News & Politics

James Comey Surprised the Crowd at Wolf Trap Thursday Night

The former FBI director was a guest on NPR's "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me."

Photograph courtesy of the FBI.

The public radio show Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! visited Wolf Trap National Park for a live taping Thursday night, and yes, that was James Comey surprising the crowd of more than 7,000 people as a celebrity guest.

Sitting next to the panel of comedians—Helen Hong, Alonzo Bodden, and Bethesda native Mo Rocca—the former FBI director appeared relaxed and was equal parts mellow and funny while talking with veteran host Peter Sagal, who asked, “What are you doing these days? I understand you’re out of a job.” Comey replied that he just spent the last year teaching at Howard University, calling it an “amazing experience,” and this coming school year will teach at William & Mary.

Comey’s “friend and fellow Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has been on the show and vouched for us, that we wouldn’t make it hurt too badly,” says Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! executive producer Doug Berman. “Comey was a great sport with us, brought his family along, and enjoyed meeting everybody.”

Here are some other highlights from the night.

On the Haters

“People who come up to me are almost always nice, and haters…kind of stay the distance and stare at me,” said Comey.

On Being Bullied

In his book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, Comey writes about being bullied in middle school and high school. Sagal asked if he ever attempted to seek out the kids who bullied him by calling them up when was director of the FBI, to which Comey replied, “I never did. But I know that they knew that, and it was good enough.”

On Lying About Playing Basketball

In A Higher Loyalty, Comey writes about how his classmates at law school at the University of Chicago assumed he played basketball in college because of his height (he’s 6’8″). He got tired of explaining himself and started telling people he did in fact play the sport. Because of his height, “It became the perfect lie,” he told Sagal, but after law school, he wrote his friends a letter telling them the truth, to which Hong said, “When you said you did, but you didn’t…”

On Prosecuting the Mafia as an FBI Agent

Before he became the seventh director of the FBI, Comey was an attorney and prosecuted members of the mafia. When asked if he was ever scared for his safety, Comey told Sagal, “No. One of the great things about the American mafia—one of the few great things about the American mafia—is they have a rule against harming law enforcement because it would destroy their enterprise,” calling the ones worried about being harmed by law enforcement “too stupid” to realize that the FBI is there to protect them.

On the Infamous Hug-Handshake

When President Trump walked into the Blue Room for the reception on Inauguration Day in 2016, Comey said he retreated to the far end of the room “to try get as far away as I could from him, because I didn’t want a photo opp with the President.” After awkwardly shaking hands and sort of hugging then-chief-of-staff John Kelly, Trump summoned Comey forward. As Comey walked across the room he said he was thinking, “My kids are watching at home and saying, ‘That’s Daddy’s ‘oh shit’ face… And I just thought, there’s no way, this is crazy, there’s no way he’s getting a hug from me. So I reached my hand forward, he grabbed my hand, and pulled in to him.” He said that fortunately, the cameras were on the other side, because it looked like “a hug, and also a kiss!”

Comey’s appearance on Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!  will air locally on WAMU at 11 AM on Saturday, July 21.

Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to James Comey as an FBI agent before becoming the agency’s director. He was an attorney. The article has been updated.

Kim Olsen

Kim Olsen ([email protected]) is a freelance writer in Alexandria.