PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where accomplished people try to accomplish something entirely different. It's called Not My Job. Some people love Jeffrey Tambor for his run as the sidekick on "The Larry Sanders Show." Others love him for his role as the felonious dad on "Arrested Development." And then some people love him for his role as the transgender mom in "Transparent." We split the difference. We're just going to love him for the "Hellboy" movies.
JEFFREY TAMBOR: Yes.
SAGAL: Jeffrey Tambor, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
SAGAL: I just ran through three probably of your big, most well-known roles. Is there one thing that you get recognized for more than any other these days?
TAMBOR: Well, in an elevator in a hotel just the other day, somebody said, how's Raymond?
SAGAL: They thought you were Peter Boyle.
TAMBOR: You got that right.
SAGAL: What did you say?
TAMBOR: I said, Raymond is fine. I got - I'm getting off here.
SAGAL: You have been a working actor since the '70s, right?
TAMBOR: Yes, actually before.
SAGAL: But your first thing on camera - that at least we found out about - was that you were in an Avis ad that they did in the '70s as kind of a response/parody to the famous O.J. Simpson running through an airport ad. Is that right?
TAMBOR: That's correct. I - he ran through airport and then et cetera, et cetera. And...
SAGAL: So they had, you know, at the time, let's remember, the most beloved athlete in the country running through an airport...
TAMBOR: You're talking about O.J., not me.
SAGAL: I am talking about O.J. And so they came to you. Why did they hire you, Jeffrey Tambor, to run through the airport in their ad?
TAMBOR: I have no idea. I got $40,000. What else can I tell you?
SAGAL: That's all we need to know. Is it true that you, in addition to being a well-known and successful actor, were also a very valued acting teacher?
TAMBOR: Let's - well...
TAMBOR: Let's see. I'm an acting teacher. And I also - do you know that I own a bookstore?
SAGAL: No, I did not know that. And I also get the sense you'd rather talk about that.
SAGAL: What is the name of the bookstore?
TAMBOR: Skylight Books in Los Angeles.
SAGAL: Oh, I see.
TAMBOR: I'm just an investor. I walk around just whistling. That's all I do. I don't...
SAGAL: Really? That's your job? And when did you invest in a bookstore?
TAMBOR: About 30 years ago - about the same time I did the Avis commercial. I do...
SAGAL: You put all that money right into books. You said this is the medium of the future.
FAITH SALIE: Jeffrey, what's your favorite book in the whole world?
ADAM BURKE: Yeah.
TAMBOR: Oh, that's interesting. I'm going to have to...
PATTON OSWALT: Are you eating?
TAMBOR: I left - let's - I think...
SAGAL: Wait a minute. I do have a question. Did you bring enough for everybody?
TAMBOR: I'm going to answer the book.
SAGAL: Yeah, OK.
TAMBOR: "Catch-22," Philip Roth, "American Pastoral."
OSWALT: Oh, wow.
SAGAL: Wow, those are excellent choices, excellent choices. I get the sense, Jeffrey, that you don't like talking about yourself. Is that right?
TAMBOR: How could - how could you possibly get that?
SAGAL: I don't know. It's a certain reticence. Let me - let me - you know what...
TAMBOR: Maybe because I kind of demurred on valued acting teacher?
SAGAL: Yeah, that one.
TAMBOR: I think the valued threw me off.
SAGAL: Really? But we - you know, we actually heard that, like, people were dying to get into Jeffrey Tambor's acting class - that you were...
TAMBOR: I've been an acting teacher for 40 years, and I love it. I'm - they teach me as much as I teach them. And I love it. Yeah.
SAGAL: I don't want to reduce your lifetime of wisdom to an instant, but is there, like, one basic thing that you think actors need to know in order to be successful?
TAMBOR: I'll tell you something. And it's something that I was taught by my acting teacher, who was taught by his teacher. It's a phrase, but I'm afraid it's going to get a groan. But adore everything.
SAGAL: Adore everything. What does that mean?
TAMBOR: Because so many actors - young actors are waiting for the red carpet and the paycheck. And as your panel can tell you, it's - the ride is fun from the beginning.
SAGAL: Was the next thing he told you don't eat during interviews?
SAGAL: I mean, I completely appreciate that. And I've heard that in various ways. That - you know, I've even heard, for example, an actor has to love auditioning because that may be all you get to do for a while.
TAMBOR: I love auditioning.
TAMBOR: I love auditioning.
SAGAL: But has there ever been a part or a gig that you've taken where the adoring it part has been really, really hard?
TAMBOR: No, but at my first audition for a commercial in New York, I said, can I leave a picture and resume? And she said, if you must.
SAGAL: Well, Jeffrey Tambor, it is a pleasure to talk to you, but we have asked you here to play a game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: Tambor.
SAGAL: Your name is Tambor, so we thought we'd ask you about the timber industry. Why not?
TAMBOR: I get it.
SAGAL: Answer two out of three questions correctly, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl Kasell's voice on their voicemail. Bill, who is actor Jeffrey Tambor playing for?
KURTIS: Daniel Hamby of Cambridge, Mass.
SAGAL: Are you ready to do this?
TAMBOR: Oh, I know Daniel. What an odd thing.
SAGAL: Isn't that strange?
SAGAL: All right. Here's your first question. Nothing says timber industry more than the chainsaw. It turns out the chainsaw was not originally invented to use on trees. The original chainsaw was supposed to be used on what? A, very well done steaks; B, enemy ships or C, people?
TAMBOR: I'm going to go with people.
SAGAL: Yes, it is people.
SALIE: What? What?
SAGAL: The chainsaw - the original chainsaw was invented in various versions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries for use as a surgical instrument.
OSWALT: Oh, God.
SAGAL: And you don't want to know exactly what for. Trust me.
TAMBOR: You know, that interesting to me because when I had my hip done, they had a chainsaw.
SAGAL: Did they really? Was it one of those steel chain saws and (vocalizing).
TAMBOR: I don't know, but the guy had a mask over his face. It was very odd.
BURKE: Was it like the MRI of the time...
BURKE: ...When, like, if you're really fancy, you could afford the chainsaw?
SAGAL: Next - that was very good. You got that. Next question - lumber camps were pretty boring back in the day, so lumberjacks used to enjoy telling stories about fearsome creatures who lived in the woods and preyed on lumberjacks. They included which of these? The ear lamprey, a creature that lived on human earwax...
SAGAL: ...B, the Dungarvan hooter, a creature that pounded lumberjacks into a gas and then inhaled them or C, the Tree Hugger, a leech-like beast that clamped onto trees and whined about rare birds?
TAMBOR: I'm going to go with B.
SAGAL: You're going with B - the Dungarvan hooter - hooger - the Dungarvan hooter? Yes, you're right. That is actually...
SAGAL: Apparently, the lumberjacks used to love sitting around inventing these creatures.
BURKE: Is that not a chair from Ikea?
OSWALT: The timber industry is creepy.
SAGAL: It really is. So last question, Jeffrey. In the early 19th century, American and Canadian lumberjacks actually fought a war over access to lumber in Maine. The Battle of Caribou, as it's called in the history books, between these two bands of lumberjacks ended when what happened? A, they looked at each other and said, what the hell are we doing? We're lumberjacks - and just got drunk; B, right before the battle, 14 different pairs of suspenders snapped at once, and the fallen pants prevented any fighting or C, both sides were scared off from the battle by a black bear.
OSWALT: Or D, they formed Mumford and Sons.
TAMBOR: I think I'm going to go with - hopefully, I think all people should just look at each other and say, what the hell are we doing?
SAGAL: I like that, but the answer was really the black bear.
SAGAL: They were all ready. They had their guns. They were going to fight each other. The black bear stumbled in, woke up from hibernation. Everybody went (screaming) and ran away.
SAGAL: End of the Battle of Caribou.
TAMBOR: Oh, darn.
SAGAL: Bill, how did Jeffrey Tambor do on our quiz?
SAGAL: Well, Jeffrey won - got two out of three right.
SAGAL: Congratulations, Jeffrey. Jeffrey Tambor's new memoir "Are You Anybody?" is available now, including at his own bookstore in Los Angeles. Jeffrey Tambor, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
SAGAL: In just a minute, we speak Shih Tzu in our Listener Limerick Challenge game. 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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