Not My Job: We Quiz Actor Henry Winkler On Twinklers
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.
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
Thank you, Bill.
SAGAL: So we have been avoiding our families and helping you avoid yours by distracting everyone with great segments from our recent past.
KURTIS: We did consider having everybody in America just swap families...
KURTIS: But there were logistical challenges.
SAGAL: So we canceled all the buses we had reserved. And instead, here's some things everybody can agree on - for example, that Henry Winkler is the nicest man in the universe.
KURTIS: Henry came back to our show last August, and Peter asked if people still recognized him as the Fonz or on his more recent Emmy-winning role, the acting teacher Gene Cousineau on HBO's comedy series "Barry."
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
HENRY WINKLER: Yeah. I don't - you know, people yell out "Barry," and people yell out the Fonz. But I will say I'm wearing jeans right now.
SAGAL: Well, there you are.
WINKLER: Because, you know, jeans is a part of both characters.
SAGAL: That's true. They both wear - you know, there's - one is named Gene, the other one wears jeans.
SAGAL: That's very - oh, I didn't realize there's a throughline to your work.
WINKLER: You know what?
WINKLER: I didn't either until you (laughter) - I just thought of it.
SAGAL: I know. It's great. Who knows?
WINKLER: I'll tell you, this show - my every - every synapse is firing.
SAGAL: It is still amazing, but people still do refer to you as the Fonz even though...
WINKLER: Oh, absolutely.
WINKLER: Absolutely - my wife.
SAGAL: But - and I think that's wonderful. But I don't want to talk to you about the Fonz this time. I want to talk to you about Gene Cousineau, this role you play in the amazingly good TV show "Barry." Could...
WINKLER: Thank you.
SAGAL: For those who are not lucky enough to see it, can you describe who Gene is?
WINKLER: I am a teacher of great thespians.
WINKLER: And I know they're great because they can pay in cash on time.
WINKLER: And I teach a young man who came into my class who has kind of, like, another job I'm only finding out about. And he is an assassin.
WINKLER: And he has become like a son...
WINKLER: ...To me.
SAGAL: Well, what's amazing about the show is, even given that outlandish premise - that he's an assassin who decides he wants to be an actor and finds...
SAGAL: ...An acting class...
SAGAL: ...It's really quite moving because, as you say, he does need a father, and your character kind of provides that.
WINKLER: I didn't know that he was as big a putz as he was supposed to be.
WINKLER: And then the two men who run the show saw me as I started to bring Gene alive. And they said, oh, he could also have a heart. And so then they combine the two parts of my body...
SAGAL: Right, your...
WINKLER: ...My heart and lower down.
SAGAL: I've got to ask you because of the - so much of this is set in this acting class, did you ever take an acting class? And was it like this?
WINKLER: You know what? I had 14 teachers in college, in graduate school, in drama school. I did research, and I came across a fact where there was a teacher here in LA who literally forced his students, who barely made enough to take his class - he made them buy his art.
SAGAL: You mean, like, he would paint pictures or whatever...
WINKLER: And then sell it to his students. And I thought, yes. This says everything I need to know...
WINKLER: ...About this teacher.
SAGAL: Wow. Do you enjoy that aspect of the character - being a little grasping and then cruel?
WINKLER: Do you know what? I actually never thought of that. Because when you do an episode, you do scene by scene, and you concentrate on making that scene perfect. And all of a sudden, you put all these details together. And I watch along with everybody else. I don't see it until it's on the air.
SAGAL: Right, so you have no idea.
WINKLER: I am thrilled. I just love going to work.
SAGAL: Aw. That's - I wonder what that would be like.
SAGAL: Sounds great, though. It does sound great. You - and I'm so proud - you won an Emmy for the first season.
WINKLER: Yes, I did.
SAGAL: And I was amazed to discover this - that was your first Emmy. You've had a lifetime of television, and you've only won this Emmy.
WINKLER: And I have it on my dining room table.
SAGAL: Really? Is that where you put it? You put it right in...
WINKLER: And it's opposite the front door. So when the man...
WINKLER: ...Delivers the medicine from the pharmacy...
WINKLER: ...I point out to him the Emmy.
SAGAL: Oh, that old thing?
WINKLER: And anybody else who comes in the front door, I lead them through the dining room first.
SAGAL: I want to ask you something. So you were on the show a few years ago. We had a wonderful time. And Paula Poundstone said that she saw you once in public - just, you know, the way that you do.
WINKLER: We were flying on the same airline, on the same plane.
SAGAL: And she said that she thought to herself, there's a happy little fella.
WINKLER: She's referring to the fact that I'm short.
SAGAL: I don't - I think...
SAGAL: I'm not quite sure what she was referring to, but I did want to ask you, do you think that's an accurate description?
WINKLER: It is. I have - I live by two words, gratitude and tenacity. Tenacity gets me where I want to go.
WINKLER: And gratitude doesn't allow me to be angry along the way.
SAGAL: Well, Henry Winkler, it is always a pleasure to talk to you. We've invited you here to play a game that this time we're calling...
KURTIS: Ooh, Look At The Twinklers (ph).
WINKLER: Oh, wow.
SAGAL: As a Winkler, you winkle. But what do you know about things that twinkle - stars?
SAGAL: We're going to ask you three questions about twinklers, or stars. Get two right, you win our prize for one of our listeners - any voice they might like on their voicemail. Bill, who is our friend Henry Winkler playing for?
KURTIS: Cyndy Metcalf (ph) of Dallas, Texas.
SAGAL: All right, Henry. You ready to do this?
SAGAL: Oh, yes. We've learned some interesting things about stars since we started venturing into space, including which of these? A, stars can get bored; B, stars smell like burnt steak; or C, stars, they're just like us.
WINKLER: I would have to go with stars are just like us because I'm a very normal person.
SAGAL: Actually, "Stars - They're Just Like Us" is a feature in Us magazine. The real answer was stars smell like burnt steak. We didn't know this - and this is literally true - until astronauts went out into space in spacesuits and came back and sniffed their spacesuits and felt weirdly hungry...
SAGAL: ...Because it turns out that stars give off a number of chemicals, one of which smells like burnt steak.
HELEN HONG: What?
SAGAL: It's true.
SAGAL: It's the smell of space.
WINKLER: I'm so glad I'm on this show. I never knew that.
SAGAL: I know.
SAGAL: All right. You still have two more chances. Here's your next question.
SAGAL: Williamina Fleming classified tens of thousands of stars during her decades-long career at the Harvard Observatory.
SAGAL: Before that, she had another job. What was it? A, one day, the head of the observatory got frustrated with the staff and said, my Scottish maid could do better. He hired her, and she did. B, she was a theater critic who said, people are boring. I want to watch something else; or C, nobody knows. She just showed up one day wearing a silver suit and said, I can help you.
WINKLER: All right. I'm going to eliminate C.
WINKLER: I'm going to go with A.
SAGAL: You're going to go with A - that she said, oh, my Scottish maid could do better. You are right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: Turns out she was one of those undiscovered geniuses who became a brilliant mathematician and astronomer. She discovered, among other things, the Horsehead Nebula. She is a hero. All right. You have one more question.
WINKLER: I was going to hire her, but she took that job.
SAGAL: I know. It's a shame.
SAGAL: Last question - our sun is a star, of course. For about 30% of people, staring into the sun will cause sneezing fits. What is the scientific name of this reflex? A, squinty sneezing...
SAGAL: ...B, solar snot...
SAGAL: ...Or C, autosomal compelling helio-ophthalmic outburst, or achoo.
WINKLER: I'm going to go with C.
SAGAL: You're going to go with C, autosomal compelling helio-ophthalmic outburst, or achoo. You are right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: That's what they call them. Bill, how did Henry Winkler do on our quiz?
KURTIS: You know, Henry, 2 out of 3 right is a very good score. That means you have won.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES BRADLEY SONG, "CHANGE FOR THE WORLD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.