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Not My Job: Surgeon General Vivek Murthy Gets Quizzed On 'General Hospital'

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. Thanks, everybody. This week, we are providing some dessert for your Thanksgiving feasts, some of the recent interviews with interesting people that we've really enjoyed.

KURTIS: Many of them have marshmallows on top.

SAGAL: Speaking of healthy eating, when we went to Wolf Trap in the woods of northern Virginia, we were joined by Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general of the United States. He wore his uniform and everything.

KURTIS: Peter began by asking him how he found out he was moving up to the big job.


VIVEK MURTHY: Well, I was called by a representative from the White House. And I was actually picking up my dry cleaning, believe it or not. And my phone rang. And I didn't recognize the number and actually was not planning to pick it up. And at the last minute, I just said, hey, what the heck and picked it up. And I'm glad I did.


SAGAL: Really?

ADAM FELBER: Do you think that if you didn't, they would've just gone on to the next guy on the list?


SAGAL: If you hadn't picked it up, Dr. Phil would be the...


SAGAL: Thank you, sir. I'm very grateful. And were you concerned that your extreme youth would keep you from being able to grow the required Everett Koop-style beard?


SAGAL: 'Cause I noticed it hasn't come in quite well yet.


MURTHY: Well, I will tell you, being Indian-American, I have tremendous potential to grow facial hair.

SAGAL: Well, that's true. You have that club in your bag. Speaking as a Jew, you and me both, brother.


PAULA POUNDSTONE: Speaking as an aging woman...


SAGAL: I think...

POUNDSTONE: There's no shame in being human.

SAGAL: So what does the surgeon general do other than put warning labels on things?

MURTHY: You know, I'm so glad you asked…

SAGAL: I - I'm glad you're here to answer.

MURTHY: …Because, you know, a lot of people have misconceptions about what the surgeon general does. The other day I was, in fact, getting on an airplane. And the woman in front of me turned around, looked at me and said, oh, no, why don't you go first, sir? And I said, you know, it's all right. You know, I don't mind waiting. And she said, no, without you, we won't be able to fly the plane.


SAGAL: I should point out that you are wearing a military-style uniform, which could easily be misconstrued as an airline pilot's uniform.

POUNDSTONE: Now I'm wondering if the last time I went to my doctor...


POUNDSTONE: …He might have been a pilot.

SAGAL: Yeah.


SAGAL: So – but you're not an airline pilot. What does the surgeon general do, sir?

MURTHY: So the surgeon general is responsible for sharing scientifically-based information with the public so that they can improve their health. But I will say personally that my goal as surgeon general is to help build a culture of prevention in America so that we are a nation that is as good...


MURTHY: As good at preventing illness as we are at treating it.

POUNDSTONE: Yeah, baby.

SAGAL: I see. So you want America to live more healthy. You want them not to go summing until an hour after they eat, for example.

MURTHY: (Laughter).

SAGAL: You're like the nation's Jewish mother.


SAGAL: Well, we all know you're not supposed to smoke and we're supposed to exercise and we're not supposed to sit around all day. You're not supposed to eat too many fats and so on and so forth. But is there - what's the next thing we really love doing that we're going to have to stop doing? Tell us now so we can enjoy it the last few times before you come out with the announcement.

MURTHY: (Laughter) Well, you mentioned a few things that are important, which are making sure that we are eating healthily. That includes making sure you're eating a lot of fruits and vegetables in particular, drinking a lot of water. But there's actually one other thing which I think is really important. This is actually being happy. And now, let me explain why. Most people think that you need to be healthy in order to happy.

SAGAL: Right.

MURTHY: But I actually think a lot of times it's the other way around. You know, we know that there are things that all of us know we can do in our life to improve our happiness. For example, whether it's spending time with friends, improving social connectedness, whether it's making sure that we are exercising and - which actually can give you energy and improve your emotional and mental function...

SAGAL: What if what really makes you happy is sitting around, smoking and eating cheeseburgers and watching a lot of Netflix?


SAGAL: 'Cause if you've tried it, it is pretty awesome.


POUNDSTONE: He doesn't look like he's tried it.

ROXANNE ROBERTS: What's your weakness? What is the one thing that you know you should do more of or you should do?

SAGAL: Yes, the one thing that people would be shocked and horrified to know that the surgeon general does.


SAGAL: If you could mention that now...

FELBER: We will not tell anybody.


MURTHY: So my weakness is sweets. I like bread pudding and cheesecake in particular.


MURTHY: So I have to be careful when I'm around sweets.

SAGAL: Right. Well, you are the surgeon general. You have authority. If you wanted to, you could say, don't eat sweets, cheesecake excepted.


SAGAL: Well, Dr. Murthy, we have asked you here to play a game we're calling...

KURTIS: Surgeon General, Meet "General Hospital."


SAGAL: You've had a varied career as a physician. But you never worked at "General Hospital," the setting of the long-running ABC soap opera which mysteriously treated 5,000 percent more cases of amnesia than the national average. We're going to ask you three questions about "General Hospital." If you get two right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl Kasell's voice on their voicemail. Bill, who is the surgeon general of these United States playing for?

KURTIS: Jeffrey Last of Washington, D.C.


SAGAL: All right. Soap opera actors have to deal with a grueling five-day a week shooting schedule. "General Hospital" star Jack Wagner once proved himself a true professional when he did what? Was it A - during a love scene, rather than stopping, getting out of bed, finding a bathroom to go pee, he just grabbed a champagne bottle off the nightstand, pulled it under the covers and relieved himself in it right there; B - Mr. Wagner is the only actor to ever successfully pull off the soap opera trifecta - in one ninety-second scene, he got amnesia, revealed himself to be his own evil twin and went into a coma…


SAGAL: Or C - when struck with acute appendicitis, he filmed a scene for "General Hospital" from his room at Massachusetts General Hospital?

MURTHY: Wow, I'm going to go with C.

SAGAL: You're going to go with C.


SAGAL: No, I'm sorry. It was actually A, the champagne bottle. When you've got to go, apparently you have to go. Next question, when one actress learned she was going to be fired from "General Hospital," she did not take it lying down. Oh, no, instead, she did what? A, she ad-libbed her final line, took off her shirt, flashed the camera, said F-you and walked off the set; B - without realizing what had just happened, she took a swig from Jack Wagner's bottle of champagne…


SAGAL: Or C, not liking that the producers killed her off, in her funeral scene, she sat up in her casket and waved at the mourners.


MURTHY: I'm going to go with A.

SAGAL: Yes, it was A, very good.


SAGAL: The story comes from an actress on "General Hospital" who says, quote, "stuff like that happened all the time. I think every door in the building was broken from someone slamming it." All right, here's your last question. "General Hospital's" biggest storyline, of course, was the famous relationship of Luke and Laura.


SAGAL: Right?


SAGAL: Most famous relationship in all of soap opera. Those two star-crossed lovers, Luke and Laura, fell in love while they were doing what? Was it A - hanging around flash dancing and wearing leg warmers, as one did in the early '80s; B - saving the world from a bad tycoon determined to freeze civilization with, quote, "carbonic snow," or C - simultaneously romancing Tracy Unterman, who "General Hospital" doctors called, quote, "the world's only left-right divided hermaphrodite"?


MURTHY: Oh, my God. OK, I'm going to take a wild guess here and go with B.

SAGAL: You're going to go with B, the carbonic snow?


MURTHY: Right.

SAGAL: You're right.


MURTHY: Thank you.

SAGAL: Bill, how did the surgeon general do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Dr. Murthy's a winner, 2 out of 3.


SAGAL: Vivek Murthy is the surgeon general of the United States. Dr. Murthy, thank you so much for joining us here, what a pleasure.

MURTHY: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.


SAGAL: What an honor. Dr. Vivek Murthy, your surgeon general. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.