Be Happy: Bobby McFerrin Plays Not My Job Bobby McFerrin is a 10-time Grammy award-winning artist -- and yes, he's the man behind the No. 1 hit, "Don't Worry, Be Happy." We've challenged him to answer three questions about unhappiness.
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Be Happy: Bobby McFerrin Plays Not My Job

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Be Happy: Bobby McFerrin Plays Not My Job

Be Happy: Bobby McFerrin Plays Not My Job

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PETER SAGAL, Host:

And now the game where people who do lots of amazing things come on our show to do one silly thing. We call it Not my Job. Bobby McFerrin is a ten-time Grammy Award-winning artist for this work in every musical genre. And yes, he is the man behind the number one hit, "Don't Worry, Be Happy." He'll be performing music from his latest album, "Vocabularies" next month at Lincoln Center. Bobby McFerrin, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

BOBBY MCFERRIN: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

SAGAL: Great to have you here.

MCFERRIN: Do I look okay? Is my hair, it is moving all right.

SAGAL: You look good. You look great.

MCFERRIN: Thank you.

SAGAL: You look fine.

ROURKE: It's radio anyway.

SAGAL: Yeah, I know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCFERRIN: That's right.

SAGAL: You have got - one of the things that you're known for is in addition to being like a leading jazz vocalist, you have this amazing ability to make all kinds of sounds with your mouth, with your body.

MCFERRIN: Oh really?

SAGAL: Yes, I've heard that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Have you always used this power for good?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCFERRIN: Well I try to, certainly, yeah. I enjoy what I do very, very, very, very much.

SAGAL: Were you musically gifted as a child? Both your parents were singers.

MCFERRIN: I grew up in a very musical family, a very musical family.

SAGAL: Right.

MCFERRIN: My father was the first African American to sign a contract with the Metropolitan.

SAGAL: Oh, wow.

MCFERRIN: In 1955.

AMY DICKINSON: Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MCFERRIN: Yeah, so I grew up with Beethoven and Mozart and Count Basie.

SAGAL: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Those were your playmates?

MCFERRIN: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Did it bother you they were all dead?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Mommy, Beethoven won't move.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCFERRIN: You know, it's really funny is couldn't - so as a kid growing up, I couldn't sing - singing at the dinner table wasn't allowed.

SAGAL: Really?

MCFERRIN: No.

SAGAL: In your musical family...

MCFERRIN: It was very, very, very formal. Very, very formal in my upbringing. Very, very proper.

TOM BODETT: Is that when you started making funny little noises is to...

MCFERRIN: Probably.

SAGAL: Yeah.

DICKINSON: Channeling, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Who brought that drum set to the table this time?

MCFERRIN: That's right.

SAGAL: Bobby?

MCFERRIN: Yeah.

SAGAL: So, I mean, so is this what you're like? Take you out for dinner and you'll just be making music all in the corner all night?

MCFERRIN: My kids are trying to get me to shut up, you know.

SAGAL: Really?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCFERRIN: Because I embarrass them. I'm always singing. I love to sing, especially in restaurants.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Really?

MCFERRIN: You know.

SAGAL: What sort of things do you sometimes do in restaurants?

MCFERRIN: Well, you know, when you get something on the menu that you really, really want.

SAGAL: Right.

MCFERRIN: You know, you've got a taste for something. It's always a very celebratory kind of moment...

SAGAL: Right.

MCFERRIN: ...when there's something on the menu that you've been dying to have.

SAGAL: It's okay. So here we are in a restaurant...

MCFERRIN: So you're at a restaurant and you see something and the waiter comes over and he says, may I take your order?

MCFERRIN: (Singing) Oh, I'd like, oh, I'm so in love with this food.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BODETT: Is that what happened at Denny's?

MCFERRIN: Or...

(Singing) Ah.

Just to sing a note out.

(Singing) Ah.

Because it's such a joyful thing.

SAGAL: Sure.

MCFERRIN: You know.

SAGAL: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: I don't suppose you've ever gone to IHOP and ordered a rooty tooty fresh and fruity.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Because that would be good.

MCFERRIN: Wasn't that a puppet? Rooty Tooty? Wasn't there like a cartoon character?

SAGAL: Like Rooty Tooty Kukla, Fran and Ollie? Is that what you mean?

ROURKE: Yeah.

MCFERRIN: No, I'm thinking of...

BODETT: Howdy Doody.

MCFERRIN: Howdy Doody, right.

SAGAL: Howdy Doody.

MCFERRIN: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCFERRIN: Howdy Doody. Rooty Tooty Howdy Doody.

DICKINSON: Howdy Doody Fresh and Fruity.

MCFERRIN: (Singing) It's Howdy Doody time, it's Howdy Doody time.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I have a feeling this audience right now doesn't want me to say another word, actually.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I think they just want you to go.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: You see what I mean?

MCFERRIN: Sure.

ROURKE: Yeah, your panelists are with them too, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

ROURKE: Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROURKE: You're stumped.

SAGAL: I'm stumped, man. Because I basically am just going to talk until you start doing something again and then I'm going to lay down.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: If I can just get you to go, then my job here is done.

MCFERRIN: Yeah.

SAGAL: So you've done so many different things in music. Tell us how it all got started. Did you, like, form a band? Did you sing with your friends?

MCFERRIN: I've been a working musician since I was about 14.

SAGAL: Really? You were singing, you were playing, you were...

MCFERRIN: I wasn't singing at the time. I was playing piano. I was a pianist until I was about 27.

SAGAL: Yeah.

MCFERRIN: I was convinced I was a pianist, but I always had a nagging suspicion in the back of my head that I wasn't.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I have that same thought.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCFERRIN: Yeah. I was living in Salt Lake City at the time because I was working at the University of Utah dance department as one of their accompanists.

SAGAL: Right.

MCFERRIN: And I was walking home for lunch period. It was about noon. It was July 11th, 1977. See, I really remember this.

SAGAL: You do.

MCFERRIN: By the time I got to my house, I recognized that I was a singer. I called up the Hilton Hotel and I got an audition for the very next day. I knew five songs. I sang...

(Singing) You are the sunshine of my life.

I sang that. I sang a tune by a group called Blind Faith.

(Singing) Come down off your throne and leave your body alone.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MCFERRIN: I sang that and three other pieces and they hired me. Now, I only knew five songs.

SAGAL: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCFERRIN: He hired me. I had a month before my gig started. So I learned a song a day. I had about 35 songs when I started. And that's how it all began.

SAGAL: Right, very cool.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

SAGAL: You wrote that?

MCFERRIN: I wrote that.

SAGAL: That's great. That's really good.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MCFERRIN: You know. You just open up your mouth, you open up your mouth and you go, that's it.

SAGAL: Yeah, I open up my mouth, other people go. But that's...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: A different talent, baby, different talents.

MCFERRIN: Very, very good.

SAGAL: I know. I know. Well, we are utterly delighted to have you with us. And Bobby McFerrin, we have asked you here today to play a game we are calling?

CARL KASELL, Host:

Go ahead, worry.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MCFERRIN: Okay.

SAGAL: It's all right. So you sang, famously, "Don't Worry, Be Happy."

MCFERRIN: I did.

SAGAL: And a certain percentage of the population said to hell with that, and went back to being miserable.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCFERRIN: Yeah.

SAGAL: We're going to ask you three questions about being unhappy. Get two right; you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their voicemail or answering machine, whatever they got. Carl, who is musician Bobby McFerrin playing for?

KASELL: Bobby is playing for Annie Erling of Chevy Chase, Maryland.

MCFERRIN: Annie Erling, from Chevy Chase.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I'm guessing the answer is yes, but are you ready to play? You seem ready to go.

MCFERRIN: Yeah.

SAGAL: Okay. Here's the first question. A recent survey of tweets tweeted shows that people are most unhappy when? A, the moment they arrive at work; B, Thursday evenings; C, right after eating something they shouldn't have eaten?

MCFERRIN: None of these.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCFERRIN: What was it?

SAGAL: It was...

MCFERRIN: Eating something that they shouldn't have eaten?

SAGAL: When are people most unhappy, the moment they arrive at work.

MCFERRIN: Yeah.

SAGAL: Thursday evenings or right after eating something they shouldn't have eaten.

MCFERRIN: Thursday evenings, I guess.

SAGAL: You're right, Thursday evenings.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ROURKE: But isn't that when "Seinfeld" is on?

SAGAL: Apparently not anymore.

ROURKE: Oh, I guess I'm a little out of date.

SAGAL: The survey went over all these tweets, millions of them, and looked for certain unhappy keywords and then looked for the timestamp and the location. And it turns out, if you want to be unhappy, the place to be and the time to be there, New York City, Thursday night.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCFERRIN: How about that?

SAGAL: How about that?

MCFERRIN: Yeah.

SAGAL: You answered that so easily. Are you yourself sad on Thursday evenings?

MCFERRIN: I'm psychic.

SAGAL: Oh, okay.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right, the next question. You're doing very well. If you're psychic this will not be a problem.

MCFERRIN: Okay.

SAGAL: If you are dealing with a really unhappy person, according to one scientific study, what's something you could do to an unhappy person to make them even more unhappy?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: If you were so inclined.

MCFERRIN: Okay.

SAGAL: A, say the words, get over it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B, show them a happy picture, or C, sing.

MCFERRIN: Sing.

SAGAL: Sing?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You think singing would make an unhappy person even unhappier?

MCFERRIN: Yeah.

SAGAL: It was actually show them a happy picture.

MCFERRIN: Oh, no.

SAGAL: Sorry.

MCFERRIN: Oh, oh.

SAGAL: According to...

MCFERRIN: Can I redo the test, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: No, but we have another chance here.

MCFERRIN: Okay.

SAGAL: But according to...

MCFERRIN: Do I have to do two out of three?

SAGAL: You do.

MCFERRIN: And what does this person get?

SAGAL: This person gets Carl's voice on their home answering machine.

MCFERRIN: Oh, okay.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: You want to take it up with Bobby, Carl? I mean...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCFERRIN: You want to.

SAGAL: No, according to a study in the journal Biological Psychiatry, for some reason, in very depressed people, seeing pictures of happy things made them feel worse. All right, this is exciting, because if you get this correct, you win. Here we go.

MCFERRIN: All right.

SAGAL: The last one, here we go. Let's say you're dealing with somebody but you don't know if they're a happy or unhappy person. According to yet another study, what might be a good clue that they're a generally unhappy person? A, they wear ties; B, they really like TV; or C, they routinely send food back in restaurants?

MCFERRIN: Okay, well I think it's TV actually, because they probably spend, you know, like on the couch hanging out. They don't want to get up or do anything.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MCFERRIN: So that's probably what it is.

SAGAL: And it is that, congratulations. That's right, the answer.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Well done.

MCFERRIN: Thank you.

SAGAL: The University of Maryland study found that unhappy people watch more TV. That may not be surprising. But it might be that they really like it. So if you wanted to know who was watching "Cougartown," it's all the mopes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Carl, how did Bobby do on our show?

KASELL: Well enough to win for Annie Erling of Chevy Chase, Maryland. He had two correct answers.

SAGAL: Well done.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MCFERRIN: Annie Erling.

SAGAL: Excellent, excellent. But before I let you go, I got to ask, anything you want to sing and/or for or with this audience?

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MCFERRIN: For or with? Okay.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLAPPING)

MCFERRIN: (Singing) It's been great to be here tonight. Great to be here tonight. Stop.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Bobby McFerrin, ladies and gentlemen. His newest album is "Vocabularies." He'll be performing as part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center series at the Rose Theater on November 12th and 13th. Bobby McFerrin, thank you so much for joining us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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