't find anyone else to capture their particular combination of geekery and awkwardness, so they decided to play themselves. And it is really strange to watch how easily full-grown adults fit right in in the seventh grade.

Anna Konkle, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.


ANNA KONKLE: Thank you so much. I'm really excited to be here.

SAGAL: We are very excited to have you. And I want to congratulate you 'cause it was just this week that The New York Times posted a list of the 25 best comedies of the 21st century so far. And "PEN15" is on that list.

KONKLE: We were very surprised, very happy to be there, very surprised, I repeat (laughter).

SAGAL: So I just have to have you explain. I don't know the origin of this extraordinarily unusual television show.

KONKLE: Yeah, well, Maya and I met in college. We became best friends. And then we, along the way somewhere, started writing. And maybe seven or eight years ago, we began sharing the most rejected stories that we had. And they all revolved around the same time. And we started to realize that there was this void...

SAGAL: I'm sorry. Did you say rejected stories? Your most...

KONKLE: Yeah, the - just the most kind of reject-y stories, you know? That time just brought up a lot of memories of sadness and humor. And we realized that it was time that we had kind of been conditioned to not talk about, that the R-rated stuff at 13 or the R-rated feelings or the more complicated things - there wasn't a conduit that we were watching at least to tell those stories. So, you know, we kind of got inspired that we could be the conduit. We could tell the R-rated stories and be surrounded by real 13-year-olds and go through the trauma ourselves and not make 13-year-old actors go through that.

SAGAL: That is the thing because you're right. It's not a story that's often told. There are one or two other shows that are delving into that. But what makes this show really astounding is that you and Maya play, essentially, yourselves and Maya as 13-year-olds. And was that, like, how you knew you were going to do it? Or did you just come to that idea after trying to cast actors as yourself?

KONKLE: Yeah, we knew that we wanted to play the characters, but we had said if it needs to be - you know, when we were trying to sell the show long, long time ago, if it needed to be famous people, that would be fine. But it needed to be adults. And that was the point, that it - that the adults were the safe space to tell the real story, not the Nickelodeon story.

SAGAL: Right because among other things, it would be very weird to have actual child actors say some of the things that you say.


SAGAL: The women on our staff who are about your age are adamant that this is, like, the most important television show ever made. They talk to me about how important it is that it centers about a relationship between these two young women, who legitimately love each other desperately. And that's really important. Do you get that reaction from a lot of people? Do people come up to you and say, oh, my God, that thing that happened to your character - I thought I was the only person to whom that happened; it was just like me?

KONKLE: Yeah, I think - I mean, first of all, that's so nice. But yeah. I mean, the things that we were the most shamed about internally and things that we felt were the most specific or the deepest secrets are the things that more people reach out and say, that exact thing happened to me. I did that exact thing - everything from, like, pretending and fully believing that you're a witch to the intricacies of divorce to, you know, secret sexuality stuff, you know, all of it. It's really crazy. So it's been kind of healing in that way but also masochistic.

SAGAL: Do you ever find doing the show emotionally exhausting?


SAGAL: Like, you say, I have to go be an adult. I have to go, like, drink adult beverages and do my taxes or something.

KONKLE: Yeah, I think in the beginning, it feel - it can feel kind of nice, the innocence and how, like, naive especially my character can feel, just really positive about every sad thing that's about to happen to her. So at first, it's pretty fun. And then over time, towards the end of shooting, I think both Maya and I are like, oh, my God, I don't smoke, but this is making me want to or, you know, I - just something that kids aren't allowed to do. All of a sudden, you're like, I need to get back to adulthood.

SAGAL: I was just thinking about the fact that Maya's mom is played by her mom. She's on set...


SAGAL: ...Which might lead to some awkward moments. I don't know. Does your - do your parents ever get in touch with you and say, you didn't tell us? How did we know? Why didn't you tell us?

KONKLE: Right. They - no, I mean, my mom is - repeatedly says, OK, I have to move out of the universe. She gets embarrassed from watching (laughter) her...

SAGAL: Really? That - I have to move out of the universe?

KONKLE: Out of the universe, yes.

SAGAL: Do you hire your writers by just asking them, tell me about the most humiliating thing that's ever happened to you in junior high school? And if it's really terrible and you've never heard of that one before, they're hired?

KONKLE: I mean, you're not far off.

SAGAL: (Laughter).

KONKLE: We definitely get pretty into, you know, secrets. Like, I told a lot of secrets in the room. And I think it's because you can't expect the people working with you to do it if you're not doing it, so...

SAGAL: Right.


SAGAL: And otherwise, how could they take your secrets and broadcast it to an infinite number of people for the rest of time if they didn't - if you didn't tell them?

KONKLE: (Laughter) OK, yeah. That's true.

SAGAL: (Laughter) Just pointing it out. Hey, I have to ask you about something else, something entirely different. Is it true that your grandfather worked in the factory where candy corn was invented?

KONKLE: Yes, yes. He, as the story goes, was an immigrant from Germany, worked on the Brooklyn - building the Brooklyn Bridge and then had a candy cart in Brooklyn, which later became a big factory, Wunderle Candy Company. And candy corn was invented in that factory.

DULCE SLOAN: So wait. You're descended from a man who helped create one of the most hated candies in American history?


FAITH SALIE: But it's so good.

SLOAN: People have a very weird relationship with candy corn. It's either, like...

SAGAL: Anna, do you enjoy candy corn?

SALIE: It's the cilantro of candy.

KONKLE: True. I don't like candy corn, actually.

SAGAL: Really?

KONKLE: Yeah, it's too sweet.

SLOAN: It's candy and wax, baby. It's candy, wax, food coloring. It's only for Halloween.


SLOAN: They tried to do it other parts of the year, where they're like, oh, it's Easter - I was like, no. Don't - if you make it different colors...

KONKLE: Right.

SLOAN: ...We still know it.

KONKLE: We still don't like it in Easter.

SLOAN: You're not fooling nobody. Come on.


SAGAL: Well, Anna Konkle, it is a pleasure to talk to you. We have asked you here to play a game we're calling...

BILL KURTIS: It's Not A Real Drug. It's Just A Junior High.

SAGAL: So "PEN15"...

SALIE: (Laughter).

SAGAL: ...As we have been discussing, is about junior high, so we thought we'd ask you about other kinds of junior highs, like the vague sense of agitation you get from drinking Red Bull energy drink. Answer two out of three questions about Red Bull correctly, you will win our prize for one of our listeners - the voice of anyone they might like on their voicemail.


SAGAL: Bill, who is Anna Konkle playing for?

KURTIS: Alex Smith (ph) of Detroit, Mich.

SAGAL: All right. Here we go. Here's your first question. Red Bull started as an energy drink popular with truck drivers in Thailand, but it was Austrian marketing genius Dietrich Mateschitz who made it into a global brand. How did he convince college students to start drinking the stuff? A, the slogan, it's like Axe body spray you can drink; B, you could send in 10 empty cans and get a prewritten essay on "Moby Dick" in return; or C, he just paid them to drink it?


SAGAL: C. That is exactly right.


SAGAL: He would find popular college kids and pay them to throw Red Bull parties. Here's your next question. Of course, Red Bull has become very popular with college kids, especially when mixed with vodka. Now, that particular cocktail has been scientifically proven - scientifically proven - to have what effect? A, it starts fights; B, it's the opposite of beer goggles - it makes everyone else look ugly; or C, it makes men love explaining things even more than they already do?

SALIE: (Laughter).

KONKLE: I'm going to go with A.

SAGAL: You're correct again, Anna.


SAGAL: They tested its key ingredients of Red Bull, which are alcohol and taurine, on zebrafish. And the zebrafish got more belligerent than they do on either of those substances separately. So watch out if you come across a zebrafish drinking Red Bull and vodka. One more question here for Anna. Let's see if she can be perfect.

KONKLE: Oh, no, never.

SAGAL: Red Bull once lost a big lawsuit, forcing them as part of the settlement to do what? A, put a label on each can saying it does not include actual bull; B, make a public statement that you are not fully vaccinated until your second dose of Red Bull; or C, give every Canadian $10 because contrary to the slogan, it doesn't really give you wings?


SAGAL: You're right again, Anna.


SAGAL: It's exactly right. Apparently, they convinced - plaintiffs convinced a Canadian court that the Red Bull slogan, it gives you wings, was take - too easily to take literally. And thus every Canadian consumer of Red Bull was entitled to a payment of $10 if they applied for it in recompense.

KONKLE: That's wild.

SAGAL: Bill, how did Anna do on our quiz?

KURTIS: If I'm right, she is perfect. Three in a row. And, Anna, that's a rare feat.


KURTIS: Congratulations.

SAGAL: That's well done.

KONKLE: That's rare for me.

SAGAL: Anna Konkle is the co-creator and star of "PEN15." You can watch it on Hulu now. Season two is out. Anna Konkle, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME. A delight to talk to you in real life.

KONKLE: Thank you for having me. Maya and I are big fans.

SAGAL: Oh, thank you.

SALIE: Bye, Anna.

SAGAL: Bye-bye.



BIG STAR: (Singing) Won't you let me walk you home from school?

SAGAL: In just a minute, my favorite meat is hot dog in 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.

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