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Not My Job: Richard Price (AKA Harry Brandt) Gets Quizzed On Pseudonyms

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: Before we get back to our great past shows, let me tell you about a great future show. We will be at the Fox Theater in Atlanta February 25. You heard it here first. You can find out about that on our website, which is

KURTIS: With Peter's desperate plea for attention out of the way, let's get back to the show, specifically our chat with the great novelist Richard Price.

SAGAL: Now, when we spoke to him, I asked him about how he came to write about terrible people in his crime novels and his films when he himself was kind of a low-key kid.


RICHARD PRICE: You know, I was a working-class Jewish kid in a housing project. And, you know, I wrote about the gangs. But I wasn't - the gang I was in was in the - there was the Warriors. I was in the Worriers.


SAGAL: The Worriers?

PRICE: Yeah. And I was also in the Goldberg gang, you know.


PRICE: We'd walk down the street, and the Italian guys would go, here comes the Goldberg gang. What are they going to do, algebra?


SAGAL: But you've ended up, I mean, in quite a career writing, especially about the police. You're known for this guy who can write about the police really well. You've spent a lot of time with police, right?

PRICE: I had never met a cop before I was, like, 35. I had no reason to. And I just got addicted to what you can see in the - from the back of a police car and where you could go, where you could never go in your normal life. And because I had written one or two movies, the first time I was hanging out with cops, I was in awe of these guys. I mean, you know, non-judgmentally, you know, you deal with life and death every day. And they would look at me and they'd go, I want to ask you something, Price. You call him Bob, Bobby or Mr. De Niro? And…


PRICE: You know... So it was this mutual - mutual holy cow, you know.

SAGAL: Yeah.


FAITH SALIE: Richard, the scariest scene that you ever wrote, did you imagine it, or was it something that you witnessed?

PRICE: I don't know. It's all fun for me.


PRICE: You know, I mean, I've had scary experiences. Like, I was in a cop car and all the cops were drunk on Tulum or Duke. You know, God have mercy on your souls. And they pull up to this real bad housing project. And they're not supposed to show up after 10 o'clock 'cause that's when they knock off the drink. But they got nice and hammered, and they went out at 11 o'clock. And all the drug crews know when these cops go on vacations. They know when their kids are getting bar mitzvahed. They know when they're taking promotions.

SAGAL: Wait a minute. The drug dealers know when the cop's kid is getting bar mitzvahed?

PRICE: If they're Jewish, yeah.


PRICE: So they show up at midnight or 11 o'clock. And the gangs are just standing there outraged. You're not supposed to be here. And all of a sudden, the guys go, oh, they can still arrest us. You know, it's not – like, not fair.


PRICE: So they start, like, running away. And these cops get out of the car. And they're chasing - and some of these guys are like gazelles. They're 18 years old. They're 6' 2", legs up to their ears. You know, and these cops are like 200 pounds and, you know, the snot's flying.


PRICE: And they're going after them. And I'm sitting in the back of the car. And whoever didn't run is starting to circle the car like this, you know, with their arms folded, looking at me, wondering if they can chop me up and sell me for parts. So all of a sudden, I think the best thing I can do is get out of the car and start running after the cops. So…


PRICE: So here's the deal. The kids are running. And they come to, like, a slope that is a steep slope down. And the kid goes, like, flying in slow-motion to the bottom of the slope. The cop comes slobbering, pin-wheeling with his gun out over the slope. And here comes the writer with his notepad, you know...


PRICE: …Scared to death. And all of a sudden, the cop comes down and he's wheezing. He's got asthma spray. He's got an oxygen mask and a tank. And I said, did you get him, Chris? You know, but I think I had to change my underwear seven times Jersey City back to New York that night.

SAGAL: Oh, man. So Richard, you are perhaps most famous for writing the video for the Michael Jackson song, "Bad." How did you end up with that job?

PRICE: Well, here's what happened. The way I heard about it is Michael Jackson wanted to prove to the brothers he was down 'cause he was, like, too Disney. And so...


PRICE: His producer's the great Quincy Jones. So Quincy Jones goes to a short, white Italian guy with asthma, Martin Scorsese.


PRICE: And would you help Michael show he's down to the brothers? So he goes to the short, Jewish asthmatic writer and says, we've got to make Michael down. So you've got two short, asthmatic - a Jew and an Italian - taking Minnie Mouse and, you know, give him street cred.

SAGAL: Right.


SAGAL: Richard Price, we could talk to you all day. But we have asked you here to play a game we're calling...

KURTIS: My Real Name is Kurtis Bill.

SAGAL: So for your latest novel, you tried a pseudonym, Harry Brandt, which didn't last very long. We all know it's you. So we're going to ask you three questions about other people using fake names. Get two right and you'll win a prize for one of our listeners, the voice of Carl Kasell - if that is his real name. Are you ready to play?

PRICE: Yes, Sir.

SAGAL: All right. Bill, who is Richard Price playing for?

KURTIS: Matthew Scala of Ellwood City, Pa.

SAGAL: All right. So here we go, three questions about pseudonyms. Many people pretend to be others online. John Mackey is the founder and CEO of Whole Foods. He created an online persona so he could praise his own company and diss his rivals. But he also took the time to do what? A - discuss his secret vice, Hostess snack cakes; B, argue repeatedly that the entirety of the "Gilligan's Island" TV series was a dream Gilligan had while drowning or C - praised his own haircut?

PRICE: All right, I've got to go with Hostess.

SAGAL: It'd be kind of funny if he did that. But no, it was actually he praised his own haircut.


SAGAL: Among his many posts about Whole Foods and what a great company it is, he said, quote, "I like Mackey's haircut. I think he looks cute."


PRICE: I don't know how I could have missed that.

SAGAL: I know.


SAGAL: Two more chances. In 2006, a writer named Lee Siegel wrote a critical review of "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" for The New Republic, and readers posted many complaints about his review. So he created an account under a fake name and wrote what? A - quote, "Siegel is brave, brilliant and wittier than Stewart will ever be. Take that you bunch of immature, abusive sheep," unquote; B - quote, "I know Lee Siegel, and you people are making him very, very, very, very sad so please stop," unquote, or C - quote, "this article was actually written by Lee's stupid, very jealous brother, Marvin Siegel."


PRICE: Well, maybe it's number one.

SAGAL: It was number one.




SAGAL: Apparently, you're not allowed to call your own readership immature, abusive sheep. So he was suspended from The New Republic. So you got one right with one to go. Here we go. Using a fake name can also help you get a leg up in politics, as in which of these? Was it A - in 2006, a Wisconsin man running for county sheriff changed his name to Andy Griffith...


SAGAL: …B - early in his political career, a promising Ohio politician named John Boehner changed the pronunciation of his name - or C, recently released documents reveal a young Barack Obama considered changing his name to Chad Bennington?


PRICE: That's just too funny for words, if he did that. So I'm going to go with number one.

SAGAL: You're going to go with number one, which is the guy who changed his name to Andy Griffith to run for sheriff.

PRICE: Yeah.

SAGAL: You're right...


SAGAL: …That's what he did.


SAGAL: The real Andy Griffith sued him folksily.


SAGAL: Bill, how did Richard Price do on our quiz?

KURTIS: He got one wrong but two right. And that is nonfiction, true.


SAGAL: Well done.

PRICE: Thank you.

SAGAL: Add this to your accolades. Richard Price, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

PRICE: Thank you.


SAGAL: And thanks for your fabulous books. Richard Price, ladies and gentlemen.

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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