Ever since I can remember, I have spent Sundays at 11 o’clock in front of the radio listening to my favorite NPR show, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me. Every week, a panel of comedians and listener contestants are quizzed and plays games on the week’s news. They say a magician never reveals their secrets, but if you have ever wondered how I know so many random things going on in the country, my secret is out.
I can’t remember a time that I didn’t dream about being one of those listener contestants. All I wanted was to win the coveted prize if you won the game, the panelist of your choice recording your outgoing voicemail. I just knew that one day Paula Poundstone would record my outgoing message. It was destiny.
And since college is a time of trying new things and reinventing yourself, I thought, “what’s stopping me? I’m 18! I have nothing to lose! Now is the time!” So, while my friends were going out, I was in my dorm room crafting voicemails trying to butter up the Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! staff in the hopes they would put me on the show.
Every week for a year I left a voicemail, and every week for a year I would not hear my voice on the radio winning the outgoing voicemail of my dreams.
In October, I was finally emotionally and physically ready to leave my last voicemail and give up. After multiple drafts, I had created my voicemail opus:
Hi! My name is Minnah Stein and I am calling from Tallahassee Florida.
I am 19 years old, and I have listened to Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! my whole life. I called every week last year to try and get on the show, but I was never picked. I really feel like you guys should hear from one of your only young listeners, so I just wanted to let you know that there are only 50 more years until I reach the age of your current average listener. You should act quickly if you want to reach a young listener in her prime; the clock is ticking.
It was foolproof. Comedy is the way into everyone’s heart, right? Now all I had to do was wait.
While having lunch one day, I got a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize from Chicago. I picked up expecting to tell a telemarketer never to call me again, but what I heard was the producer of Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me, Michael Doornbos, telling me he got my message (well actually all of my messages) and he wanted me to play “Who’s Bill This Time,” a game where Bill Kurtis does an impression of someone from the week’s news and I have to guess who said it or what it’s about.
I was thrilled, of course, but I immediately went into college student mode and treated this game like a test. I had three days before they recorded the episode, so I spent every free minute I had studying the news. I read every news article I could get my hands on, and when the fateful day came, I spent the morning calling my dad and having him quiz me.
So that night, I called into the show and since I was up first, I got to listen to the host, Peter Sagal, warm up the audience. He told the audience all about how the show runs, and how they produce it. And as he told them that over five million people listen to the show weekly, I realized I had greatly underestimated how nervous I was going to be. The show began and it was like I had never heard of the news or read an article before in my life. My mind was completely empty.
Bill did impressions and I was so nervous; I couldn’t remember who had said what. I panicked. I stammered and paused and got in my head. Thankfully the panelists were willing to help me. They gave me clues and support and eventually I got all the questions right.
I won the game; my dream had come true. So why did I feel so terrible?
I called my parents crying afterward. I was horrified that I wasn’t perfect, and I was sad this thing that I had anticipated for so long wasn’t exactly what I had wanted it to be. My parents assured me it couldn’t have been as bad as I thought it was, and I was overreacting. And soon I realized they were right. I put too much pressure on myself to be perfect and have the perfect story to tell instead of focus on having a good time. And when the episode did come out, I heard, thanks to the magic of editing, that it was not as bad as I had thought.
I learned a lot from my 9 minutes and 14 seconds of NPR celebrity. I learned that you can’t expect things to be exactly how you picture them or you will always be disappointed. You’ve just got to enjoy life’s great moments and have fun because living your dreams should be exciting, not stressful.
So, call me if you want. I won’t answer, but you can leave a message with Paula Poundstone.