Interview with Peter Sagal
5:26 pm
Mon May 6, 2013

Peter Sagal Plays Arkansas News Quiz, Talks New Constitution Series

To mark the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution, a new public television series featuring NPR host Peter Sagal will debut Tuesday, May 7, at 8 p.m. on AETN.

To celebrate the series, KUAR's Jacob Kauffman interviewed Sagal, starting with a special Arkansas news quiz he made for Sagal with a Constitutional bend. 

Peter Sagal
Peter Sagal
Credit www.pbs.org

Question One:  This year the state legislature considered ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. What objection was raised in a committee hearing?

a) “We don’t want our daughters randomly placed in a college dorm room with  guys.” 

b) “Women are already treated totally equal, making this unnecessary.”

c) “This does not go far enough in protecting the equality of women.”

Sagal: Is there an all of the above, because I imagine all of them could have been easily said.

Peter Sagal
Peter Sagal at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site interviewing Minnijean Brown Trickey of the Little Rock Nine and Marty Sammon of the 101st Airborne Division.

Kauffman: There could be an all of the above, but unfortunately there's only one correct answer of three.

Sagal: I'm going to go with "a" because that sounds goofy.

Kauffman: That's correct, you've found the secret to the challenge, that the goofy answers are more often correct than not.

Sagal: I have been doing this for a while. So daughters assigned to dorm rooms, willy-nilly, is that correct?

Kauffman: That's the idea, or the fear.

Sagal: That would be terrifying.

Question Two: Which of the following outbursts did not occur on the Arkansas State Senate floor this year?

a) Members of the Senate howled like apes during a debate regulating primate ownership.

b) A legislator quoted the Beatles song “Love Is All You Need” 

c) An actor who plays Jesus led a prayer on the Senate Floor. Before which the Lt. Governor asked if anyone in the room was a Judas.

Sagal: Again, all good. Knowing both national politics and Arkansas politics a little bit, I would say all possible. I'm going to go with "c" just because it amuses me.

Kauffman: Unfortunately, "c" did in fact occur and the correct answer was "b", the Beatles song "All You Need is Love" was not quoted throughout the year.

Sagal: Oh, I'm sorry, you asked me which didn't happen. I misunderstood. I think I could have gotten that one. It's my fault, my fault, but still.

Kauffman: At least you can still be satisfied in knowing that you answered that question in a way you thought was correct.

Sagal: Yes, I figure that had already happened, so I'm going to feel good about myself.

Question Three: In Arkansas’s first state assembly an argument between Representative J.J. Anthony and House Speaker John Wilson turned deadly when Wilson stabbed Anthony to death on the House floor. Over what were the two men in disagreement?

a) Slavery

b) Wolf Pelts 

c) Deciding on the state bird

Sagal: I wish it were "c" because that's the sort of thing that probably happened. I'm guessing it was slavery though, was it slavery?

Kauffman: Incorrect, it is "b", wolf pelts.

Sagal: Wolf pelts!?

Kauffman: It was a very divisive issue at the time, 1837, as you can imagine.

Sagal: Oh sure, well, wolf pelts, you bet. What was it about, do you know?

Kauffman: Well, it was actually over who was going to collect and store the wolf pelts because they're smelly pelts to have.

Sagal: Oh, I can imagine, they smell like wolves.

Kauffman: Anthony wanted the pelts stored at the House Speaker's home, which is an insult, because who wants to have smelly pelts dropped of at your house?

Sagal: Oh, not me.

Kauffman: That's part of continuing Constitutional relevancy today.

Sagal: It is!

The final two questions of our quiz will be fill in the blank and deal with amendments to the United States Constitution.

QUESTION: Arkansas is one of eight states not to have ratified the twenty fourth amendment, which abolishes     BLANK   taxes. 

Sagal: Which abolishes poll taxes.

Kauffman: That's correct!

QUESTION: Arkansas was the first state to vote to ratify the    BLANK   Labor Amendment in 1924. The Amendment was never ratified by the required three-fourths of states. 

Sagal: Oh this is good, I'm supposed to be an expert and I don't know this. I'm going to say the blank labor, would it be child labor.

Kauffman: Correct!

Sagal: Hey! It was an educated guess, I didn't really know.

Kauffman: Well, you didn't have to admit that much to the audience, but that's okay.

Sagal: I'm frustratingly honest with everyone.

Kauffman: Congratulations, you got two of the five questions and you finished up strong with two in a row.

Sagal: I feel good about myself.

Kauffman: Good, you should feel good about yourself.

Now, let's move on to your PBS Series, Constitution USA. Did you find that the constitution had some overall uniting quality that was very tangible to people, that contributes to our social fabric, or is it mostly a distant abstraction for most people in their day to day lives?

Sagal: It's both. What I mean by that is, most people believe in the Constitution more than they understand it, i.e. know what it says, know how it works, know how it is applied. But that's not a bad thing because that kind of civic religion, that kind of faith that the Constitution is out there; that it guarantees our rights ,and our liberty, and our self government, without knowing exactly how, that kind of unites us.

We went to a naturalization ceremony in Chicago. There were people there from forty different countries. Every conceivable country, language, whatever, and they were all united by the belief in the Constitution. Some of them could mention the different parts of the Constitution, some of them know the amendments. But what was more important was that they know we are governed by this document that guarantees us the right to govern ourselves, and guarantees us certain rights. That's really important, it's what makes us all Americans, more so than our shared enthusiasm for hamburgers, baseball, or apple pie.

At first I was disappointed with Americans. You don't know what the Constitution says, you don't know what Article 1 Section 3 says, you don't know the minimum age of the President. Then I realized it doesn't matter, I mean, it would be good if people did and we're hoping that's what this documentary does. But in the end to understand we're a self-governing people whose political fate is in our own hands and that this will always be true under this document is a good thing.

Kauffman: Before we let you go, you recently put on the film version of Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me. What sparked your interest in this type of broadcast.

Sagal: I always wanted to be eight feet high. We travel around the country, we've never been to Little Rock, which bugs me, and it just got to the point where more people wanted us than we could do without violating the laws of physics and being in two places at once.

We were able to cinecast out to places so that people could find us and see us and enjoy the thrill, I'll say unironically, of us doing a show live without having to smell us or drive out there. Once we get the numbers and ticket sales back we might consider doing it again.

Kauffman: Alright, with that I'll let you go.

Sagal: Thanks so much, bye.

An encore presentation of the "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!" cinecast happens May 7, 2013, in Little Rock, Benton, and Conway.