Not My Job: Underwater Explorer Fabien Cousteau Gets Quizzed On Phish

Aug 24, 2019
Originally published on August 24, 2019 12:51 pm

BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz. Say what you want, Bernie Sanders - you'll never take down this Bill-ionaire (ph)...


KURTIS: ...Bill Kurtis. And here is your host at the Chase Bank Auditorium in Chicago, Peter Sagal.


Thank you, Bill. Thanks, everybody.


SAGAL: It's that time of year when everybody goes, wait a minute. Summer's almost over. And then they all run around like maniacs trying to pack as much fun as they can into the short time remaining.

KURTIS: That's what we're doing this hour. We're packing in so many memorable moments and great conversations that - well, by the time we're done, you'll be ready to go back to work just to get a break from all the joy.


SAGAL: First up, when I was growing up, I loved Jacques Cousteau, the famous ocean explorer. Now, so did Fabien Cousteau, which makes more sense because Jacques was his father.

KURTIS: When Fabien Cousteau joined us in June of last year, Peter asked him how he was introduced to the undersea world.


FABIEN COUSTEAU: Well, on my fourth birthday - it's slightly different. I actually went to the bottom of the pool with a family friend who was reading the newspaper while I was buddy breathing with him.

SAGAL: So buddy breathing is when you're sort of sharing one respirator back-and-forth, right?

COUSTEAU: That is correct.

SAGAL: And he's reading a newspaper at the bottom of a pool?

COUSTEAU: Yeah. Yeah. I guess he was bored. There's not much to see at the bottom of the pool. We didn't throw any fish in there.

SAGAL: I understand.

COUSTEAU: (Laughter).

SAGAL: But - and did you always want to go into what I guess is the family business in the Cousteau family?

COUSTEAU: I was actually never pressured to be in the family business. I was always encouraged to forge my own path. But it - the path always ended up turning back towards what we do as a family.

SAGAL: Yeah. That's funny. I'm just going to say this because I grew up watching your grandfather's TV show, "The Undersea World Of Jacques Cousteau." And, I mean, to me, what I remember as much as the film of the fish and the Calypso is your father's - your grandfather's, excuse me - amazing French accent.

COUSTEAU: (Imitating Jacques Cousteau) But of course.

SAGAL: Yeah. (Imitating Jacques Cousteau) Oh, there it is.


COUSTEAU: (Imitating Jacques Cousteau) We're diving into the briny deep.

SAGAL: (Imitating Jacques Cousteau) I know. That's the problem. I mean, literally, I'm talking to you...

COUSTEAU: (Laughter).

SAGAL: ...And I can tell that if you do not speak in a really elaborate French accent, I will not take you seriously as a...


COUSTEAU: (Imitating Jacques Cousteau) A mermaid stole it one time when I was 7.


SAGAL: Now, your specialty is sharks, right? I saw a film of you diving with sharks inside - well, I don't know how to describe it. It's a big, artificial shark you hide in.

COUSTEAU: A shark-shaped submersible, yes.

SAGAL: Yeah.

COUSTEAU: I'd always wanted to approach great white sharks in a different way than the ugly, bubbling creatures in the cage throwing chum at these wild animals. The best way to go and learn a little bit more about them is to become a shark. So that became reality in 2006, 2007, where I built a shark-shaped submersible. Little did I know that doing such a thing was more challenging. And I ended up on the bottom more than I did with the sharks.

SAGAL: Really? So it would just - like, you'd go down there, and you'd be, like, hello, fellow sharks. And you'd just continue to sink right down.


SAGAL: And the sharks would be all, what's wrong with that guy?


COUSTEAU: Well, you know, it was meant to be a polymorphic shark where you could do male and female. Unfortunately, it got so complicated, we left the male parts behind. And as a female shark, I was hoping that, hey, maybe this was going to attract a shark...

SAGAL: Wait a minute.

COUSTEAU: ...And we'll have mating behavior here, you know?

SAGAL: You were hoping for that?

COUSTEAU: First human to do that.


SAGAL: You were...

PAULA POUNDSTONE: So wait. You had, like, a - you had female shark parts on this immersible...

SAGAL: Submersible.

POUNDSTONE: ...The submersible, and then you had male shark parts?

NEGIN FARSAD: But they were detachable.

COUSTEAU: They were detachable. That's right.


COUSTEAU: The male parts were detachable. You know - hey, you know, male sharks have two penises, or claspers, so they're lucky. Unfortunately...


POUNDSTONE: Not sure I would consider that lucky.

SAGAL: Yeah.

FARSAD: I'd say that's minus two points.


SAGAL: It's twice the maintenance fee. It's terrible.


POUNDSTONE: Wait, I do have one more question...


POUNDSTONE: ...Which is, how accurate was "Finding Nemo"?


COUSTEAU: In my child's heart, very.

SAGAL: Yeah.


SAGAL: Well, Fabien Cousteau, it is a pleasure to talk to you. We could talk to you all day about the ocean. But we have, in fact, asked you here to play a game with us, and this time we're calling it...

KURTIS: Man, just get cool with the flow of the jam, man.


SAGAL: So you know a lot of fish personally, but what do you know about the band Phish?


SAGAL: We're going to ask you three questions about the legendary...


SAGAL: ...Vermont band that even some Grateful Dead fans find a little too meandering.


SAGAL: Answer 2 out of these 3 questions right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners - the voice of anyone they might like on our show on their voicemail. Bill, who is Fabien Cousteau playing for?

KURTIS: Robert Loving (ph) of Los Angeles, Calif.

SAGAL: All right. You ready to do this?

COUSTEAU: Let's go for it.

SAGAL: All right. Here's your first question. How Phish got its name - it's P-H-I-S-H, by the way, Phish. How Phish got its name has been a subject of interest for their fans for decades. Which of these is a possible explanation from a fan quoted in Newsweek? A, that's what band leader Trey Anastasio says instead of cursing - aw, Phish; B, it's an acronym meaning psychedelic hypnotic instrumental sounds are happening, or C, it's a take on the psh (ph) sound that comes out when you're filling a balloon to do nitrous oxide at a party in Vermont?

COUSTEAU: (Laughter) I love C. I won't say that I've done that before, but (coughing) I did go to college.


COUSTEAU: Good question. B?

SAGAL: You're going to lean toward the acronym meaning psychedelic hypnotic instrumental sounds are happening?

COUSTEAU: I'm guessing that.

SAGAL: No, it was actually the nitrous oxide.

COUSTEAU: Oh, was it really?

SAGAL: Go with your instinct, man. Yeah. Well, that's at least the rumor. They've never come out and said, but...

POUNDSTONE: But that was what the...

COUSTEAU: I should have gone with my gut.

SAGAL: I actually - while researching this, I actually listened to a lot of Phish music, and I'm guessing it was the nitrous oxide, so...


SAGAL: All right. All right. Next question, Fabien. Lead singer Trey Anastasio was expelled from the University of Vermont for a prank that he has never described in public, but according to Phish fans, it was one of these. A, stealing a human heart and hand from a biology lab and sending them to a friend with a note, heard you could use a hand; B, getting the gig playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at a UV football game and keeping it going for 18 minutes...


COUSTEAU: Oh, my god.

SAGAL: ...Or C, pot brownies at a dean's reception?

COUSTEAU: Jeez. I - you know, if I were in his shoes, I would've done the same twisted humor of the hand - A.

SAGAL: Well, you're right. That's what he did.


SAGAL: According...



SAGAL: ...To established stories. Now last question - if you get this right, you win. Phish has a fair amount of celebrity fans, including which of these? A, Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, who says he starts every day at 3 a.m. with, quote, "a spliff and my Phish bootlegs," unquote...


SAGAL: ...B, the musician Rob Zombie, who says he plays Phish music to, quote, "go to my happy place," or C, actor Abe Vigoda, who played Detective Fish...


SAGAL: ...On the old "Barney Miller" TV show, who once joined the band onstage dressed as a wombat when he was 92 years old?

COUSTEAU: Well, it's definitely not C. I'm going to go with B on that one.

SAGAL: Let me ask you a question.


SAGAL: Why do you think it's definitely not C? What was your reasoning?

COUSTEAU: Well, at 92, well, he's - you never know.

SAGAL: Well, I mean, if it's not true, somebody had to make that up.

COUSTEAU: All right.


SAGAL: I think they all want you to go into the...


COUSTEAU: C, all right. Let's go with the C.

SAGAL: You're right. Yes. It was Abe Vigoda.



SAGAL: They did this at one of their famous Halloween concerts, where they like to...


SAGAL: ...Do various funny things.

TOM PAPA: I'm actually friends with Rob Zombie.

SAGAL: Are you?

PAPA: Yeah. And he directed one of my stand-up specials. And I can tell you for a fact he has no happy place.


SAGAL: Rob Zombie went from directing "House Of 1,000 Corpses" to your stand-up special.

PAPA: And I killed.


SAGAL: Bill, how did Fabien Cousteau do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Fabien did well out of the water as well as in the water. He got 2 out of 3, and that's a win.

PAPA: Congratulations, Fabien.


COUSTEAU: Thank you.

SAGAL: Hey, Fabien, if somebody wanted to know more about what you do down there, how would they find out?

COUSTEAU: Oh, go to That's the easiest way. Or follow me on social media.

SAGAL: There you go. Fabien Cousteau is an aquanaut, an oceanographer and the founder of the Fabien Cousteau Ocean Learning Center. Fabien Cousteau, what a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.


POUNDSTONE: Bye, Fabien.

COUSTEAU: Pleasure to be here. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.