Confessions of a Trivia Company Owner: No, I Don’t Want to Be a TV Game Show Host trivia host NYC

I recently had lunch with illusionist/mentalist Ryan Oakes, who joined TrivWorks as a “Special Host” last year (he intersperses fully-customized competitive with mind-blowing magic – it’s SICK, and I highly suggest you check it out for your next corporate entertainment in New York City and beyond!). He was telling me about another quizmaster he knows, and how this guy is basically a walking Wikipedia: he can fire off question after question for an hour, ANY topic you want – like the Engergizer bunny, he just keeps going and going…!

I felt bad saying it, but I had to: “Ryan,” I said, “I gotta tell you – I’m NOT a ‘trivia guy’…”

He sort of looked at me in a weird way, one which I imagine you are looking at your Smartphone screen right now as you read this.

It’s true. I own a highly specialized company, and have personally crafted more questions and quizzed more audiences of employees, clients and brand enthusiasts than anyone else on the planet. I started hosted pub quiz in Manhattan and Brooklyn in 2006, started TrivWorks in 2009 and took it full-time in 2011 – but my big, dark and dirty secret is: I’m not a trivia buff.

It stands to reason that someone who has the initiative and drive to start such a unique business would, in fact, be a total game show geek – a human Google who knows everything, thriving on retaining trivial knowledge as well as constructing clever queries.

But alas, that’s not me – truly and honestly, it just isn’t.

As I’ve written about before on this blog, I’m actually terrible at playing trivia. I’ve never won a bar quiz night, and practically never watch any television at all, let alone Jeopardy!, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire or the like – in fact, on the exceedingly rare occasion where I DO find myself watching one of these shows, I tend to just blurt out answers that are totally wrong. Like Pat Kiernan, the former host of VH1’s The World Series of Pop Culture (whom I have had the honor of collaborating with for the past 5 years), I could probably hold my own if I found myself a contestant on one of the easier shows out there – however, I played Trivial Pursuit with my brothers a few years ago, and got my butt handed to me – wasn’t even close, I think I got like 2 pie pieces or something. Pathetic.

About 10 years ago, when pub quiz really took off here in the United States, a bunch of other guys started companies similar to mine. Whereas I always intended from the beginning to service primarily corporate audiences – NYC team building activities, employee entertainment, client reward etc. – other companies sprouted up to service bars and restaurants (for more, check out this Wall Street Journal article on the growing popularity of trivia across the city and country).

By and large, these fellow founders fall into one of two categories:

Entrepreneurs – These fellas have business in their blood. They saw a niche, an opportunity to service an under-served market, to create a scalable product with the potential to generate residual income. They want to expand and franchise their respective brands to as many watering holes as possible, and when done right (as many of them have done), they are handsomely rewarded with steady revenue streams. I admire these guys for their drive and commitment, and for cleverly seizing upon a trend.

Trivia Guys – Here’s what you and I most likely think of when somebody tells you they are a New York City trivia host for a living. This breed lives and breathes all things Q & A – they are likely very smart, have a LOT of random facts in their heads and, more often than you might realize at first, have probably been on (or actually WON) a national televised quiz show. Some have dreams of being game show host themselves someday, and do everything possible to act the part: cheesy outfits, integration of lights & buzzers, even their own theme music! I have a lot of respect for this type of person, who is clearly following his/her passion while focusing it in such a way that others get to enjoy it as well.

Apparently, however, there’s a third segment in this rarefied profession where one can fall, and it is in this that tiny sliver where I find myself. I don’t have a name for it, other than to say that my calling is really neither of the above. I didn’t get into this line of work with the intention of dominating the pub quiz market, and I have never been – nor will I ever be – a guy who prides himself on how much random stuff he knows.

Why do I do it, then? I’m in it for the experience itself – I truly enjoy giving people a good time, and this has proven to be a highly effective (an rewarding) medium for me to do that. I love surprises, making people laugh, and seeing people have an absolute blast as a result of something I’ve helped create, all of which gets tied together quite nicely with a raucous, hilarious team contest. For me it’s not about the content, it’s about response – seeing the enjoyment in peoples’ faces when they get the answers right, but also reacting to their hilarious team names, funny wrong answers, clever heckles, and all of the spontaneous energy which is inherent to live, engaging group entertainment such as this.

Should an opportunity arise for me to be the host of TV game show, would I take it? Hey, I’m not ruling anything out (and yes, probably) – but I’m definitely not in this with the hopes and dreams of becoming the next Alex Trebek. For now, I’m just thrilled to be in the position to run my own business, to create customized experiences for specific groups with specific goals, and to help people enjoy a positive, impactful shared experience together which they will hopefully remember fondly for a long time to come.

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