NPR’s ‘Wait, Wait’ apologizes for Polish reference

CHICAGO — The executive producer of “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” knows the Chicago-based radio show’s irreverent humor sometimes offends — and he has the letters from listeners to prove it.

But when a joke from last week’s broadcast prompted a letter from the Polish consul general in Chicago accusing the show of xenophobia and prejudice, Mike Danforth felt the need to apologize.

The joke in question came from the Bluff the Listener segment of the show Saturday, in which an audience member was asked to identify which of three stories about an old joke coming true had been taken from that week’s headlines.

Peter Grosz, an actor and TV writer who has appeared as a panelist and guest host on “Wait Wait,” offered a supposed news item referencing a joke asking how many Poles it takes to screw in a light bulb.

Host Peter Sagal revealed the light bulb tale wasn’t true, but instead another item about road-crossing chickens was the real news. Listeners later called “Wait Wait” and the Polish Consulate to complain that the joke was in poor taste.

Grosz’s segment was meant to poke fun at the well-worn light bulb joke, not Polish people, Danforth said. “If anything, it was a little hack,” he said. “But some people didn’t enjoy that, and we’re not trying to upset people, so we wanted to apologize for that.”

In a letter to Danforth, Paulina Kapuscinska, consul general of the Republic of Poland in Chicago, said the joke played up false stereotypes of Poles and Poland. It presented National Public Radio, which distributes the show, as “promoters of prejudice,” and such jokes “are some of the most unsophisticated of jokes, which offend the intellect of NPR listeners,” Kapuscinska wrote.

Danforth replied with an apology, which the Polish Consulate posted on its website Thursday.

“I can’t disagree with your judgment that the content of our October 26th show was unsophisticated and insulting to the intellect of NPR listeners. I’m afraid just about everything we do on ‘Wait Wait’ offends the intellect of the NPR audience,” Danforth wrote.

Though the line was tongue in cheek, Danforth later said that didn’t mean it wasn’t also sincere. The letter apologized for a joke listeners found “hurtful.”

“Finding that right mix of irreverence and comedy is a risky business, and we sometimes step over the line. Never is it our intention to offend,” he wrote.

Kapuscinska said she was happy Danforth apologized.

“I think the time of Polish jokes has passed away long ago,” Kapuscinska said. “There are many other things you can make people laugh at.”

More in Local News

Agencies launch coordinated response to an opioid ‘emergency’

Health workers, law enforcement agencies and emergency managers are responding as they might to a disaster.

Jordan Evers distributes coffee Sunday afternoon during the annual community meal at Carl Gipson Senior Center in Everett on November 19, 2017. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Firefighters serve Thanksgiving meals at Carl Gipson center

The next two feasts at the senior center in Everett will be Thanksgiving Day and Dec. 3.

Planning — and patience — can ease Thanksgiving travel

The Washington State Department of Transportation offers information to help guide planning.

Puffy-coated robbery suspect arrested on Whidbey

The suspect apparently wore the same outfit in 2 robberies at the same place in less than 2 weeks.

Man assaulted with hammer in Everett

His girlfriend had accused him of cheating on her and called another man over to confront him.

Injection sites still banned — County Council doesn’t budge

At a public hearing, more than 15 people said they are opposed to sanctioned areas for using heroin.

Dog shot at Mountlake Terrace house during burglary

A suspect was arrested Friday in Everett for investigation of burglary and first-degree animal cruelty.

1 arrested after SWAT team moves in on Marysville house

The incident was connected to an earlier robbery.

Renton police urge felony charge against King County sheriff

John Urquhart allegedly groped a former deputy. Investigators forwarded the case to the prosecutor.

Most Read