On Saturday, Slate’s Mike Pesca guest-hosted NPR’s Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!, where he interviewed Kim Kardashian about baby names, among other innocuous topics. But some listeners were not amused. On Thursday’s The Gist, Pesca responded to the outrage, which he views as its own brand of snobbery. The podcast is transcribed, and lightly edited, below.
So, as you know, I chatted with Kim Kardashian the other day. Made news beyond even the Panoply network:
Naturally many hope the newest West will be named South. But in an interview with an NPR Chicago radio show, Kim 100 percent shot that down.
I had, I thought, a very pleasant chat with a very famous person—a chat that totally conformed to the needs of this comedy news quiz. I thought it was a good booking. When I heard about it I said “great,” because she has a persona that’s well-known, she’s ripe fodder for good comedy, and she issued a book of selfies, which is fun to talk about, and as a guest she didn’t seem particularly shy or retiring. But really, how do you ever retire when your job is just being alive? And yes, I would say that the resulting chat went pretty well:
Kim Kardashian: When I was at the basketball game party, some of the basketball players were taking selfies with us, and I was like, “This is like using a selfie stick. ...”
NPR’s Peter Grosz: God gave them two selfie sticks!
NPR’s Amy Dickinson: Two selfie sticks!
Funny stuff, right? I mean I did ask her, and this didn’t make it into the final—Andrea [Silenzi, senior producer of The Gist], actually, will you be Kim Kardashian? This is what I wanted to say to her:
Mike Pesca: Uh, Kim one more thing.
Andrea Silenzi: Uh, yeah, Mike?
Mike: You know, remember that time, that period, when you wore a lot of velour tracksuits? And as a result, most women in America wore a lot of velour tracksuits?
Mike: And then you stopped wearing all those velour tracksuits?
Mike: And then America’s women stopped wearing all those velour tracksuits?
Mike: Not really a question, just wanted to say thanks.
Andrea: You’re welcome?
But I did get this part in:
Kim Kardashian: I don’t like South West, though, because that’s like, you know… North will always, you know, be better, and be more... It’s just a better direction.
Mike Pesca: Well yes, and you’re setting you’re setting your kids up for conflict, and to be in opposition, aren’t you?
Kim Kardashian: Exactly! So I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t... I don’t think we’ll go with another direction.
Mike Pesca: Really? So I have because I’ve got a bunch. The word for East in Swahili is “kati,” the word for East in Hungarian is “kelet.” I could send you these, I mean... Do you have an email? Are you on social media?
So it’s fine, right? It’s fine. Were you amused? Great! Were you not amused? That’s fine! Were you shocked to the core? Then you might be an NPR listener. Wrong. That’s way too far. I think most NPR listeners liked it. But the people who commented on the Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me web page? They were not amused. They were clutching their pearls. Or they would be clutching their pearls if the creation of pearls didn’t rely so heavily on stressed-out oysters.
The fifth word of the very first comment on that Kim Kardashian interview was the word “strumpet.” Her slatternly affect is exacerbated by her ignorant insistence on a bustle—that is a vulgarity! The insistence from so many of these listeners that “I shall never sully my ears with Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me again,” or “I expect better from NPR!”
Here, listen to some of these actual comments:
“So disappointed! NPR is my sanctuary, and now it has been sullied by the vapid Kim Kardashian.”
Or: “So dismayed that she has infiltrated my favorite podcast!” Here, here, come. Meet me on the fainting couch.
“Contaminated through the speakers. Who is she married to? Maybe that’s a clue why she’s here.”
Someone else goes on to say: “She and her no-talent husband are exemplars of what is wrong with America’s taste in music and celebrity!”
Here’s another one: “The thing that attracts me to NPR is knowing I can escape the tawdry circus of the commercial media. For the love of whatever is decent and good in this world, please stop doing this, NPR!” Basil, Basil, fetch me the smelling salts!
And then someone wrote, “It’s kind of like if Dick Cavett dumped Gore Vidal and invited Junior Samples to debate Bill Buckley instead.”
I looked it up. Junior Samples was a guy who used to appear in Hee Haw. He also died in 1983.* So maybe you’re not up with the current celebrity culture—that’s fine. And I am not going to tell you to like Kim Kardashian. I have not, nor will I begin, to keep up with the Kardashians. Her no-talent husband, by the way? That guy’s extremely talented. That I will say.
But let me tell you what is going on. There is a type of NPR listener—and it’s a type of media consumer, it goes way beyond NPR—that defines themselves by what they are not. To some extent, we all do this. The bands we like, the foods we don’t eat. But with them, it’s a much huger deal. They’re closed-minded, they use affiliation with NPR or Fox or Christian Broadcasting not to experience a larger outside world but to congratulate themselves on the purity of their own world. Insularity does not wind up being an unfortunate by-product of striving for equality—it is the point of the choice in the first place.
When I got into radio, there was a trend of getting out of the classical music game. The trend is all but complete. And there was a researcher who was reviled by some because he gave stations good advice if they wanted to increase their audience and thereby serve the public and serve a public who’s not listening. This guy’s name was David Giovannoni and he invented a category. He had a description. The category was originally for the people who love classical music on public broadcasting. But I do think it does apply to a certain type of very persnickety news consumer. Here is the description:
“These types are different from the regular news consumers, the typical news consumers who like debate and ideas, depth and logic. This different type of listener, not so dissimilar demographically, is vastly different psycho-graphically.” And this researcher dubbed the listener “The Monk.” The Monk is, quote, “sharply differentiated by their needs and gratifications,” and those needs are, quote, “to escape from the troubled exterior world and seek an interior serenity.”
A news consumer might not like the vapidity of Kim Kardashian on her e-show—but at least if they are a fan of this news comedy show, might be curious enough to see what a comedy show does with this figure, in the context of comedy. The Monk, on the other hand, is driven by a desire to achieve the inner state that allows him or her to make sense of the world. NPR or whatever media, for the Monk, is an escape from the sullied world. It’s crabby, it’s snooty, and it hates the big booty.
Here, now, a commentator named “Bewoe”:
“Is this the girl with the big, naked behind that keeps popping up all over? Wow. I get a touch of stage fright when I get in front of a mic, but I’ll bet pulling my pants off in front of the world would really cause a case of nerves.”
To Which “Lady Lilly” responded:
“Yep, that’s the one. And you can’t miss it because it’s so big. Gross.”
I could respond by noting that, actually, all of us have naked behinds. But of course what this exchange reminded me most of was this:
Sir Mix-a-Lot: Oh, my god. Becky, look at her butt. It is so big. She looks like one of those rap guys’ girlfriends.
So to all the Monks, and all their friends Becky, and all the valued listeners that I may have offended—I’m sure that the show will return to its normal high standards. That I, as the guest host, will no longer drag it down. And so please enjoy next week’s installment, where the special guest will be Screech from Saved By the Bell.
Correction, June 19, 2015: Due to a transcription error, this post originally misstated that Junior Samples died in 1938. He died in 1983.