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Not My Job: We Quiz 'West Wing' Creator Aaron Sorkin On Hot Wings

BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz. I'm Bill Kurtis, and here is your host at the Chase Bank Auditorium in Chicago, Peter Sagal.


Thank you, Bill.


SAGAL: So this week, we're talking about superheroes. And of all the TV shows about superheroes, the first and greatest was "The West Wing." I mean, real people do not talk and act like that, right?


KURTIS: Writer Aaron Sorkin, who created "The West Wing" as well as "Sports Night" and "The Newsroom," not to mention a whole bunch of movies about smart people, joined us earlier this year and confessed he didn't start out wanting to be a writer.


AARON SORKIN: When I was in high school, I thought I was going to be an actor. I was in all the school plays and community theater, and then I went to college and studied acting. And it wasn't until really the day after I graduated from college that I for the first time wrote for pleasure and wrote dialogue. And I felt a confidence that I'd never felt with acting. And I was a pretty cocky actor.

SAGAL: Really?


PAULA POUNDSTONE: What did you write that day?

SORKIN: I started writing "A Few Good Men."


SORKIN: Yeah, my older sister Debbie had just graduated from law school, and she went into the Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps, the JAG Corps. And she told me a story about this trip she was about to take to Guantanamo Bay.

SAGAL: Right.

SORKIN: And it became the inspiration for "A Few Good Men." I moved to New York after college, and I got a job bartending in Broadway theaters. And I wrote "A Few Good Men" on cocktail napkins during the first act of "La Cage Aux Folles."

POUNDSTONE: Oh, I love that.

SORKIN: You know, as a bartender in theaters, you worked during the walk-in and you work during intermission. But you're not doing anything during the first act. And there was an unlimited supply of cocktail napkins.


SAGAL: I'm just envisioning, like, this cocktail napkin, and on it is, you can't handle - and you turn it over - the truth.


SORKIN: That's right.

FAITH SALIE: Aaron, you're so, of course, known for your dialogue. Does it just come into your brain, and you quickly write it down? Like, do you hear the back and forth? Or is it something that you actually have to conjure?

SORKIN: On a good day, I do. But I don't have many good days.

SAGAL: Yeah.

SORKIN: I kind of start pacing around and trying to get into an argument with myself. And if I can get a good one going, then it starts going down on paper.

SALIE: Like, out loud? Do you do this out loud?

SORKIN: Oh, yes.

POUNDSTONE: Wait. Aaron, one of the questions on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME was about you one time. There was this story...

SORKIN: Really?

POUNDSTONE: ...Where you were working on dialogue, I guess, at your house. And didn't you accidentally hit your head on, like, a...

SORKIN: I broke my nose writing.



SAGAL: Yeah.


SAGAL: You're right. I had forgotten that, but we did.

POUNDSTONE: Well, let me just say you were holding the pen wrong.

SORKIN: I did. I was writing an early episode of "The Newsroom," and I got up in the middle of the night because I had an idea just for a sort of a classic comic beat where Jeff Daniels was going to lunge at one of the staffers, and two staffers were going to hold him back. And one of these, you know, I'm going to get you kind of moments. And I was really excited about it. It was going well. And I happened to be kind of acting into the mirror, and I lunged as Jeff Daniels would. But there was no one there to hold me back.


SORKIN: So I smashed right into the bathroom mirror.

SAGAL: Right.


SORKIN: And there...


SAGAL: Did you go to the emergency...

SORKIN: There was blood everywhere.

SAGAL: Did you go to the emergency room? And, if so, what did you tell them?

SORKIN: I (laughter) - I called that friend that you have that you can call at midnight when you've broken your nose writing.


SORKIN: And she came over, and she took one look at me and said, you know, we have to go to the emergency room. And I said, OK, but just read the scene because I think it's pretty good.



SAGAL: Well, Aaron Sorkin, it is an honor actually for us to talk to you. But we've asked you here to play a game we're calling...

KURTIS: Welcome To The Hot Wing.

SAGAL: You famously created "The West Wing." So we're going to ask you about hot wings, the delicious American staple foodstuff grown on the great wing farms of the American Midwest. Answer 2 out of 3 questions, you'll win our prize one of our listeners - the voice of anyone they might like from our show.

Bill, who is Aaron Sorkin playing for?

KURTIS: Jon Chaplin of St. Petersburg, Fla.

SAGAL: All right, you ready to play?

SORKIN: OK, John of St. Petersburg, here we go.

SAGAL: Here we go. First question - wings have been at the center of some surprising legal battles, including which of these? A, a man convicted of assault with a deadly weapon was released after judges agreed a hot wing was not deadly; B, a law in Colorado that declared from henceforth, chicken wings will be considered sandwiches...


SAGAL: ...Or, C, a lawsuit between two restaurants in El Paso, Texas, over who owned their common name, The Lord of the Wings.


SORKIN: (Laughter) OK. The first two, A and B, are certainly the funniest. But the answer's got to be C.

SAGAL: I'm somewhat disappointed that you didn't...

SORKIN: Oh, no.

SAGAL: ...Find the last one funny...


SORKIN: Oh, I did find the last one funny.

SAGAL: ...But - because the real one was B, actually.


SAGAL: In Colorado, there's a law that certain kind of bars can't sell liquor unless they also have sandwiches. And so in order to relieve certain bars from a problem, chicken wings are sandwiches in Colorado.


SORKIN: Oh, OK. John of St. Petersburg...

SAGAL: You still have...

SORKIN: ...I'm sorry. I'll try to do better on the second one.


SAGAL: All right, next question - chicken wing aficionados will go to great lengths to show their love for the food, as in which of these? A, a jewelry company in Los Angeles sells sells earrings made of discarded chicken wing bones; B, a man in Tennessee created the first ever wing pit - just like a ball pit, but you jump in and bounce on the chicken wings...


SAGAL: ...Or C, a Virginia man used two cups of wing sauce to go out in wing face last Halloween?


SORKIN: OK, I'm going to say C.

SAGAL: You're going to say C.

SORKIN: C, yeah, wing face.


SAGAL: It was, in fact, A. You know - you should know this. You live in LA. Of course, somebody would make jewelry out of chicken.

SORKIN: You know, even as I was saying it...

SAGAL: Yeah.

SORKIN: ... I thought, yes, definitely somebody's making earrings out of chicken wings.


SORKIN: OK, I'm going to give the third one everything I've got.

SAGAL: All right.


POUNDSTONE: This is sort of like the position Cohen was in.


SAGAL: What do you mean?


SORKIN: It's nothing like the position Cohen was in.


POUNDSTONE: Well, then, you know, the die has been cast, but he's going to try one more time.

SAGAL: Right.


SORKIN: This is brutal.

SAGAL: It is.


SAGAL: Twenty...


SAGAL: Here we go. In 2014, Philadelphia's 22nd annual buffalo wing eating contest was won by 125-pound Molly Schuyler. She ate a record-shattering 363 wings. Yay for her. But the question is, how did she celebrate her win the following day? Did she, A, drive to the Des Moines Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival and eat 5 pounds of bacon in three minutes; B, celebrate with a free meal at IHOP, which she won by eating 59 pancakes in one sitting; or C, to go to Jethro's BBQ in Iowa and eat a sandwich with pork tenderloin, chicken tenders, white cheddar sauce, fried cheese curds, apple with smoked bacon and a pound of French fries in just 15 minutes?


SAGAL: Which of those did she do?

SORKIN: I honestly have no idea how someone who only weighs 125...


SORKIN: ...Pounds ate over 300 chicken wings.

SAGAL: It's pretty bizarre.

SORKIN: You know what? I'm going to say A, that she ate a ton of bacon.

SAGAL: You're right....


SAGAL: But she also did the other two.

SORKIN: I mean, yes.


SAGAL: She did all...


SAGAL: ...Three...


SAGAL: ...Things.

Bill, how did Aaron Sorkin do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Aaron, you can't handle the truth.


SORKIN: I know.

SAGAL: Aaron Sorkin is the creator of "The West Wing," "Sports Night" and "The Newsroom." His play "To Kill A Mockingbird" is on Broadway now. Please see it if you have the opportunity.

Aaron Sorkin...


SAGAL: ...An absolute honor.

SORKIN: Thank you.


SAGAL: Thank you for all your great work.

POUNDSTONE: Bye, Aaron Sorkin.

SAGAL: Bye-by, thank you.