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Sagal Explains How to be Naughty in 'Vice'


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up: Bill Medley still being musically righteous.

We're in the studio now with Peter Sagal. Peter, of course, is familiar to many listeners as the witty and informed host of WAIT, WAIT…DON'T TELL ME, but that's mostly the result of good editing.

Peter Sagal's own genuine gifts as a wise observer and compassionate critic are on display in his new book, "The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (and How to Do Them)." In which he gambles, gorges, goes to strip bars, swingers clubs and porn movie sets, and manages to deduct them on his taxes as a business expense.

Peter, nice to have you in the studio.

PETER SAGAL: That as you have figured it out was the whole point, Scott. It's great to be here.

SIMON: I feel like we should have your accountant on the air…

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: …to you but do you (unintelligible)?

SAGAL: My accountant is a very nice man in rural Minnesota who - suburban Minneapolis, I should say, who I think was shocked by some of the line items on my taxes for the last year.

SIMON: You go to a swingers club.

SAGAL: I do.

SIMON: With your wife.

SAGAL: I should say we do.

SIMON: I want to get you to explain what a swingers club is. I do this because you make the point in the book that you actually took no pains to conceal your identity because if anybody recognizes you're Peter Sagal of WAIT, WAIT…DON'T TELL ME, you wouldn't oh, my gosh, you'd be delighted.

SAGAL: I say, yeah, take that, click and clack.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAGAL: A swingers club is in this particular case - and this, I think, is typical of a certain segment of what is called the lifestyle - is a private home that is opened up to carefully vetted couples - couples only - that's capital C, capital O - for people to come.

This particular place, again, typical, is set up as a kind of private social club. There's drinks, there's dancing, there's conversation. There's gaming. You want to play poker, a strip poker, anything else. There was a backgammon set. You can hang out. You can be socially. You can be convivial(ph). You can drink your own liquor, of course, because there's no liquor license. It's a private accommodation. And…

SIMON: And you bring your own bottle…

SAGAL: You bring your own bottle.

SIMON: Like it's a paint party or something.

SAGAL: Exactly, which you mark with a (unintelligible). And then, if everybody is off a mind, you and anybody who can sense can go off into rooms reserved for the purpose and pursue what everything, anything you want to pursue. It is always understood that this happens with the consent and often participation or at least witnessing of your partner. It is very straightforward.

SIMON: They seem to make a point of separating sex and love.

SAGAL: That is…

SIMON: At least the kind of sex…

SAGAL: …an explicit point. I mean…

SIMON: Yeah.

SAGAL: …this has nothing to do with intimacy. You're confusing sex with intimacy, said the owner of the club to me, and I - to which my response should have been, well, doesn't everybody? I mean, isn't sex intimacy? I mean, isn't it in fact almost a synonym? And to them it is not.

In a weird way, emotional attachment must be the kind of social disease that can ruin all the good times going on. That would be my supposition. Nina Hartley, the world's most articulate porn star, who I also talked about in the book…

SIMON: Yeah.

SAGAL: She maintains that the idea of sexual orientation is far, far more complicated than the way we usually mean it - straight or gay. She thinks that it applies to all kinds of different interests, abilities, lack of abilities, enthusiasms, immunities, and I certainly think that this is true of this particular scene, that you have to be of a particular mind. You have to be the kind of person who not only thinks of sex in a particular way but feels it in a particular way, or rather maybe more to the point it doesn't feel in a particular way to enjoy the scene.

SIMON: But let's have everybody listening, sit back, take a deep breath and maybe pour a second cup of coffee.

SAGAL: Exactly. Good morning, America.

SIMON: You go to several strip clubs in the course of the book. Of course, you dragged a bunch of academics along with you.

SAGAL: Well, I mean, I've already said, if you want to have a good time, bring a bunch of female professors of sociology. I mean, really, the frat boys envied me. I had a puffy like that.

They sort of explained to me the economics of the strip club, where the strip clubs fit in that kind of whole underground sex trade economy that ranges from one end, you know. Basically that was pretty much the most-mild end of it all the way up to the legal brothels of other counties in Nevada.

SIMON: I mean, they've been studying this the way a sociologist in Chicago might study the steel industry…

SAGAL: Exactly.

SIMON: …or the car industry.

SAGAL: This is their area of expertise. They've interviewed thousands of women, they've written papers on it, I mean, they're interested in particular about how the women move to the economy, how they are exploited or not.

For example, they didn't think that these women were being degraded by performing there, as one of them says to me and I quote here in the book, "you want to talk about a degrading job, try McDonalds." They're actually admiring these women who were getting a tremendous economic return on their talents and attributes without giving up as much as men and the other women involved in the sex trade did.

SIMON: Has the nature of your - I don't want to call them vices - the nature of what you enjoy in life changed after writing this book in being exposed the way you were?

SAGAL: I did and it didn't. There were certain things that - I mean, there are certain things that I loved. For example, there's performance at a club called Forty Deuce in Las Vegas neo-burlesque, which I thought was astoundingly great. And I got a chance to meet some people who were fascinating and interesting, people like Nina Hartley, people like Shane(ph), people like Stormy Daniels, all porn performers who are just amazing and interesting and articulate people.

But to a certain extent, I think the general rule is, in terms of access to these places, be careful what you wish for. I think a lot of these things look a lot better from the outside than they do from the inside.

But I always come back to the same lesson, which is, I think a lot of people think of these things as ways to escape themselves, to escape their lives. And then you go to the swingers club or to the casino or to the restaurant or wherever you go, and it might work for a moment, but wherever you go, you bring yourself with you.

SIMON: Peter Sagal. His new book is "The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (and How to Do Them)."

Peter, thank you very much.

SAGAL: My pleasure, Scott. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.