It”s not who you know, it”s “Whad”Ya Know”

Nov 13, 2007 at 8:37 pm

Popular public radio show returns for a live national broadcast

Michael Feldman spent eight years as a teacher before making a leap of faith and eventually finding his way into a paying radio gig. He started the popular “Whad’Ya Know” on Wisconsin Public Radio in 1985, and today he is widely known for his pithy repartee, which reveals itself during his monologues and when he interacts with the audience.

(For the uninitiated, each week an audience member teams up with someone who calls into the show, and together they try to correctly answer odd questions and win odder prizes. There’s the quiz, some live music, lotsa jokes, and that’s about it.)

The nationally syndicated program, which runs on WFPL-FM in Louisville (11 a.m. Saturdays), returns Saturday for a live national broadcast from the Brown Theatre. LEO got some time on the phone with Mr. Feldman and tried to rile him up.

LEO: I understand you were a phenom who started on NPR when you were 19 and now you go around asking people to tell their weird stories.
Michael Feldman:
I think that’s somebody else. That might be Ira Glass.

LEO: Oh, sorry. You’re the guy who coined the phrase “Lake Wobegon”?
Yes, but it was stolen from me. Mine was actually “Lake Oy-begone.”

LEO: Oh, sorry, wrong again. I got it. How did you get the idea for the big oral history project?
I thought it’s better to listen to it than it is to read it, because I don’t like reading.

LEO: Oh, hell, now I know who you are. I’m not as stupid as I sound —
I actually am. It evens out.

LEO: All kidding aside, what do you —
Then we’ve got nothing to talk about. Thank you and good night.

LEO: What do you know about Louisville?
Just a little bit from our couple of visits there. My brother-in-law used to work there for GE. He was like one of the doctors they have on staff just to screw the little guy who might be suing GE.

LEO: What is your sense of how different Wisconsin and Kentucky are from one another?
We have wrapper tobacco. That’s the big difference right there. Ours goes on the outside of bad cigars.

LEO: We need each other?
I would say so. There’s some symbiosis. I love that word and I can’t use it enough.

LEO: Sometimes you get a little testy with guests.
I do? A little testy — what can I do with that? Uh, let me just say that, I generally don’t. In fact, it’s amazing to me how nice I am on the air, when you consider what I’m actually like.

LEO: Are you really being yourself on the radio?
I’m being a limited version. I don’t get into the angst so much, and the resentment, the frustrations and the childhood baggage, all that sort of stuff, because it’s supposed to be a comedy show.

LEO: What does a public radio heckler say?
Our typical audience is a guy who’s still living with his mother in middle age. He works for the state or the post office, what have you, that sort of demographic, and they’re not hecklers for the most part.

LEO: If you pick an audience participant and they turn out to be bashful, is that difficult?
I just embarrass the hell out of them. That’ll teach ’em to be bashful. No, I try to take that into account. I tell people during the warmup, if you don’t wish to be spoken to, assume the fetal position.

LEO: If you were doing a show in Dog The Bounty Hunter’s town, would you have him on?
No. I can’t stand that guy, and my wife is, like, a fan. And so when these things came out recently, I e-mailed her and said, “How do you like your boy now?”

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Michael Feldman’s ‘Whad’Ya Know’
(live broadcast)
Saturday, Nov. 17
Brown Theatre
315 W. Broadway
$30-$42; 11 a.m.
(must be seated by 10:30)