“Says You!” the self-proclaimed NPR game show of “bluff and bluster, words and whimsy” is now 22 years old, and last week the producers assembled the entire original cast for a show taped here on the Island at the Hebrew Center.
The Vineyard is home to two of the original members, Paula Lyons and Arnie Reisman, who are involved in many Island organizations — the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Conservation Society, and M.V. Community Chorus, among others.
The show was the brainchild of seasonal Vineyard resident the late Richard Sher, a former producer of “Chronicle” and “Evening Magazine.”
To hear Paula Lyons tell it, the creation was reminiscent of Mickey Rooney saying, “Hey kids, let’s get together and put on a show.”
“What actually happened,” said Arnie Reisman, Paula’s husband, “was that Richard Sher had this idea to do a pilot in 1995. He said that he wanted to invite friends over and give them mimosas and get them nicely soused and what he wanted to hear was ‘all the garbage you guys have in your heads and the fact that you have the wherewithal not to leave any pauses pregnant, and you keep talking no matter what.’”
Sher had his way and created a pilot for the show titled “Says You!” WGBH loved it, and said, “Give us 13 more.”
For last week’s taping at the Hebrew Center, the room was filled to capacity with what can best be described as “NPR fans” — men and women of a certain age, several of the gentlemen sporting ponytails.
Two teams sat at a long table in the front of the room. The first team consisted of food critic and travel writer Carolyn Faye Fox, Arnie Reisman, and Paula Lyons (who was recently inducted into the New England Broadcaster Hall of Fame). The team at the other end of the table was comprised of playwright and public radio personality Tony Kahn, television producer Francine Achbar, and Barry Nolan, former host of Boston’s “Evening Magazine.”
The host of the show, Dave Zobel stood with a handheld mic and essentially functioned as a cat herder for the panelists. Zobel is a science writer, humorist, and sharp dresser. As he removed his coat for the taping, the audience was treated to the sight of his belt twisted like a pretzel at the back of his pants to make it shorter. A wardrobe made for radio.
If you haven’t heard the game, it’s broken into various categories that change from week to week such as “What’s the Difference?” “Odd Man Out,” “Melded Movies,” “The Bluffing Round,” and “Common Threads.” But the magic of the show is clearly the interaction of six terribly clever old friends who are allowed to riff off one another and build answers to hilarious heights.
One of the highlights of the game was “The Bluffing Round.” Three members of one team are given an obscure word, and one of them gets the actual definition; the other two must bluff with fake definitions. While the team was composing their fake answers, there was a little musical interlude played at our taping by the Island band Zoe and Jon Zeeman. Here are a few of the gems that came from our panelists: what is the meaning of the word “mossbunker?” Carolyn Fox bluffed that it was “a stalled elevator filled with cubicle workers and awkward silence.”
The meaning of the word “fishplate” is not actually, as was suggested by Arnie Reisman, “boxing slang for the beaten lips of a pugilist after a fight.”
And as for the meaning of the word “intarsia?” Tony Kahn quipped, “Some words just don’t have definitions.”
Each panelist brings his or her own unique personality and wit to the show. Here’s what comes through when you’re watching the show live: Reisman is a total natural, and often seems to be the go-to person for Zobel. Even if you can’t see Lyons, you can recognize her by her infectious laugh. Fox is the incorrigible punster. “We once had a category of pirates,” said Lyons, “and she got the answer wrong, and she said, ‘I can’t believe my buccaneers.’”
Achbar is a bit of a fashion plate; she loves to dress for the radio. Kahn seems to deliver all his lines with a twinkle, only accentuated by his stylish red glasses. And I never cease to be amazed at the breadth of Nolan’s intelligence. But what would you expect from someone in MENSA?
“Says You!” Is pretty heady stuff, and one would imagine that the panelists had to be on their A game to do the show in front of a live audience. I asked several panelists if they felt any pressure to be clever, or if they ever get a case of the jitters. The consensus was that they’ve all been doing this for so long, and there’s such great camaraderie, that it all comes naturally. But you have to be on your toes. When I asked Reisman specifically how he prepared for the show, his answer was simple: “Coffee.”
“Says You!” plays every Saturday at 8 pm on WCAI.