PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where people who've done a lot of wonderful things get to do something else. It's called Not My Job. Tituss Burgess is one of those people who was famous before he got famous. It's just back in the day, he was only famous to the cool people. He was already a celebrated Broadway star when he was cast as Titus Andromedon, a role written just for him, in the "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." He's the host of a new singing competition show on Netflix, "Sing On!"
Tituss Burgess, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
TITUSS BURGESS: Well, thank you. And WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME how fabulous I am.
SAGAL: We shan't. We shan't. Now, I am told that you suffer from what I guess great actors like, say, Leonard Nimoy suffered from - is that people assume you are your character, or they assume that you are...
BURGESS: Oh, yeah. Sure. I mean, you know, I've often met people who are terribly let down and dissatisfied that...
SAGAL: Oh, really?
BURGESS: It's sad.
SAGAL: They're dissatisfied that you're not sort of loud and brash and fabulous and slightly crazy.
BURGESS: Yeah. I mean, like, honestly, guys - I hover at about 2 on a scale of 1 to 10. But look. I am so grateful. Call me Titus all day long...
BURGESS: ...If you want. You know, I wouldn't be here talking to you guys if it weren't for...
SAGAL: Yes, it's true.
BURGESS: ...That role.
SAGAL: I should point out that your name actually being Tituss, probably everybody calls you Tituss.
PJ O'ROURKE: Well, you know, I was just thinking about how tough that can be to separate the character from the person. I used to know a young woman who played a part on a daily soap opera. And she could not walk down a street in New York without all the women yelling at her, you've got to break up with that guy. He's a bum. You know, he's an absolute bum, and you're destroying your own marriage. And your husband's a really (laughter)...
BURGESS: People take it seriously. They really do. And, you know, aside from the minor inconveniences, you know, I guess it's something to celebrate - that they're that invested.
BURGESS: So, really, it's a good thing. So I'm grateful, all things aside.
SAGAL: One thing - you were nominated a whole bunch of times for an Emmy. You're up again, right, for...
BURGESS: This is my fifth nomination.
SAGAL: Yes. And finally...
O'ROURKE: Congratulations. That's great.
O'ROURKE: Thank you so much.
PAULA POUNDSTONE: So, wait, Tituss - the other four times that you were nominated, and you were in the audience - and did they have the camera right in your face when they...
O'ROURKE: Oh, yes, they did.
POUNDSTONE: ...Say - yeah, and then what did you do?
SAGAL: Did you practice your look?
SAGAL: I've always wondered about that.
BURGESS: (Snorting) No.
BURGESS: But I - what I will say - you know, it is a little uncomfortable knowing that they are waiting for your reaction one way...
BURGESS: ...Or the other. But I've been so lucky to be in the company of such brilliant actors. And just the acknowledgment - I can hang onto that for years to come, so that's all good.
SAGAL: You are...
POUNDSTONE: OK. But - all right. But you still have to still have a little bit of disappointment.
SAGAL: He's not going to...
POUNDSTONE: If you don't express that disappointment on the screen, that's what the casting directors are looking at. They're going, that guy's amazing. You'd never know what he's really thinking.
SAGAL: They want someone who can emote.
BURGESS: (Laughter) Six years ago, you all had no idea who I was.
POUNDSTONE: He's auditioning right now.
SAGAL: Do you - and do you have a speech ready if...
BURGESS: Do I have a speech ready? No.
SAGAL: I think Paula has one that she'd like to give in case...
BURGESS: I'm sure she does.
BURGESS: I'm sure she does. She's, like, give me this (unintelligible).
SAGAL: I want to talk about your new show, also on Netflix...
BURGESS: Wait a minute.
SAGAL: ..."Sing On!" - what?
BURGESS: Did you say Paula Poundstone?
SAGAL: Wait a minute. You just figured out that's Paula Poundstone?
BURGESS: I'm obsessed with you. I - pardon me for not doing my homework. I didn't realize you were part of this. You are so...
POUNDSTONE: I'm part of this.
BURGESS: I - honestly, sister, I just - I'm such a big fan of your work.
POUNDSTONE: That's very sweet of you. Well, thank you very much. That's nice to hear.
BURGESS: Like, truly. And so I'm so honored and also embarrassed that I didn't know you were you. But...
POUNDSTONE: You know what? No one else could be me. They'd crack like a ripe melon.
BURGESS: I - for real.
SAGAL: That's - I just - I love that.
SAGAL: I love - yeah, we're kind of amazed that she hangs out with us, too, Tituss, just so you know. So I don't...
POUNDSTONE: No, I'm very lucky to get to hang out with them.
SAGAL: So let's talk about your new show on Netflix. It's called "Sing On!" It is something that I thought should have happened years ago - is a karaoke competition show. One of the things I wonder about being the host of a reality show is it must be hard sometimes to tell people they're done, to send them home. Is that tough? You seem like a very nice man.
SAGAL: Well, they don't technically go home, but they're out of the competition.
BURGESS: Sure. Is it hard?
POUNDSTONE: It's "Hunger Games," Tituss. It's "Hunger Games."
SAGAL: Well, they're not killing each other.
BURGESS: May the best man or woman sing.
SAGAL: Do you...
O'ROURKE: Tituss, are they sober?
O'ROURKE: Because I don't know about the rest of you folks up on the screen, but I've never sung karaoke sober.
BURGESS: Do you know what's funny?
BURGESS: I despise karaoke.
SAGAL: I was going to ask you.
BURGESS: I'm sure (unintelligible).
SAGAL: I don't know if professional singers like karaoke, but I just maybe assumed that you liked it because you're doing a show all about it. But you don't like karaoke.
BURGESS: I've spent all of my professional life being paid large sum of monies (laughter) to sing. And so...
BURGESS: The thought to go to a club and...
SAGAL: I mean, if you're a professional-quality singer, it must be tempting every now and then to just walk into some karaoke bar and just blow everybody away...
BURGESS: No, that's just like asking a surgeon, every time you walk by a hospital, are you tempted to go in and, like...
SAGAL: Tituss Burgess, it has been a joy to talk to you. We could do it all day, but we have work to do. We have invited you here to play a game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: Give Me A Break.
SAGAL: So you starred on the "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."
BURGESS: Yes, sir.
SAGAL: So what do you know about breakable things? We're going to ask you three questions about stuff that is fragile. Get two right, you'll win our prize one of our listeners. Bill, who is Tituss Burgess playing for?
KURTIS: Matt Roberts (ph) of St. Paul, Minn.
SAGAL: All right. You ready for this?
BURGESS: Sure. All right. Here we go.
SAGAL: First question - a modern work of art was destroyed by a visitor to a museum in Germany a few years ago. That happens. But in this case, she had an excuse. What was it? A, the artwork, a glass vase, happened to be right next to another artwork, which was a hammer; B, the artwork was a half-filled crossword puzzle complete with pen, so she naturally filled it in; or C, the painting was of her ex, and as she put it, I guess I wasn't over her?
SAGAL: C is the most dramatic. I'll grant you that.
BURGESS: Can I change my answer?
SAGAL: You may. I haven't called it yet.
SAGAL: Choose the one you love. No. That would be great. It was actually a half-filled crossword puzzle. It was a bit of abstract art, and it'd been hanging there unfinished since 1965. And she was, like, well, I'll fix that.
SAGAL: All right. You still have two more chances.
BURGESS: All right.
SAGAL: It's not a problem. Something turned out to be quite breakable at the grand opening of the Ottawa International Airport in Canada when which of these happened? A, after the first passenger stepped on one, the moving sidewalks all had to be relabeled just regular sidewalks; B, the windows all shattered during a celebratory flyby of jets, delaying one terminal's opening by another year; or C, their decision to use drug-sniffing cats instead of dogs resulted in the destruction of all the furniture in Terminal B?
BURGESS: That's the funniest answer, so let's go with that - the last one.
SAGAL: I admire your spirit here.
SAGAL: I admire your flair for drama and entertainment. But I'm just going to ask you, are you sure?
BURGESS: I'm sure.
SAGAL: All right. So your choice is these drug-sniffing cats.
BURGESS: Yeah. Sure.
SAGAL: No. It was actually the windows shattering. Apparently, they didn't check to see if the windows could withstand the sound of a jet going by at an airport. All right. You have one more question. It's from the theater, so you might go for this.
SAGAL: The Greek playwright Aeschylus proved a little too breakable personally when he died after which of these happened? A, a passing bird mistook his bald head for a rock and dropped a turtle on it; B, he didn't survive the Greek opening night tradition of someone breaking a bottle of wine over the head of the playwright; or C, he was rightfully stoned to death after proposing the first-ever jukebox musical.
BURGESS: What would a jukebox musical have looked like back then?
SAGAL: (Laughter) They didn't even have jukeboxes in ancient Greece. What are we talking about?
O'ROURKE: Oh, they may have just put a bunch of musicians in a box.
BURGESS: Well, jukebox isn't a literal translation. It's about the anthology, not...
SAGAL: Yeah. Or if - I guess in, like, ancient Greece, a guy was sitting in the corner with a lyre, and you'd go over, and you'd give him a quarter...
SAGAL: ...And ask him to play something. So I guess it could work.
BURGESS: What was the one about surviving the bottle of wine? I think I'm going to choose that.
SAGAL: Yeah. He didn't survive the classical Greek opening night tradition, where you smash a bottle of wine over the head of the playwright.
BURGESS: That sounds plausible. Let's use that.
SAGAL: I love that especially because, of course, they didn't have bottles. They had clay vases.
BURGESS: How dare you.
SAGAL: I know.
SAGAL: But actually, the answer was...
BURGESS: Once again, you've lied.
SAGAL: The answer was A. A - this is apparently true, theater legend - a bird was flying by with a turtle, thought it could drop it on a rock to smash open the turtle. Turned out it was Aeschylus.
BURGESS: Birds don't carry turtles. This is also a lie.
BURGESS: You have completely...
SAGAL: I know. It's terrible. It's a terrible repayment for the enjoyment you've given me. But nonetheless, that's what happened. Bill, how did Tituss Burgess do on our show?
BURGESS: ...There's a right and wrong answer.
KURTIS: Let's put it this way. Tituss, you did it so stylishly, you are a winner.
SAGAL: There you go.
BURGESS: Come on.
SAGAL: Winning on style points is, I think, more impressive than doing it the other way. Tituss Burgess, good luck this weekend at the Emmys. Tituss Burgess is nominated for best supporting actor in a limited series at this year's Emmys. You can also catch him as the host of "Sing On!" available on Netflix right now.
Tituss Burgess, thank you so much for joining us. And thank you for all the great stuff you've done. It was a joy.
BURGESS: This was so much fun.
POUNDSTONE: Thanks, Tituss.
KURTIS: Yeah, thanks, Tituss.
BURGESS: Bye, you guys.
POUNDSTONE: Bye-bye. Nice meeting you.
SAGAL: Bye-bye, Tituss. Thanks again.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT MAIN THEME")
JEFF RICHMOND: (Singing) Unbreakable. They're alive, damn it. It's a miracle. Unbreakable. They're alive, damn it. But females are strong...
SAGAL: In just a minute, bring your dipping sauces to our Listener Limerick Challenge. 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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