Bernie Taupin plays Not My Job on NPR's 'Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!" This week, guest host Peter Grosz talks with Oscar-winning lyricist Bernie Taupin about his new memoir Scattershot. Then, he tries to answer our questions about burn-y topping: hot condiments.

'Wait Wait' for October 28, 2023: With Not My Job guest Bernie Taupin

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JENNIFER MILLS, BYLINE: The following program was taped in front of an audience of real, live people.


BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz. Carve out my insides and put a candle in me. I'm a Bill-o'-lantern, Bill Kurtis.


KURTIS: And here is your host filling in for Peter Sagal at the Studebaker Theater at the Fine Arts Building in Chicago, Ill. It's Peter Grosz.


Thank you, Bill.


GROSZ: Thank you, everybody. Thank you so much. It is a pleasure to be here. I am Peter Grosz. I'm Peter Sagal's understudy, and not just in the show but in life. Whenever Peter is busy, I step up, and I fill in at piano recitals, soccer games, jury duty, and I'm hosting the show this week because he's too scared to leave his house until after Halloween.


GROSZ: Later on, legendary rock 'n' roll lyricist and writing partner of Elton John, Bernie Taupin, is going to be here. But don't...


GROSZ: It is exciting. We're all very excited. But please don't go breaking our heart. Give us a call and play our games. The number is 1-888-WAIT-WAIT. That's 1-888-924-8924. Hi there. You're on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME!

MARK: Hi there. My name is Mark (ph), and I'm calling from Astoria, Queens, in New York City.

GROSZ: Oh, great.


GROSZ: A lot of love for Astoria. What's going on in Astoria, Mark? What do you do there?

MARK: Well, I actually travel a lot for work. I am the director of bar operations for one of the largest privately owned restaurant companies in the United States.

GROSZ: Bar operations - so you're bar-hopping across the country. That is your job.

MARK: Absolutely.

GROSZ: That's a fun job. Great. Mark, let's introduce you to our panel first. She is a comedian whose new special, "Hijabs Off," is now streaming on Prime Video. It's Zainab Johnson.



GROSZ: Next, a comedian you can see November 9 through the 11 at Helium Comedy Club in Philadelphia. It's Alonzo Bodden.



MARK: Hi, Alonzo.

GROSZ: And finally, she will be in Alexandria, Va., at The Birchmere on November 17 and 18. And you can hear her every week on her podcast, "Nobody Listens To Paula Poundstone." Guess who it is? It's Paula Poundstone.


GROSZ: Great. All right, welcome to the show, Mark. You're going to play Who's Bill This Time? If you can...


GROSZ: That's Paula sneezing.

MARK: Goodness.

KURTIS: Thank you, Paula.

JOHNSON: Oh, no.

POUNDSTONE: Sorry about that.

GROSZ: If you can identify which panelist sneezed...


GROSZ: ...You'll win $1,000. We never do this.


GROSZ: You're going to play Who's Bill This Time? Bill Kurtis is going to read you three quotes from this week's news. If you can correctly identify or explain two of them, you will win our prize, any voice from our show - you choose - on your voicemail. But that is probably going to be Bill or Paula because that's how it works.


GROSZ: Are you ready, Mark?

MARK: Yes.

GROSZ: Great. Mark, your first quote is from Senator Susan Collins talking about her colleague Mike Johnson.

KURTIS: I don't know him, but I'm going to Google him.

GROSZ: All right. Mark, Mike Johnson got what big job this week despite nobody knowing who he was?

MARK: Speaker of the House.

GROSZ: That is right.


GROSZ: Speaker of the House.


GROSZ: Newspapers across the country were publishing headlines like "Who Is Mike Johnson?" But there was no article underneath. They were just literally asking the question, who is Mike Johnson?

JOHNSON: I actually thought it was my cousin, so I called him and was like, hey, I didn't know...


BODDEN: All of the awful people that we knew couldn't get the job...

GROSZ: Yeah.

BODDEN: ...So they were like, we need an awful person no one's heard of.

JOHNSON: I know.

BODDEN: And they found Mike Johnson.


GROSZ: He did come out of nowhere and - but now we know him a little bit, so here's what we know about him. He's an extreme far-right Republican who tried to overturn the election, and he thinks climate change is a hoax. So I think most people in America went immediately from having no idea who he was to wishing that they had no idea who he was.


GROSZ: He also is a creationist. Did you know that?


BODDEN: Why not?

GROSZ: He was...


GROSZ: Let's throw that in there.

BODDEN: With that museum, he had to do with that museum in Kentucky - right...

GROSZ: I think he was a lawyer before.

BODDEN: ...Where people ride dinosaurs and all of that. Yeah, yeah, why not throw that in? Yeah.

GROSZ: It is a little crazy, because if you think about it, the speaker of the House, no matter who it is, is third in line for the presidency. But, you know, it's a little scary. We need to get some filler people, it feels like, in between the line of succession because it goes president, vice president and then speaker of the House. But it probably really should go president and then agricultural secretary, then vice president, then every elementary school student who passed the presidential fitness test, and then Mike Johnson.


JOHNSON: I like it.

GROSZ: Yeah. That's a good plan.

BODDEN: Once again, George Santos will just step up and say, no, I was already president.

GROSZ: Yeah, exactly.


GROSZ: All right, Mark, here's your next quote.

KURTIS: Put away that Barbie costume.

GROSZ: That was Variety, the magazine publication Variety, commenting on new guidance from the actors union, SAG-AFTRA, telling striking actors not to dress up as movie characters for what?

MARK: Halloween.

GROSZ: That's right, Halloween.


GROSZ: Very good.


GROSZ: SAG-AFTRA, the actors union, doesn't want actors promoting movies in any way whatsoever. So you can't be Captain America. You can't be Batman. You can't even be Lydia Tar.


GROSZ: I mean, if there's an audience where a Lydia Tar joke is going to land...

POUNDSTONE: Who is Lydia Tar?

GROSZ: She's the historical figure that the movie "Tar" was based on.


GROSZ: All 600 people who saw it are in this room right now.



BODDEN: So usually it's not until, like, the third or fourth segment that something happens and I have no idea what you're talking about.


GROSZ: All right.

BODDEN: But, Peter, you just jumped right into it. Who knows what the hell he's saying?

GROSZ: So the Screen Actors Guild is instead recommending that actors dress up as, quote, "generalized characters," so - instead of these specific characters. So for example, they're saying things like, don't dress up as Pennywise; just be sort of a generic scary clown, or, like, don't dress your kids as Mario and Luigi; dress them like generic Italian plumbers who double in size when they eat mushrooms - you know, that kind of a thing. Like, I'm not a - I'm not the godfather. I'm a godfather who wants you to - I want to make you a proposal you can't decline - not the specific stuff from the actual film.

BODDEN: Is that a huge thing with actors dressing like characters for Halloween? It seems to me that that would - maybe they're kids. But if, like - what's his name? - Chris Hemsworth, who played Thor - I don't think he's going to be Thor on Halloween. I think he'd put a little more effort into it than...

GROSZ: What if he always wanted to be Groot or, like, a different character? He always wanted to be - Paula, do you know who Groot is?


GROSZ: (Inaudible).

POUNDSTONE: No, but I got the idea.

GROSZ: OK. Great.

POUNDSTONE: It's from one of those stupid...

GROSZ: Right.

POUNDSTONE: ...Marvel movies.

GROSZ: All right.


GROSZ: All right, Mark. Here's your last quote.

KURTIS: By January, the students will know how to write letters to grandma.

GROSZ: That was NPR's own Steve Inskeep reporting on a new requirement in California schools. Students now have to learn what?

MARK: Handwriting.

GROSZ: Yes, but a certain kind of handwriting, maybe sort of an antiquated style of handwriting that a grandmother...

MARK: Cursive.

GROSZ: Cursive. That's right.


GROSZ: Very good.


GROSZ: Good work, Mark. California is now requiring elementary school students to learn cursive. The argument to kids is basically, without cursive, how are you going to sign the back of a check, to which the kids say the back of a what now?


GROSZ: State officials have a good reason for this change because historical documents like ancestry records and things like that are frequently written in cursive, and they don't want that history lost because no one can read it. They want it lost because no one cares.


GROSZ: But can you guys write cursive? Do you ever sign...

POUNDSTONE: What do you mean, can I write cursive? Yes.


GROSZ: Well, I don't know how old you are, Paula. But do you...

BODDEN: Peter...

GROSZ: Do you write cursive?

BODDEN: Peter, I am so old, I can dip my pen in the inkwell...


BODDEN: ...And write cursive if necessary.

GROSZ: All right. Well, then, Zainab, now that I've gotten two answers, what about you? What's your relationship to cursive?

JOHNSON: I can definitely read cursive, but I write print mostly.

GROSZ: OK. So - but it's like a bilingual household where you're like, I speak - I get - I understand Spanish, but I don't actually speak Spanish.

JOHNSON: It's like sometimes my letters go into cursive a little bit. Like, if they connect, like, I'm too lazy to pull the pen or pencil off...

GROSZ: Yeah.

JOHNSON: ...The paper.

POUNDSTONE: Well, 'cause that's exhausting.

JOHNSON: (Laughter).

GROSZ: Part of that, yeah, is a little...

BODDEN: I sometimes go back and forth in the same thing that I'm writing, and they say that's indicative of deep psychological problems.


POUNDSTONE: What is? So you go from print to cursive...


POUNDSTONE: ...From print to cursive.

BODDEN: Yeah. In the same - I'll be writing the same thing, and I'll just switch. I'll be in cursive, and then I'll print. And...


BODDEN: They say that I have problems. And I'm like, yeah, I knew that.

POUNDSTONE: Yeah, that's not the only clue.


BODDEN: I'm good with that.

GROSZ: Yeah.


GROSZ: All right. Bill, how did Mark do?

KURTIS: Mark knows everything - got them all right.


MARK: Wow.


GROSZ: Good work.

KURTIS: Great work, Mark.

MARK: Thanks so much.

GROSZ: Thank you so much. Thanks for playing. Bye-bye.

MARK: Thanks. Bye-bye.


THE JACKSON 5: (Vocalizing). (Singing) You went to school to learn, girl, things you never, never knew before, like I before E except after C and why two plus two makes four. Now, now, now...

GROSZ: Panel, time for you to answer some questions about this week's news. Zainab, dating is harder than ever. Recently, a woman's date walked out on her after she ordered and ate what?

JOHNSON: Something garlic or fishy?

GROSZ: Fishy is close. It was in large quantities.

JOHNSON: Snow crab legs?


BODDEN: They were at the Red Lobster on crab leg...


BODDEN: You know, it's actually kind of the opposite of that.

GROSZ: It's a little - it's a - you know what? It's crazier than 48 snow crab legs. I'll give you a hint. It's possible that in doing so, she got 48 pearls.

JOHNSON: Forty-eight oysters.

GROSZ: Forty-eight oysters.


GROSZ: She ordered and ate 48 oysters.


POUNDSTONE: This guy walked out?

GROSZ: He walked out, and it was crazy. She was shocked when her date ditched her after she slurped down 48 oysters. And this is true. This is a real part of the story. She messaged him, what the heck? And he answered, I asked you out for drinks.


GROSZ: It's crazy that the guy stayed as long as he did, because 48 oysters is a lot of oysters, but so is seven.


GROSZ: There's a reason why they give it to you in sixes, because after that, they're like, are you sure that you want - because one more is kind of crazy, and she had seven times that amount.

POUNDSTONE: But I don't get it. So he asked her out for drinks. So what was it he was upset about? Is he paying the bill? Is that what he was upset about?

BODDEN: He left before the bill came.

GROSZ: He left before the bill came, so she paid for it. But I think the upsetting part was, you know, watching someone eat 48 oysters. I think that was...


BODDEN: You know how bad a first date is when it becomes a news story?

GROSZ: Yeah.


GROSZ: I think it was on her dating profile, though. It was the guy's fault because right in her profile it said, fun fact about me, I can eat 50 slugs.


GROSZ: Coming up, we just can't stop speaking. It's the Bluff The Listener game. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to play. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.

KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz. I'm Bill Kurtis. We are playing this week with Paula Poundstone, Zainab Johnson and Alonzo Bodden. And here again is your host, filling in for Peter Sagal at the Studebaker Theater in Chicago, Ill., Peter Grosz.

GROSZ: Thank you, Bill.


GROSZ: Thanks, Bill.


GROSZ: Thank you, Bill. Right now it is time for a game that was invented by Abraham Lincoln way back in 1861. Just kidding. That's a lie. And there's more where that came from in our Bluff the Listener game. Call 1-888-WAITWAIT to play our game on the air. Hi, there. You're on WAIT WAIT.... DON'T TELL ME.

PETER GLOGGNER: Hi. Peter Gloggner from Columbia, Mo.

GROSZ: Hi, Peter. How are you?

GLOGGNER: I'm good.

GROSZ: Good. What do you do there in Columbia, Mo.?

GLOGGNER: I am the chief people officer at Boone Health, a health system here in Columbia.

GROSZ: What does it mean to be a chief people officer?

GLOGGNER: It's kind of a fancy name to run human resources.

GROSZ: Ah, great. Peter, can I ask you a question?


GROSZ: Did you come up with that name?


GROSZ: It's totally fine...

GLOGGNER: I did not.

GROSZ: ...If you did. Someone else...

GLOGGNER: I did not. But it was attracted to me for the job.

GROSZ: OK, good. Well, listen. Congratulations. We've never had a CPO on the air, so it's nice to have you. You're going to play our game in which you must try to tell truth from fiction. What is the topic, Bill?

KURTIS: Speakers. Speakers. Speakers.

GROSZ: Sorry, Mike Johnson. You're not the only weird speaker in the news. This week, we read about some more drama involving speakers of all kinds. Our panelists are going to tell you about it. If you pick the one who's telling the truth, you will win the WAIT WAITer of your choice on your voicemail. Are you ready to play?


GROSZ: OK. First up, it's Alonzo Bodden.

BODDEN: We have rap battles in hip-hop, roast battles in comedy and now speaker battles in New Zealand. The city of Porirua in New Zealand is plagued by siren battles, a New Zealand subculture where cars decked out in huge speakers battle through the night to see who's set-up is the loudest, and they play the last music you'd expect - Celine Dion.


BODDEN: The siren battles take place in the middle of town at night and force residents to hear "My Heart Will Go On" at the highest possible volume for hours at a time until hearts actually stop beating. Why Celine Dion? One siren group member, explained that her music was perfect for the speakers because it's clear, without much bass and already annoying.


BODDEN: But the mayor, Anita Baker, is trying to clamp down on the noise. No word on whether Mayor Anita Baker would be okay if it were the soulful music of singer Anita Baker.

GROSZ: I would be. All right. From Alonzo Bodden, a story about a New Zealand Celine Dion speaker battle that's driving everybody crazy. Your next story of some spilled speaker tea comes from Zainab Johnson.

JOHNSON: According to, 55% of Americans don't use all their vacation time. But Barbara Jo Roberts (ph) and her husband, Ellery (ph), weren't about to waste time trying to change a statistic. So they booked a 10-day trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They hired a native speaker so they could see the town like locals. They found Paolo (ph) on TripAdvisor and set out to explore. First stop - lunch at Lilia's, or so they thought. While entering the restaurant, an employee approaches Paolo and starts a heated conversation in Portuguese. Paolo tells them they must leave, admitting, I caused a fight here two nights ago.

Forgiving and optimistic, they go to their next spot, a local bar, but the bartender refuses to serve them because Paolo ghosted her after a night of passion. Realizing their native speaker has some native drama, Barb and Ellery were denied entry to four other businesses and chased by a mob of kids chanting, you stole my candy, in Portuguese, of course. Not wanting a reality show vacation, the couple fired Paolo and went back to the hotel and over two cold Bud Lights planned their visit to Epcot next year.

GROSZ: Nice.


GROSZ: From Zainab Johnson, a story about a native speaker guide that everybody - all the locals hated. Your last story of a notable noisemaker comes from Paula Poundstone.

POUNDSTONE: The shoppers and employees at Whole Foods Market on West Taylor Street in San Jose got a surprise when former employee, 25-year-old Jason Wendell (ph), illegally commandeered the store's speaker system when he took over the microphone in the security office. I was standing in the produce section when I heard a voice over the speakers say, shoppers, you're in luck. Today only, Whole Foods is offering a carton of fresh strawberries for just a week's pay.


POUNDSTONE: Shopper Tom Johnson (ph) was delighted I heard this voice booming. Could the women with the rolled-up yoga mats blocking the chip aisle please step aside and allow the shoppers with less self-discipline access to the chips?


POUNDSTONE: And I'm thinking, finally, somebody is speaking for me. I heard they arrested the guy, said shopper Janet Ross (ph). And I'm glad I spent an hour looking for an edible, gluten-free seaweed blanket. And it turns out he was just being an ass. They don't come gluten free.


GROSZ: There we have it.


GROSZ: OK. Peter, you have got from Alonzo, a story about speakers blasting Celine Dion, from Zainab, a story about an annoying native speaker and, from Paula Poundstone, a grocery store speaker takeover. Which one of those is the real story?

GLOGGNER: I'm going to go with the one with Celine, number one.

GROSZ: The Celine Dion Alonzo Bodden story about Celine Dion speaker battles. OK, so to find the correct answer, we heard from somebody who reported on the real story.

THERESA BRAINE: They call themselves the Siren Kings, and they blast Celine Dion at 2 o'clock...


BRAINE: ...In the morning in parking lots.

GROSZ: You got it. That was Theresa Braine, a breaking-news reporter at the New York Daily News who reported on the original story. Congratulations, Peter. You got it right. Good job.


BODDEN: Thank you, Peter.

GROSZ: You have earned a point for Alonzo, and you've won our prize, the voice of your choice on your voicemail. Congratulations.

GLOGGNER: Thank you.

GROSZ: Thank you.

POUNDSTONE: Congratulations, Peter.


CELINE DION: (Singing) There were nights when the wind was so cold that my body frozen in bed...

GROSZ: And now the game where I get a little nervous to talk to a cultural icon and I try not to make bad words out of mouth and sound me stupid. Well, great. So much for that. Bernie Taupin first started writing lyrics for Elton John when they were both teenagers, and they've collaborated on over 30 albums since then.


GROSZ: He's also written for Alice Cooper, Heart and Jefferson Starship. He collaborated on movie soundtracks and Broadway musicals. He's been nominated for Grammys. He won an Oscar. And he's even won a Peter, which is the award I personally bestow upon people who I think are kind of amazing. Bernie Taupin, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.



GROSZ: I'm sure you've done this a lot, but let's start by talking a little bit about your beginnings. You grew up in kind of like a - I guess, a country sort of area in England, is that right? Sort of outside of the city?

TAUPIN: Absolutely. Yeah.

GROSZ: Yeah.

TAUPIN: It was rural Lincolnshire. I guess the equivalent here would be somewhere like Idaho.

GROSZ: Yeah.

TAUPIN: Very flat and lots of potatoes.


GROSZ: So you - but you moved - you felt like you kind of had to move out of the city - or you had to move into the city, rather - to sort of kick-start a music career. So how old were you when you did that?

TAUPIN: Seventeen - 1967.


TAUPIN: But, you know, the thing was that where I was raised, the opportunities were limited, so you were either going to go work in a factory or sit on a tractor for the rest of your life. And neither one really appealed to me, so...

GROSZ: And so you moved to the city, and there's a story which you can either tell or not, but they - famously, both you and Elton John - who was not Elton John at the time; he was Reginald Dwight; is that right?

TAUPIN: That's correct.

GROSZ: Yeah - answered an ad from - was it a music publisher? - that they were looking for lyricists. They were looking for musicians. So you guys, you basically got paired up in a sense - right? - sort of random...

TAUPIN: Yeah. Well, I mean, the short story is that it was an American record company. They wanted songwriters, artists, A&R department, the whole deal.

GROSZ: Right.

TAUPIN: And both Elton and I individually answered that ad and ultimately were sort of paired together. That's the short story.

GROSZ: That's a perfectly good story.

TAUPIN: You don't want to hear the long (inaudible)...


GROSZ: That's fine. But here - so now I want to dig into this because everyone knows Elton John as the face of the two of you. You know, we've all heard your name over the years, but...


GROSZ: ...He clearly was not a lyricist. But how bad of a lyricist do you think Elton John is? Like, without you, would he...


GROSZ: ...Would his songs - I mean, let's get down - he's not here.

POUNDSTONE: Yeah. Keep in mind, we're not having him on this show. We can...

GROSZ: So we can talk about him. I mean, without...

TAUPIN: Well...

POUNDSTONE: Yeah. Without you, would he be writing...

TAUPIN: Some of the things that he attempted to do...

GROSZ: Yeah.

TAUPIN: ...When we first met, he did throw an oar in the water. And I can give you a kind of example of one of the first...

GROSZ: Oh, please.

TAUPIN: ...Lyrics he ever wrote, was...

GROSZ: Yeah.

TAUPIN: I go to the witch's house. I go whenever I can, me and Molly Dickinson in my delivery van.


POUNDSTONE: You know what? Without you, there would be a bartender at a bar - at a pub somewhere in England named Reginald Dwight being like (singing) I go to Molly's house.

TAUPIN: Yeah. And without him, I'd be on that tractor.

GROSZ: Yeah, I guess so.


GROSZ: It's a beautiful thing.


GROSZ: But it's kind of amazing that you've worked together now for over 50 years. Am I right about that?

TAUPIN: Oh, yeah - like 55.

POUNDSTONE: And it's crazy. I mean, the longevity of that partnership is something but also the fact that you still get along. What is the secret, do you think, to the two of you staying friends and working together so well for so long?

TAUPIN: Well, I think one of the notions that people don't really realize is that we don't spend a tremendous amount of time around each other.

GROSZ: Oh, that's perfect.

TAUPIN: We did in - we did very much so in the early days. But everything that we do, we're very - we're completely opposite. And you know what they say - opposites attract.

GROSZ: Yeah.

TAUPIN: So I think that's the magic to our continued sort of marriage, you know, which - it's kind of like a marriage. It's certainly the longest one I've ever had.

GROSZ: Yeah.


GROSZ: I was going to say, I think more than 50% of marriages would stay together if they were like, we shouldn't hang out with each other. What do you think about that?

TAUPIN: I think that's a very good idea. And, yeah, I mean, as I say, we're not sort of - we don't live in each other's pockets. We talk on the phone. And in this day and age of Zoom, you know, it's like having a friend in the room. So...

POUNDSTONE: God. Wouldn't it be...

TAUPIN: ...You know how that works.

POUNDSTONE: Wouldn't it be great if Elton just popped his head in the door behind you...


POUNDSTONE: ...And said, Bernie, I'm going out?

GROSZ: Yeah.

TAUPIN: No, no, that might be my daughter telling me the steaks are burning.


GROSZ: Are there songs that you wrote years ago, lyrics, that if you were magically allowed to go back and change things, anything that you're like, ooh, that's embarrass - actually, Elton wrote that one. I don't know if you know that.


GROSZ: Those are his words. Any - like - not like major regrets, but any little things that you look back and think...

TAUPIN: No. You always - yeah. I mean that's like changing history a bit.

GROSZ: Sure.

TAUPIN: There's nothing that stands out, though.

GROSZ: Nothing is - the lyrics or the poetry of it, you're happy with. That's good. That's great.

POUNDSTONE: You wouldn't change to, like, Thursday night's all right for fighting.


TAUPIN: You might. Not me.


GROSZ: No. you got to keep all your fighting on one night. Otherwise, it bleeds into the whole week.

TAUPIN: Yeah. Saturday always seemed to be the...

GROSZ: That's the fight night.

TAUPIN: ...The central night for punch-ups.


GROSZ: You don't seem like you're fighting now, but you are still working. Is it true that you and Elton were working recently - is it this week? Are you working on new material right now?

TAUPIN: Yeah. We're in the process of working on new material. There are things definitely in the pipeline.

GROSZ: That's great. That's incredible, to still be going at it like this.


TAUPIN: And let me tell you - it's still fun. Believe me. When it's not fun, then that's when we'll hang it up.

GROSZ: That's great. Well, I hope it's always fun all the time so we all get to benefit from it. That's incredible. Well, listen, Bernie Taupin, it's been a pleasure talking to you, but we've asked you here to play a game that we are calling...

KURTIS: Bernie Taupin? How about some burny toppings?

GROSZ: That's right. We're going to ask you about spicy condiments. You know...


GROSZ: ...They are toppin's. They burn. They are burny toppin's.


GROSZ: I'm sure you've done a lot of press for this book that - this biography of yours that has come out. I hope that you have not been asked about burny toppin's on any other shows. If you answer two out of three questions that we are going to ask you correctly, you're going to win our prize for one of our listeners. Bill, who is Bernie Taupin playing for?

KURTIS: Traci Halky (ph) of West Hartford, Conn.

GROSZ: Great. OK. Here is your first question. Hot sauce fans love sharing their war stories, like the man who bragged about eating a fingerful of incredibly spicy sauce, with the only effect being that a bit of sweat came upon his brow and a single tear fell from his eye. One problem, though, what was that problem? He wiped away the tear with the finger that he had the hot sauce on...


GROSZ: ...Putting it directly in his eye; or B, he lost his sense of taste for a week; or C, that single tear was bright red and smelled like habanero.

TAUPIN: I'm going with the first one.

GROSZ: You're going to go with A, that he wiped away the tear with a finger in hot sauce. That's right.


GROSZ: Very good.


TAUPIN: I've done the same thing.



GROSZ: Oh, yeah. These are all questions about you - things you've done with hot sauce.


GROSZ: OK, here's your next question. Last June, a semitruck accident spilled 100 gallons of Tabasco sauce on a highway near El Paso, Texas, blocking traffic for hours in an incident that transportation officials called what? A, one a-spicy meatball; B, a red-hot traffic nightmare; or C, a level-three hazmat incident.



GROSZ: B, a red-hot traffic nightmare. No. The answer was C...


GROSZ: ...A level-three hazmat incident. They actually sent crews in full hazmat gear to mop up after a hot-sauce spill. It's pretty intense.


GROSZ: Here's your last question. While spicy condiments are great on food, they can also be helpful in other ways, as proven by which of these? A, man in Chicago who was able to stop a goose attack by covering himself in sriracha; B, a police officer in Texas who tracked down the person who robbed a Buffalo Wild Wings by analyzing some buffalo-sauce-covered fingerprints; or C, a Japanese company who made a fire alarm for the deaf that, instead of beeping, releases a wasabi mist into the air.



TAUPIN: I don't know. I'm going to go with B again.

GROSZ: OK. I wonder. I wonder if that's the best one to go with. Oh, C. You know what's so funny, is a bunch of people in the audience are screaming the letter C.


GROSZ: That's so interesting.

TAUPIN: Let's do C then.

GROSZ: Let's do C. That's right.


GROSZ: Good job, Bernie and audience.


POUNDSTONE: Boy, when they - one thing that...

TAUPIN: Thank you, crowd.


TAUPIN: Thank you, crowd.


GROSZ: Normally, it's the crowd that's cheering for you and your stuff, but in this case, you're cheering for the crowd. The answer was, C, the wasabi mist was so pungent that it could even wake someone up from a deep sleep.


GROSZ: Yeah. It's pretty intense. OK, Bill, how did Bernie Taupin do on our quiz?

KURTIS: He will rock you.


KURTIS: Two out of three. You've won, Bernie.

TAUPIN: Thanks for the help.


GROSZ: Bernie Taupin is an Oscar-winning lyricist and songwriter. His new fantastic memoir, "Scattershot," is out now. Thank you so much for joining us. This was a real...

KURTIS: Thanks, Bernie.

POUNDSTONE: It was fun.

GROSZ: An honor.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

GROSZ: Thank you. Good luck with the book and all your music and everything. Thank you so much.

TAUPIN: Thanks, guys. Take care.


ELTON JOHN: (Singing) You could never know what it's like. Your blood, like winter, freezes just like ice. And there's a cold, lonely light that shines from you. You'll wind up like the wreck you hide behind that mask you use.

GROSZ: In just a minute, Bill reveals his inner beauty in our Listener Limerick Challenge. 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.

KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT, WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz. I'm Bill Kurtis. We're playing this week with Zainab Johnson, Alonzo Bodden and Paula Poundstone. And here again is your host, filling in for Peter Sagal at the Studebaker Theater in Chicago, Ill., Peter Grosz.

GROSZ: Thank you, Bill. Thank you so much. Thank you, audience.


GROSZ: In just a minute, Bill reads his favorite book, Mary Shelley's "Frankenrhyme," in our Listener Limerick Challenge. If you'd like to play, give us a call at 1-888-WAIT-WAIT. That's 1-888-924-8924. But right now, panel, it's time for some more questions to you about this week's news. Paula, NASA recently completed a super-complicated mission to collect samples from an asteroid floating through space. They got the samples back to Earth in this high-tech canister. And there's only one problem, though. What is that problem?

POUNDSTONE: They can't get the canister open?

GROSZ: That's exactly right.


GROSZ: They cannot get the canister open.


GROSZ: Has there ever been a more accurate stereotype than science nerds who can't open a jar?


GROSZ: But before you ask, yes, they ran it under hot water, and they banged it on the side with a heavy spoon. They tried everything. This has really brought together various factions of the scientific community who have all come together to say, give it here. I got it. Let me try it. Come on.


POUNDSTONE: My oldest daughter can open a jar.

GROSZ: No matter what?

POUNDSTONE: Yeah. She's amazing. You know, I struggle, and then I go, honey - and she could open. It's just a - I don't know.

GROSZ: It's genetic.

POUNDSTONE: It's a thing that some people have. It's a gift that some people were just born into the world with. So...

GROSZ: It's one of the smaller gifts, but it is a gift.

POUNDSTONE: Not if you're trying to get to the meteor samples.


GROSZ: That's true. Or the cookies...

POUNDSTONE: Or the cookies.

GROSZ: ...In your case.

BODDEN: Did they ever think of tools?


GROSZ: In terms of opening it up?


GROSZ: I think what happened was they got it - you know, it's, like, fine particulate matter. And then when they were sort of bringing it back from space, a bunch of that matter sort of got on the outside. So it's, like - it's just, like, really, you know, caked with dust. You know...

POUNDSTONE: Did they wipe the rim before they put the...


GROSZ: Let me just...

POUNDSTONE: 'Cause that's so important.

GROSZ: Hi. NASA? Give me two seconds.


JOHNSON: It does make for a good joke, though. How many scientists does it take to open a jar?


GROSZ: Yeah. How ever there are...

BODDEN: Apparently all of them.


GROSZ: The number that are in NASA plus one, plus the person who comes in from the outside.

JOHNSON: Plus Paula's kid.


GROSZ: Yeah, exactly.


GROSZ: Alonzo, scientists may have found a new way to treat diabetes. They might be able to replace insulin injections with what?

BODDEN: Whatever's in that jar they can't open.


POUNDSTONE: So frustrating.

BODDEN: I hope they find that.

GROSZ: Exactly.

BODDEN: Give me something.

GROSZ: Give you a clue?

BODDEN: Give me something to work with.

GROSZ: OK. (Singing) We will, we will...

BODDEN: Singing? They're going to sing?

GROSZ: They're going to sing. They're going to sing. That's right. Specifically, the Queen song "We Will Rock You."


BODDEN: OK. How bad is your health insurance...


BODDEN: ...When you are suffering from Type 2 diabetes, and they're like, look. We're going to sing "We Will Rock You" and just...


GROSZ: That's the best we could do.

BODDEN: ...Hope we can - you know...

GROSZ: Let me just go grab "Queen's Greatest Hits" out of my car.

BODDEN: Yeah, our health care system needs work. The Canadians are laughing at that one there.

GROSZ: This is what it is, though. So it's a new technology that's being tested that would allow scientists to stimulate a cell in the body to release insulin by playing the song "We Will Rock You." Unfortunately, though, if it doesn't work, "Another One Bites The Dust."


POUNDSTONE: So I get that - so they're going to sing. But is it really that song?

GROSZ: It is that song. Basically...

POUNDSTONE: Why is it that song?

GROSZ: So here's what happens. So it's - this whole system - it's kind of like the Clapper, but it's more complicated and with much higher stakes.


GROSZ: So basically, researchers engineered a cell that releases insulin in response to music. And they played a bunch of different songs. And they played "We Will Rock You." And it worked the best.


GROSZ: So it's really cool. But if you get this treatment and then you go to a hockey game, you might instantly go to into insulin shock.


GROSZ: Just be in a very calm place where things aren't happening.

POUNDSTONE: Huh. They couldn't have played every song. I mean...


JOHNSON: No, I don't think that's how it happened. I think, like...

GROSZ: What do you got?

JOHNSON: ...Somebody was playing it in the background. And another scientist was looking through a microscope. And then he turned it down. And he was like, wait a minute.

GROSZ: Turn it back up.

JOHNSON: Turn it back up. The cells are moving.

GROSZ: Inside, the cells are like (imitating stomping and clapping) squish, (imitating stomping) insulin, (imitating stomping) insulin.


POUNDSTONE: I think all this is very plausible.


GROSZ: Coming up, It's Lightning Fill In The Blank. But slow your roll. We aren't quite there yet. First, it's the game where you have to listen for the rhyme. If you'd like to play on air, call or leave a message at 1-888-WAITWAIT. That's 1-888-924-8924. You can catch us most weeks at the Studebaker Theater in Chicago, or you can come see us on the road. We will be in New York City at Carnegie Hall on December 14 and 15. And check out the WAIT WAIT stand-up tour with shows coming to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago and more. For more touring dates and for tickets to any live WAIT WAIT show, go to

Hi there. You're on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

RACHEL GALANTER: Hi. I'm Rachel Galanter from Durham, N.C.

GROSZ: Hi, Rachel.


GROSZ: Look at that. You're getting some applause for Durham, N.C., the Research Triangle. What's going on in Durham? What do you do down there?

GALANTER: I work at a nonprofit called El Futuro that provides mental health services to Latine people and works to expand access to culturally responsive services across North Carolina and beyond.

GROSZ: Wow. You deserve that round of applause. You're going to get another one.


GROSZ: You're going good work, Rachel. Well, thanks for coming here and doing something so stupid.


GROSZ: Bill Kurtis - I mean, you got to take a break from doing all the important work that you're doing. Bill Kurtis is going to read you three news-related limericks with the last word or phrase missing from each. If you can fill in that last word or phrase correctly on two limericks, you're going to be a winner. OK. Are you ready?


GROSZ: Good. Here's your first limerick.

KURTIS: Those of gray or brown fur is on show. There's a bright neon rainbow below. In lairs and in caves, there could be all-night raves. Under blacklight, most mammals will...


GROSZ: That's right. Glow.


GROSZ: Very good.


GROSZ: Scientists have discovered that an overwhelming number of mammals are actually phosphorescent. I guess they discovered this when someone went into a hotel room with a blacklight, and the bed was covered in possums.


GROSZ: It's a strange discovery. I mean, there's no way to know why, evolutionarily, there's some advantage of glowing animals under blacklight because why would there be? I mean, God was like, this will make animals better at finding mates at a nightclub. It doesn't really make any sense, although it does really make me want to get a bunch of woodland creatures in a roller rink.


GROSZ: Just crank up the disco. All right. Here's your next limerick.

KURTIS: In my yard, grass and weeds are real deep. And for mowers, the incline's too steep. So I'm joining the craze, paying ovines to graze. For my lawn care, I've hired some...



GROSZ: Sheep. Very good.



GROSZ: Renting out a bunch of sheep is the adorable new way to tend to your lawn without the fear of losing a foot. Lamb herds are more environmentally conscious and quieter than regular lawnmowers. Instead of a blaring leaf blower, now your Zoom meeting can be interrupted by a bunch of bleating lambs.

POUNDSTONE: (Imitating sheep).

GROSZ: There you go. Just like that. That's so much better than (imitating sheep). Here's your last limerick.

KURTIS: Changing bedding does not take much skill, no. Sheets puff up with a soft, downy billow. And where I rest my head, there's a thump more like lead. I still cling to my old yellow...


GROSZ: There you go. Pillow.

KURTIS: Yes, that's it.


GROSZ: Very good.


GROSZ: Experts say that you should replace your pillow every two years. But there's a growing community of people online that are saying, get your hands off of my precious germ cushion. They are hanging on to their pillows well after their expiration date, despite the fact that the pillows have long ago turned yellow and not in a good way. It's yellow for memories, right? Like an old photograph? No, I got bad news for you that staining is caused by years of drool and other facial emissions.


GROSZ: What other facial emissions? I don't know. But just know that none of them are good.


BODDEN: Could this all be because people just can't stand the MyPillow guy?


BODDEN: We're just going to hang on to these old pillows forever.

GROSZ: Exactly.


GROSZ: We have to inform people that there are other places to get pillows. You don't have to go through Mike Lindell. OK, Bill, how did Rachel do?

KURTIS: Rachel will sleep well tonight. She got them all right.

GROSZ: Nice job.

POUNDSTONE: Nice, Rachel.

GROSZ: Good work, Rachel.


GROSZ: Congratulations, Rachel. Thanks for playing.

GALANTER: This was really fun. I really appreciate the opportunity. Thanks very much.

GROSZ: Good.

GALANTER: Thank you.

GROSZ: All right. Keep up the good work down there in Durham.



GROSZ: Now on to our final game, Lightning Fill in the Blank. Each of our players will have 60 seconds in which to answer as many fill-in-the-blank questions as they can. Each correct answer is worth two points. Bill, I have not been paying attention at all. Can you please give us the scores?

KURTIS: Well, I have.

GROSZ: Great.

KURTIS: Paula and Zainab each have two. Alonzo has four.

GROSZ: Great. Paula and Zainab are tied for second/third. So I'm going to pick Paula. Paula, you're up first. Fill in the blank. On Tuesday, the U.N. called for a temporary cease-fire so that humanitarian aid could reach blank.


GROSZ: Right.


GROSZ: Calling their social networks addictive and dangerous to kids, dozens of states filed suit against blank.

POUNDSTONE: Instagram and Facebook, was it? Meta?

GROSZ: Meta. Exactly. Right.


GROSZ: After a record fast intensification, Hurricane Blank touched down in Acapulco this week.


GROSZ: Right.


GROSZ: Following positive results from early tests, Pfizer's combination flu and blank vaccine will move to final stage trials.


GROSZ: Maybe right.


GROSZ: A woman who was hearing strange rustling sounds in her house for four days finally figured out she had a blank.

POUNDSTONE: One of those shoebill birds was stuck in a cabinet.

GROSZ: Wrong. A spider in her ear.


GROSZ: Let that sink in. On Wednesday, the Curiosity rover discovered new ancient riverbeds on blank.


GROSZ: Yes, right.


GROSZ: On Tuesday, Richard Roundtree, best known for playing the title character in blank, passed away at 81.


GROSZ: That's right. This week, a man in Australia asked the internet for help...


GROSZ: ...Saying that every time he bikes home from work, he is confronted by blank.


GROSZ: Nope. A really angry magpie pecking at his head. Alejandro Rios was shocked when he was biking home from work and a magpie dive bombed him. But he wrote the attack off is a one time thing. That was a month ago and the bird has attacked him every single day since.


GROSZ: Rios says that it's been incredibly frustrating and almost enough to make him quit his job at the loose worm and birdseed factory.


GROSZ: Bill, how did Paula do?

KURTIS: Did very, very well. She got six right, 12 more points. Total of 14 puts her in the lead.

GROSZ: Good job, Paula. OK.


GROSZ: Zainab, you are up next. Fill in the blank. On Wednesday, United Auto Workers reached a tentative deal with blank to end their strike.


GROSZ: That's right.


GROSZ: On Tuesday, Russia rehearsed a massive test of their blank capabilities.

JOHNSON: Missile.

GROSZ: I'm going to not give it to you.


GROSZ: Nuclear weapon capabilities. This week, a judge in New York fined blank $10,000 for violating his gag order.

JOHNSON: Donald Trump.

GROSZ: That's right.


GROSZ: This week, a student followed through with her plans to attend the University of Miami, even after discovering blank.

JOHNSON: The spring break was cancelled this year.

GROSZ: That she accidentally applied to the University of Miami, Ohio.


POUNDSTONE: On Thursday, it was announced that "Now And Then," the final song from the blanks would be released next week.

JOHNSON: City Girls.

GROSZ: Close.


GROSZ: But not really. The Beatles.

JOHNSON: (Laughter) I'd have never known that.

GROSZ: On Friday, the Arizona Diamondbacks faced the Texas Rangers in the first game of the 2023 blank.

JOHNSON: Don't even know which sport that is.


GROSZ: I wish I could give it to you, but it's World Series. A man protesting the building of a new Catholic religious center...


GROSZ: ...In France was interrupted by blank.

JOHNSON: I'm going to go with my hieroglyphics. Owl hand and top hat.

GROSZ: (Laughter). He was interrupted by a nun tackling him. Now, to be clear, let me just say, when we say that she tackled him, what we really mean is that the nun ran at him at a full sprint, hit him on his blindside, put her arms around him, and slammed his puny ass down to the ground. And then, of course, she had to say five Hail Marys for excessive celebration.


GROSZ: Bill, how did Zainab do?

KURTIS: Two. Right. Four more points. Total of six. She's No. 2 to Paula.

GROSZ: OK. So that means...


GROSZ: ...How many does Alonzo need to win?

KURTIS: Five to tie, six to win.

GROSZ: OK. Alonzo, this is for the game. Fill in the blank. On Tuesday, Jenna Ellis became the latest Trump ally to plead guilty to blank interference.

BODDEN: Election.

GROSZ: Right.


GROSZ: This week, Representative Jamaal Bowman pled guilty for setting off the blank in a congressional office building.

BODDEN: Fire alarms.

GROSZ: Right.


GROSZ: After meeting once a month for 28 years, a book club in California announced they'd finally managed to blank.

BODDEN: Finish the book.


GROSZ: I'll give it to you. To read their first book. It was "Finnegans Wake."


GROSZ: According to a new study, ADHD may triple blank risk in adults.

BODDEN: I don't know.

GROSZ: Dementia risk. This week, a Spanish duke was told he must change the name...


GROSZ: ...Of his newborn daughter after she was named blank.

BODDEN: Duchess.

GROSZ: He had to change her name because it is Sofia Fernanda Dolores Cayetana Teresa Angela de la Cruz Micaela del Santisimo Sacramento del Perpetuo Socorro de la Santisima Trinidad y de Todos Los Santos.


GROSZ: That is her full name.

BODDEN: How did I not know that?

GROSZ: I know. You're kicking yourself about that one.

BODDEN: How did I not know that one? Come on.


GROSZ: But don't worry.


GROSZ: Don't worry. They just call her Midge. OK, Bill, did Alonzo do well enough to win?

KURTIS: He got three right for six more points, a total of 10. And that means Paula wins.

GROSZ: Paula Poundstone is this week's winner.


GROSZ: Congratulations, Paula.

POUNDSTONE: It's an honor. Thank you.

GROSZ: Now, panel, what will be the hot costume this Halloween? Paula Poundstone.

POUNDSTONE: OK. It's a killer whale with a yacht on its back with a Supreme Court justice on top of it.


GROSZ: Very good.


GROSZ: Zainab Johnson.

JOHNSON: Probably everybody's going to dress up as a different Fran Drescher nanny character.

GROSZ: And Alonzo Bodden.

BODDEN: The disgraced billionaire. And the costume comes with its own lawyer.


KURTIS: Well, if any of that happens, we'll ask you about it on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

GROSZ: Thank you, Bill Kurtis. Thanks also to Paula Poundstone, Zainab Johnson, Alonzo Bodden.


GROSZ: Thanks to all of you for being here. Thanks to all of you out there for listening. Thank you for having me. I'm Peter Grosz. Peter Sagal will be back next week.


GROSZ: This is NPR.

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