Elaine Welteroth Plays 'Not My Job' On 'Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me' When Elaine Welteroth was a little kid (in the '90s) she and her friends created their own fashion magazine — and the experience paid off. She went on to become editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue.
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Not My Job: We Quiz 'Teen Vogue' Editor Elaine Welteroth On 'AARP The Magazine'

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Not My Job: We Quiz 'Teen Vogue' Editor Elaine Welteroth On 'AARP The Magazine'

Not My Job: We Quiz 'Teen Vogue' Editor Elaine Welteroth On 'AARP The Magazine'

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PETER SAGAL, HOST:

And now the game where smart people get asked about dumb things. It's called Not My Job. When Elaine Welteroth was a little kid - and I stress this was in the 1990s - she and her friends created their own fashion magazine. It was her obsession, and she got to pursue that obsession for a living when she became the youngest editor ever at Conde Nast and the first African American editor at Teen Vogue. Now she's a judge on "Project Runway." She has a new memoir out.

Elaine Welteroth, welcome to WAIT, WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

(APPLAUSE)

ELAINE WELTEROTH: Thanks for having me.

SAGAL: I usually ask people where they are, but I'll ask you 'cause of your business - who are you wearing?

WELTEROTH: (Laughter) Well, now I am in my high school sweatshirt that I designed when I was class president senior year.

ROXANNE ROBERTS: Wow.

SAGAL: Oh, my gosh.

WELTEROTH: Yeah, it's pretty embarrassing. Yeah.

PAULA POUNDSTONE: Why is that embarrassing? That's so cool.

WELTEROTH: Seniors in Wonderland - and it was inspired by "Alice In Wonderland."

SAGAL: Oh, this was, like, a theme - like, your prom theme or something like that.

WELTEROTH: It was our spirit week theme.

SAGAL: Oh, wow.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I was really interested to read in your memoir that this is what you've always wanted to do. When you were a little girl, you were really into fashion and fashion magazines. Is that the case?

WELTEROTH: That's true. I was raised in a very small town far, far away from the fashion world, and I think I was just intrigued by the fantasy that the fashion world represented. I just absorbed my mom's magazines every month when they came in the mail before she got to read them.

Then I decided, when I was a little kid in fourth grade, to make my own. And so I drew pictures of fashionable women on construction paper, and then I proceeded to wrap the construction paper in Saran wrap for the glossy feel.

SAGAL: Oh, really? So that was your magazine - make the glossy paper.

WELTEROTH: Yes.

SAGAL: OK. That's cool. Were you always on the cover, just like Oprah and her magazine?

WELTEROTH: No, no, no, no.

SAGAL: You became the editor of Teen Vogue at, like, the age of 27.

WELTEROTH: Twenty-nine, but yes.

SAGAL: Twenty-nine, excuse me. Yes. OK. And Teen Vogue a few years ago - I mean, all of a sudden, it seemed to go from, like, oh, how to impress your boyfriend with makeup, to, how to seize the means of production. It was - it seemed like a really fascinating transformation.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: And did you guys get any pushback on that when you were writing about politics and issues of culture and stuff like that, rather than, you know, prom dresses and such?

WELTEROTH: Of course we did. But you know, those weren't the people we were catering to. I think anytime you're going through a transformation of sorts, you're pretty much prepared to lose some folks who were the loyalists that were coming to the magazine for just that one thing you used to be. So...

SAGAL: Did you get pushback from Conde Nast when you put Bernie Sanders on the cover?

WELTEROTH: I did not put Bernie Sanders on the cover.

SAGAL: Oh.

WELTEROTH: I put Hillary Clinton on the cover. And I'll have you know that Anna Wintour is very good friends with Hillary, and she was very supportive of that decision, thankfully.

SAGAL: You mentioned Anna Wintour. She, of course, is the infamous, I'll say, editor of Vogue. So she sounds like...

POUNDSTONE: Isn't she what - the - is she...

SAGAL: "Devil Wears Prada."

POUNDSTONE: ..."The Devil Wears Prada"?

SAGAL: Yeah.

WELTEROTH: (Laughter).

SAGAL: You said you had seen "The Devil Wears Prada." This is, like, this huge novel and then a movie.

WELTEROTH: Of course.

SAGAL: It's like - were you intimidated, or were you like, yes, I want to be that person?

WELTEROTH: Of course I was intimidated. I - when I saw that movie, I had no intention on working for Vogue. I never thought I would - you know, that I would have the opportunity to. So, of course, when I did get that job, I was incredibly intimidated. And then I got there, and I realized, you know what? Everybody is just a human being just like me. And...

SAGAL: Did you feel...

WELTEROTH: ...They were kinder than I expected. I actually think that people at Vogue got a bad rap on that film. And it - they weren't all devils in Prada. They were in Prada, though.

SAGAL: Did you feel obligation, though, as editor of a Vogue magazine to occasionally destroy someone's life just to keep up the image?

WELTEROTH: (Laughter) I did not. No comment.

POUNDSTONE: Did you say that before you were the editor, you were the beauty director?

WELTEROTH: Yes, that's right.

POUNDSTONE: What does that mean? Like, what would be your role? What would be your chores? Like, you went in at 9 o'clock and you did what to direct the beauty?

(LAUGHTER)

WELTEROTH: Well, in every magazine, there are different sections. And obviously, there's the beauty and health section that was my, you know, piece of the pie. And so we would write feature-length stories about all things beauty. And yeah, there were definitely perks of the job. I had a beauty closet which, you know, had friends come and indulge in. They would dive in there and, you know...

SAGAL: I'm sorry. Forgive my ignorance.

WELTEROTH: I was the girl with the best Christmas gifts for my family for a number of years. I'll just say that.

SAGAL: What is inside your beauty closet?

WELTEROTH: Everything - shampoo, conditioner, body wash, expensive lotions, anti-aging cream...

ROBERTS: Mascara.

WELTEROTH: ...Sunscreen...

ROBERTS: Lipstick.

WELTEROTH: ...Hair color, lipstick.

POUNDSTONE: You had anti-aging cream?

WELTEROTH: People sent me everything. You'd be surprised.

POUNDSTONE: Did you use the anti-aging cream?

(LAUGHTER)

WELTEROTH: How do you think I look this good? No.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: There you go. Are you enjoying being on "Project Runway"?

WELTEROTH: Oh, my God. I love being on "Project Runway." It is so much fun.

SAGAL: I used to watch that many years ago with my daughters. But are you, like, a mean judge or a nice judge?

WELTEROTH: I'm a keep-it-real judge (laughter).

SAGAL: What does that mean?

JOEL KIM BOOSTER: I've seen it. I've seen the show, Peter.

SAGAL: Yeah.

BOOSTER: And it means that she's vicious...

(LAUGHTER)

BOOSTER: ...When - no, no, no. She's great. She's really nice. But then - unless you're bad, and then she tells you the truth.

WELTEROTH: And then I just tell you like it is.

SAGAL: What's the most cutting thing you've ever said to an aspiring designer?

WELTEROTH: Oh, my God. Someone needs to check my receipts on this. I usually block it all out. I don't know. I'd have to think about it, but I think I've just been very direct in saying that, you might like that; I do not. And in terms of this competition, you're out.

SAGAL: If you can't remember the meanest thing you said, can you remember the strangest thing you saw on the runway?

WELTEROTH: I remember some pasties that looked a lot more...

ROBERTS: Oh, God. Yeah, those were awful.

WELTEROTH: ...Like - do you know what I'm talking about?

ROBERTS: Yes.

SAGAL: I'm sorry - pasties?

WELTEROTH: Lime green pasties...

BOOSTER: I loved the pasties.

SAGAL: Wait a minute. Hold on. Hold on. Hey - pasties...

ROBERTS: Yes, pasties.

SAGAL: ...Like strippers wear in, like, 1950s movies?

POUNDSTONE: Like tassels, yes.

SAGAL: Yes.

POUNDSTONE: Nipple tassels.

SAGAL: Somebody sent a model out on "Project Runway" wearing pasties?

BOOSTER: Yep.

ROBERTS: Yep.

WELTEROTH: Lime-green ones.

SAGAL: Whoa.

WELTEROTH: They looked like lime-green pepperoni slices.

SAGAL: There were - are you sure they weren't actually lime slices? I mean - and what did you say to the designer who sent out an otherwise - wearing lime-green pasties?

WELTEROTH: I think, actually, Brandon Maxwell took this one. And I think he said, why, girl?

(LAUGHTER)

BOOSTER: I think you said, you're lucky you're safe this week and can't be eliminated.

WELTEROTH: Oh, wow. We have a real "Project Runway"...

SAGAL: Woah. Joel, you are a fan.

BOOSTER: Yeah.

WELTEROTH: ...Aficionado.

BOOSTER: I - you know, I am deeply depressed and don't have a lot of time, so I just sit at home and watch reality shows.

SAGAL: Well, welcome to the show, Elaine. We're delighted to have you here. And we have asked you to play a game we're calling...

BILL KURTIS: Teen Vogue, Meet Old Vogue.

WELTEROTH: Oh, my God. I'm scared.

SAGAL: So you edited Teen Vogue, so we thought we'd ask you about a magazine with a very different demographic - the magazine of the AARP.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Answer two out of three questions right, and you'll win our prize, the voice of your choice on your voicemail for one of our listeners.

Bill, who is Elaine Welteroth playing for?

KURTIS: Mary Ann Bishop of Cordova, Alaska.

SAGAL: All right. You ready to play, Elaine?

WELTEROTH: Let's do it. I'm scared.

SAGAL: First question - the AARP magazine has what important distinction? A, it is the only magazine ever to feature Larry King on its cover 14 times; B, it is the most popular magazine in America; or C, it invented the centerfold.

WELTEROTH: I think B.

SAGAL: B, it is the most popular magazine in America. And you are correct.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: It is the most popular magazine in America. Every member of the AARP gets it. That's millions and millions of people. Next question.

WELTEROTH: I know my magazines.

SAGAL: You do. The editor in chief of AARP The Magazine has a resume perfect for his current job. It includes which of these? A, he edited Hunter S. - excuse me. Excuse me.

(LAUGHTER)

WELTEROTH: You all right?

SAGAL: There is a streak of cruelty in your judging.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Just sneezing. All right. Among his qualifications to edit AARP The Magazine is which of these? A, editing Hunter S. Thompson for Rolling Stone magazine for 20 years; B, 14 years working as a senior health aide; or C, he is 37 years old, and he's married to Claire Bloom, 88.

WELTEROTH: Oh, my God. It better not be the last one.

SAGAL: Why not?

WELTEROTH: 'Cause he's not even old enough to get the magazine at 37.

(LAUGHTER)

WELTEROTH: OK, I think it's A. I think it's...

SAGAL: You're right.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: Robert Love worked at Rolling Stone for 20 years. He edited Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe and P.J. O'Rourke. Last question. AARP The Magazine features a lot of articles about health for seniors, including which of these? A, going to bed at 7:00 is the new black; B, why you are suddenly hairy there; or C, interview with a prostate, the misunderstood gland.

(LAUGHTER)

WELTEROTH: All right, guys. I'm calling on my panelists here - I mean, my panel here because it's either B or C, I think. What do you guys think?

SAGAL: So just to - B was, why you're suddenly hairy there, and C is, interview with a prostate, the misunderstood gland.

ROBERTS: I think it's B because I think the staff guys liked to say the misunderstood prostate.

POUNDSTONE: That would be C.

WELTEROTH: All right. This is going to be tough, but I'm going to go with B.

SAGAL: B, why you're suddenly hairy there - no, the answer is, interview with a prostate, the misunderstood gland.

BOOSTER: No.

WELTEROTH: No.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: If you're wondering what the prostate says, it says, and I quote, "I'm a prostate, and I live alone just in front of Joe's rectum. What's to know?"

WELTEROTH: Oh, God.

SAGAL: He's a talkative little prostate. Bill, how did Elaine do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Two out of three - Elaine, you won.

SAGAL: Congratulations.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Elaine Welteroth is a judge right now in the new season of "Project Runway." Her new book, "More Than Enough," is available now.

Elaine Welteroth, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT, WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

(CHEERING)

ROBERTS: Bye, Elaine.

WELTEROTH: Thank you. I had so much fun with you guys.

SAGAL: Bye, bye now.

ROBERTS: Bye. Thank you.

WELTEROTH: Bye, bye. Take care.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VOGUE")

MADONNA: (Singing) Strike a pose.

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