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Not My Job: We Ask Singer Cyndi Lauper 3 Questions About The Titanic

BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz. Had enough turkey yet? Gobble gob-Bill.


KURTIS: I'm Bill Kurtis. And here's your host at the Chase Bank Auditorium in Chicago, Peter Sagal.


Thank you, Bill.


SAGAL: Thanks, everybody. You guys are great. Thank you so much. It's that time of year where we stop, take some time and reflect on all the good things that have happened in the past year. And that's what we're going to do this hour.

KURTIS: And if any of that happens, we'll ask you about it on next week's WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.


SAGAL: No, no, actually - Bill, no. I understand. But we actually have enough things to be thankful for to fill this whole show.

KURTIS: My bad. Sorry, Peter.

SAGAL: We're definitely grateful, for example, that the amazing Cyndi Lauper joined us on the show back in May. I asked her about her upbringing in the Bronx.


CYNDI LAUPER: Yes, Ozone Park. But actually, that's not where it started. It started in Williamsburg. But actually, I was born in Astoria from a cab ride, which I was almost in a cab, like, you know.

SAGAL: You were born in - you're one of those stories - you were almost born in a cab.

LAUPER: Yeah. And I'll tell you, I ain't been right ever since.


SAGAL: And how did you get into music initially? What were your first jobs when you were getting started?

LAUPER: Well, I was the hot walker at Belmont.

SAGAL: You were a what?

LAUPER: A hot walker.

SAGAL: What is a hot...

LAUPER: You walk the horses. You walk the horses when they're hot. You got to get there really early, though. That's really tough, you know, 'cause you're up at 4 a.m., you know. I used to - you know, I had run away to Long Island because I lived in the city, and I thought I was missing something in suburbia.

SAGAL: (Laughter) I'm sorry.

LAUPER: So I ran away to suburbia. And then I realized, hey, what the heck am I doing here, you know?


LAUPER: And then I was going to be a painter, so I went to Canada to the Algonquin Provincial Park, and I did a tree study. I just drew trees. And then unfortunately, I went with my dog at the height of the black fly season, so that kind of didn't work out very well.


SAGAL: Wait a minute. You decided - you're living in suburbia, this is a mistake. You said, I know, I'm going to go to Canada to be an artist and draw trees.


LAUPER: Yes. Yes.

SAGAL: But you brought your dog, and it was black fly season, and everybody knows that's a mistake.


LAUPER: Yeah, that was a mistake - big mistake. We were all bitten up - both of us.

SAGAL: No, it's terrible. So...

LAUPER: Yeah, it was.

SAGAL: ...I guess, really, just pop stardom was a last resort for you.


SAGAL: That's...

LAUPER: Well, I had a lot of jobs. I was even a gal, Friday the 13th. And I...

SAGAL: A what? A gal, Friday the 13th? What's that?

LAUPER: Yeah. Well, it's a gal, Friday, who's really horrible at her job.


SAGAL: So, I mean, I'm really beginning - all right, so you did all this. How did you get from sitting in a Canadian park being bitten by flies...


SAGAL: ...To being one of the most famous artists of the 1980s? How did that happen?

LAUPER: Gee, um...


LAUPER: Well, I - you know, after art college - because then I went to art college, and then I came back and joined a band and went on to auditions, and I joined a band. I was in a cover band for a long time. But I didn't do good in the cover bands because I drew all the people away from the bar. They weren't drinking. They were watching. And also, I moved around, they said, too much, like a boy. And they wanted to know why I couldn't stand still and just sing. You know, I tried it.

SAGAL: Yeah.

LAUPER: And I walked off the stage by accident. It was a small stage, not that high...


LAUPER: I had one foot off, one foot on - like, oh, man. Not working. Well, you know.


SAGAL: That could be a problem. I've got to ask you, back in the '80s, one of the things you were known for was, like, you were really into wrestling.

LAUPER: Yeah. I was a wrestling manager for a while. I was Captain Lou Albano...

SAGAL: Yeah. I remember this.

LAUPER: ...If you know who he was.

SAGAL: Did you - is there a story with him and your famous song "Girls Just Want To Have Fun," I'm told?

LAUPER: Oh. We had a fight, and I was on the Roddy Piper show - you know, "Piper's Pit"? And I was talking to Roddy, and all of a sudden, Lou came on, and he said - you know, he starts talking about women, you know, that we belong barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, and, you know, he was the one that did everything. But he started to say, like, real sexist stuff.

SAGAL: Yeah.

LAUPER: And I said, Lou, you're starting to make me angry, right? And then he wouldn't stop. And, you know, when you're hanging out with wrestlers, wrestlers have episodes, but if you hang out with them, sometimes you have an episode yourself. And I did.


SAGAL: This happens to me all the time, so...


SAGAL: Did you hit him with a folding chair? What did you do?

LAUPER: No. I turned over the table, and I pulled on his beard and hit him with my purse over the head.


SAGAL: Sounds like he deserved it.


SAGAL: Most people don't know this, but you, Cyndi Lauper, have won an Emmy for your performances on TV - "Mad About You" - a Grammy for your records, a Tony for "Kinky Boots."

LAUPER: "Kinky Boots."

SAGAL: How are you going to win your Oscar?

LAUPER: Yeah. Everybody says that. I'm going to have to now because, you know...

SAGAL: You are.


LAUPER: I got some time left. I am still above the grass, you know what I mean?

SAGAL: That's true.


SAGAL: Well, we think you'll do it. But in the meantime, Cyndi Lauper, it is a pleasure to talk to you. And we've invited you here to play a game we're calling...

KURTIS: I'm king of the world.


SAGAL: You wrote the show "Kinky Boots," and it just so happens if you take "Kinky Boots" and you change two letters, that makes Sinky Boats.


SAGAL: That's right. You probably saw this coming.


SAGAL: We're going to ask you about the most famous sinky boat of all time, the Titanic.

LAUPER: Oh, God.

SAGAL: Yes. Get two right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners - the voice of your choice on their voicemail. Bill, who is Cyndi Lauper playing for?

KURTIS: Allison Carter of Phoenix, Ariz.

SAGAL: All right. You ready to do this?

LAUPER: Allison, I'm going to do my best, hon. OK.

SAGAL: Here we go. Here's your first question. It's well-known that the musicians aboard the Titanic played on as the boat sank. To show their appreciation, the company that hired those musicians for the crews did which of these things? A, they created a special Music From the Titanic tour in which the band finished with "Nearer, My God, To Thee" and then were splashed with ice water; B, they created the first ever contract rider specifying that all the musicians, no matter where they played, on land or at sea, be provided with life jackets, or C, they billed the musicians' families for the cost of the uniforms that the musicians were wearing when they sunk?

LAUPER: Oh, my God. All right. Well, A sounds funny, but I think it's really B.

SAGAL: You think it's really B, they - the first ever contract rider?

LAUPER: Well, what else could they have done? They're not going to charge them for the uniforms. Come on. (Pause) They charged them for the - so I was wrong? It's not B?

SAGAL: Well, you haven't said anything yet, so.



SAGAL: It's C, yeah. They actually did that.


SAGAL: The father of one of the musicians got a letter asking him to pay the deposit on the uniform. He did not.


SAGAL: Your next question - the sinking of the Titanic led to safety improvements on future ships, as in which of these? A, the HMS Bannon installed a speaker at its bow that constantly played the message, out of the way, iceberg...


SAGAL: ...B, the SS Eastland added additional lifeboats, which made it top-heavy, and it eventually capsized as a result, or C, the SS Humphrey required all passengers to wear scuba gear at all times, just in case?


SAGAL: Yeah. It was the Eastland.


SAGAL: Happened here in Chicago. Bad idea, but it's the thought that counts.


SAGAL: Your last question is about the former SNL star Bill Hader. The Titanic played a significant role in his career. What was it? A, he auditioned for "Saturday Night Live" with his character, Blinky, the blind Titanic lookout...


LAUPER: That's pretty good. Wow.

SAGAL: ...B, a Titanic-obsessive, he only went into performing to earn enough money to buy an actual Titanic lifeboat oar, or C, he was fired from a movie theater in 1997 after he punished noisy patrons by going up to them and spoiling the ending of the movie "Titanic"?


LAUPER: Well, first of all, he could never have spoiled the ending because everybody knows the boat sank.


LAUPER: All right. So can you go over that one more time?

SAGAL: Yeah. OK, I'll go over it again. So that was the third one.

LAUPER: Yeah, I know.

SAGAL: My first one was he auditioned for Saturday - you know how you audition for "Saturday Night Live"? You present a character.

LAUPER: Yeah, yeah.

SAGAL: He presented the character of Blinky, the blind Titanic lookout.

LAUPER: I think that's it.

SAGAL: You do?

LAUPER: Yeah. I do.

SAGAL: It was actually the last one. He spoiled the ending.


SAGAL: He was working as an usher. But he didn't just go up and say, oh, by the way, the boat sank. He sat down next to them. He said, let me tell you what happened. The boat sinks, and Rosie and Jack go into the water. And then, they find this door. He told them the whole thing, and so he was fired by the movie theater. Went on to better things.


SAGAL: Bill, how did Cyndi Lauper do on our quiz?

KURTIS: I think she got two right, which means that you won, Cyndi.

SAGAL: Congratulations.



SAGAL: Cyndi Lauper is a Grammy and Tony Award winner. This year marks the 10th anniversary of her True Colors Fund. Cyndi Lauper, thank you so much...

LAUPER: Oh, thank you.

SAGAL: ...For joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.


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