Character Reference Actors Jane Levy and Alex Newell, from NBC's Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, try to guess well-known characters based on how they're described in books.

Character Reference

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JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: From NPR and WNYC, coming to you from our respective homes in beautiful Brooklyn, N.Y., it's NPR's hour of puzzles word games and cocktails to go, ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.


EISENBERG: You know, that is so - what a great hello that is. That makes me feel...

COULTON: It's a nice way to start a conversation.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Exactly. How's it going, Jonathan?

COULTON: I've just turned the fan off in my office, so that we can record, which means we are counting down to the point when my body temperature goes past 105 and I pass out.

EISENBERG: I know. This room too is like freezing with the conditioning on. And you turn it off, and five minutes later you are basically able to bake sourdough bread in here.

COULTON: Yes. And, you know, I have ways of cooling - fans, air conditioners - can't use them while recording.


COULTON: Also, I have to keep the door closed in this room because let's just say I...

EISENBERG: A feral cat.

COULTON: ...Have a feral cat living in my office right now. So I can't have the door open even.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

COULTON: Oh, do you hear that meowing?

COULTON: Yeah. That's the meowing of your feral cat.


COULTON: Yeah. There he is. That's Betsy (ph).

EISENBERG: Betsy sounds OK.


COULTON: He's - right. Right now, he's at the window. And he's meowing. I think what he's saying is, help. I'm up here. Guys, I'm up here.

EISENBERG: To all the other feral cats? Maybe he's saying, free food in here. Free food in here.

COULTON: (Laughter) It's really awesome in here. You just sleep all day and eat food. I love it. But yeah, he's doing great. As you know, I have started taking care of the feral cats in my backyard.

EISENBERG: But the feral cats are now not in a crate. They are not in a basement. They don't have a towel over them. They are roaming freely in your recording studio.

COULTON: That's right. One has a skin condition and is staying with me a while until the skin condition is solved.

EISENBERG: And it may not be solved.

COULTON: I don't know. It may not be solved. I'm not sure what's going to happen. Maybe he's going to be an indoor cat who meows at the window.

EISENBERG: Your indoor cat. Let's make it personal. It's not an indoor cat. It's your indoor cat.

COULTON: You notice that I'm talking around it. I'm trying not to say it because I've become too attached to this cat...

EISENBERG: Well, yeah because...

COULTON: ...Who does not love me in any way.

EISENBERG: Well, the cat does deep, deep, deep, deep, deep in its feral mind and heart.


EISENBERG: (Laughter).

COULTON: Can you see Betsy back there? He's over by the radiator. Watch. I taught him a trick. Betsy. Betsy. See? I do that, he looks at me.


COULTON: It's amazing, right?

EISENBERG: It's really cute. A loud noise and a head turns - that is a trick.

COULTON: He thinks it's a predator, so he looks up.

EISENBERG: Yeah, that's like the first sign of, like, threat approaching.

COULTON: (Laughter) I make that noise and he's like, ugh (ph), this idiot again.

EISENBERG: Once again, we have nothing but show for you. From the Netflix series "Working Moms," we have the show's creators and stars Catherine Reitman and Philip Sternberg. Then we talked to a longtime friend of mine, comedian Baron Vaughn. And he shares with us his innermost thoughts on who would be a better roommate, The Hulk or Wolverine.

But first, we're going to things going with Alex Newell and Jane Levy from the NBC musical dramedy "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist." The show was about a woman who discovers she has the ability to hear people's thoughts as songs, so everyone on the show is a triple threat. They can act, sing and dance. But, Jonathan, can they waltz their way through an ASK ME ANOTHER trivia game?

COULTON: I hope so. You know, I always thought triple threat was acting, singing and trivia. But you say it's acting, singing and dancing. Interesting.

EISENBERG: You know what? Maybe it is. Maybe trivia is just woven in there, you know.

COULTON: I guess we'll find out.


EISENBERG: And like magic, here they are. Jane Levy, Alex Newell, thank you so much for being part of ASK ME ANOTHER.

ALEX NEWELL: Thanks for having us.

EISENBERG: I have been, you know, watching "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist." OK. Now, I know that some of the cast are professional singers and dancers like you, Alex. But the show features a lot of choreography that I assume you don't get a lot of time to learn. What was that like for you, Jane?

JANE LEVY: Yeah. There's an array of experience throughout the cast. Alex Newell comes in and just does one kick and is like, I learned it, it's fine.


LEVY: And then there's some of us who get eight rehearsals because it's a lot harder.


NEWELL: I do learn - I have learned a music number the day of, but Jane has as well.

LEVY: Well, yeah. But mine are usually, you know, my character's in every single dance - every musical number because it comes through her super power. But most of my choreography, if you want to call it that, in those numbers are just me like walking in a straight line. So I can learn those on the day.


EISENBERG: But wait a second. You have a dance background, don't you, Jane?

LEVY: I danced as a kid, yeah.

EISENBERG: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So you don't - you're not afraid of it.

LEVY: No, I love it. I'm much more afraid of singing. Singing is really difficult for me. But...

NEWELL: She nails it every time. That's what she meant after the but. But I nail it every time. Period.

LEVY: Wow. Thanks, Alex. But dancing is just fun. And I care less about being good at it.

EISENBERG: Right. Yeah. Because you can move, and that's the most important thing. It's the rest of us who are - when you start dancing, people are like, oh, no, no. I don't think that's good.


NEWELL: I mean, but her dancing - like, when we did the opening of the second episode, when she was, like, taking stairs, they were, like nothing.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

NEWELL: Like, dancing and jumping down, like, three, five steps.

LEVY: That's when I was in shape. Those were the days.


EISENBERG: So we have a couple great games for you. Let's play some games.

NEWELL: Yas (ph).

EISENBERG: OK. So this first one, you're going to be playing against each other. We're going to go back and forth. This is a game about characters. Every answer in this game is a famous character. Jonathan and I are going to read you an excerpt of how the author described the character, and you just have to guess who is being described...

LEVY: Great.

EISENBERG: ...OK? So, Alex, we'll start with you.


EISENBERG: Here you go. Her stepsisters ridiculed her and scattered peas...

NEWELL: "Cinderella."

EISENBERG: Yeah. Stepsisters, right? How many could there be?


EISENBERG: So, you know, honestly, I just - I want you to read the rest of it...

NEWELL: Yeah, yeah.

EISENBERG: ...Just for our listeners...

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: ...And also because I did not I - when I heard this description, I had never heard this particular version...


EISENBERG: ...That her stepsisters ridiculed her and scattered peas and lentils into the ashes.

NEWELL: Ashes.

EISENBERG: And she had to spend the whole day sorting them out. And at night, she was so tired. There was no bed for her to sleep in, but she had to lie down next to the hearth in the ashes - peas and lentils in the ashes.

NEWELL: Yeah. It's the Brothers Grimm version of it.

EISENBERG: Hey, you're right. You're right twice.

NEWELL: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: You're right multiple times.

LEVY: I knew you were going to be good at this game.

NEWELL: Oh. No, stop it. No, but I really knew that one because it is - you know, the musical theater nerd that I am...


NEWELL: ...It is what happens at the beginning of the musical with Cinderella's character. If you want to go to the ball, I have placed all these lentils in the ashes. Pick them out, and then you can go to the ball. And then once she does it, they're like, well, you're dirty, so now you can't.

LEVY: Evil.


NEWELL: Yeah. And then in that story, there - her stepsisters get their eyes poked out by crows.

LEVY: Really?


COULTON: (Laughter) You got to love the Brothers Grimm.

NEWELL: (Laughter).

COULTON: They really did not pull any punches.


NEWELL: They're like karma - great way to end it.

COULTON: (Laughter) All right, Jane. This one is for you. He was wearing a baggy silk suit with great big orange buttons. A bright tie, electric blue, flopped down his front, and on his hands were big white gloves, like the kind Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck always wore.

LEVY: Is he a clown?

COULTON: He is a clown, and not a very nice one.

LEVY: Oh, clown - not a nice clown. It?

COULTON: It is from "It."


COULTON: Do you remember the name of the clown in "It"? Yeah.

LEVY: Pennywise (laughter).

COULTON: Pennywise. Yeah, you got it.

EISENBERG: Yeah. Yeah.

COULTON: Technically, Pennywise and It are kind of the same thing, referred to as It.


COULTON: But, yes.

EISENBERG: That's right.

COULTON: You had it.

EISENBERG: You know, if a clown came out of our sewers right now, I'd be like, yeah, all right.


COULTON: Yeah, not surprised.

NEWELL: I'd be like, wow, on brand, on brand (laughter).

EISENBERG: Yeah. Exactly.

COULTON: Yeah, 2020 continues.

EISENBERG: To 2020 - yeah. Exactly.


EISENBERG: All right. Alex, this is the last one for you. I swing my legs off the bed and slide into my hunting boots. I pull on trousers, a shirt, tuck in my long, dark braid up into my cap and grab my forage bag. On the table under a wooden bowl to protect it from hungry rats and cats alike sits a perfect little goat cheese wrapped in basil leaves - Prim's gift to me on reaping day.

NEWELL: Katniss Everdeen.

EISENBERG: Exactly, "The Hunger Games."

LEVY: Wow.


EISENBERG: That is right.

LEVY: Nailed it.

COULTON: No hesitation.

NEWELL: You got me at Prim. I knew at Prim.

EISENBERG: I know. Before that, it just sounds like the opening paragraph to, like, Cheese Monthly magazine, or something like that.



NEWELL: I was like, why cheese with rats? What are you talking about?

EISENBERG: I don't know why. I mean, fantastic, but what?

LEVY: I had an audition for Katniss Everdeen.



LEVY: And it was awful. And...

COULTON: Oh, no.


LEVY: ...The casting director handed me a bow and arrow.


COULTON: Just to see if you and the bow and arrow have chemistry.

LEVY: Yeah.


EISENBERG: Was that at the beginning of the audition, or were you sort of a little bit into it and they were like, OK, wait, wait, wait, here you go? Here's...

LEVY: It was towards the end after - while I was doing the audition, I don't believe the casting director looked at me once.



COULTON: Jeez. That's the worst.

NEWELL: That's just someone poking fun. My God.


LEVY: Yeah. Actually, you're probably right.


COULTON: All right, Jane. This last one is for you. It could be as head wasn't screwed on just right. It could be perhaps that his shoes were too tight. But I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

LEVY: The Tin Man? The lion.

COULTON: (Laughter).

LEVY: I'm thinking of "The Wizard Of Oz."


COULTON: That was a fine guess. This is another holiday-related literature.

LEVY: Alex, you look like you know it.


LEVY: Crap. OK.

COULTON: You probably...

NEWELL: You know it.

COULTON: ...You probably know it more as a cartoon...

EISENBERG: He's very green.

COULTON: ...Than you know it as literature.


COULTON: Yeah. And the character is green.

LEVY: Oh, the Grinch.



COULTON: The Grinch. That's right.

LEVY: The Grinch who stole Christmas.


COULTON: That's correct.

EISENBERG: And then his heart grew. Remember that?

NEWELL: Ten times the size.

EISENBERG: Because, you know, maybe he was angry before because his heart was two sizes too small because he didn't have - he had like a heart condition, and he didn't have, you know, socialized medicine to deal with it.


EISENBERG: But then later in the story, they got it.

NEWELL: Xanax proves to help a lot.


LEVY: We should have just given the Grinch Xanax.

NEWELL: Here take this, sweetie.

EISENBERG: Right from the beginning.

NEWELL: Just take this, sweetie. You'll be so much happier.


EISENBERG: I would like to read the "Grinch Who Stole Xanax."

NEWELL: I'm writing it currently.


EISENBERG: Yes, you should. Just a sweep of our game. Both are obviously very smart, well-versed, well-read, and you did fantastic.

Coming up, we have spousetestants (ph), Catherine Reitman and Philip Sternberg from the Netflix series "Workin' Moms."

I'm Ophira Eisenberg, and this is ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR.


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