Since Ask Me Another's pilot season, which began airing on May 4, 2012, Ask Me Another has played nearly 1000 games with over 1,300 contestants, with VIP guests ranging from Sir Patrick Stewart and Uzo Aduba to Lewis Black and Josh Groban. Now, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia is marking its fifth anniversary with a special podcast re-release today of its very first episode, including a new interview between host Ophira Eisenberg and actor/author John Hodgman, the guest on that original episode.
Looking back at the last five years, what are some of your favorite tapings of Ask Me Another?
OE: There are SO many! Flirting with Sir Patrick Stewart, who not only had a great sense of humor, but had a great sense of humor about himself. Judy Gold belting out all the words to TV themes songs during her 70 TV sitcom quiz. It wasn't part of the quiz, she was just inspired. Penn Jillette giving the most enlightening answer to my question: "Why aren't there more women in magic?" Performing for 1200 of the best nerds of all time in Los Angeles at the Ace Hotel Theater. Amy Sedaris unsurprisingly giving the most surprising answers to every interview question and revealing her top business venture of late: making custom lighters, potentially appropriate for children. 2017 Tiny Desk Contest winners Tank and the Bangas bringing down the house with a mini-concert following their interview and Disney-themed song quiz.
AC: Any time we have a great audience, there's an energy and excitement that makes the show so much fun. You can really tell when the crowd is enjoying the games and the jokes and the guests. We've been fortunate to have been able to work with some amazing, talented performers, from Ethan Hawke and Jim Gaffigan to Sutton Foster and Leslie Odom Jr. Going on the road is especially fun as we play much larger venues and we get to meet our fans across the country.
Take us through the creative process of coming up with the show's wickedly-smart trivia.
OE: We're lucky enough to have some of the best professional game writers out there working on our games – but I will admit that before I hosted this show, I had no idea one could be a professional game writer! We have a pool of writers who submit a variety games, then Art Chung, Travis Larchuk and I will go through the games and decide what would work for us. Sometimes a slight rewrite is requested or a twist to the premise, but once finalized then they are placed in the script and we try to balance out the questions so some are easy, some more difficult, some references are current, some are from 10 years ago, all with the goal of making it fun, interesting and as accessible as possible to a variety of contestants.
AC: It all starts with the incredibly clever writing staff who come up with the ideas and clues for our games, and our producer Travis Larchuk, who brilliantly guides and molds them into shape. We're always looking for ways to make the trivia interesting and fun, and to make sure our clues and answers reflect a wide range of culture and knowledge. And sometimes we just like talking about TV commercials from the 90s.
What is it about the show or your role that excites you?
OE: As you may or may not know, a lot of our show is unscripted and it relies being in the moment with the contestants and the special guests. For me, every show is entirely different and every episode I'm meeting 5-6 new people for the first time ever, on stage! I guess you could say the unknown excites me.
AC: It really is an honor to be onstage with Jonathan and Ophira as the puzzle guru, and to be a part of this wacky public radio trivia show. We're not trying to solve the world's problems here, but it's a privilege to make people laugh and think and learn week after week. And if because of us, just one person knows that the capital of Australia is Canberra, not Sydney, I've done my job.
What do you think makes for good comedy?
OE:Well that's a very broad question and hard to answer with just a word or two but I'll give it a try. What makes for good comedy is TRUTH.
AC:We have lots of different types of comedy in our show — everything from funny clues and premises, word play, and music parodies, to the spontaneous interaction of Ophira and Jonathan and our contestants and guests. It's all good comedy — whatever surprises you and makes you laugh.
What'd you say to someone trying to cope with stage fright?
OE: The odds are really in your favor that you're not going to spontaneously combust, so after that, what are you worried about?
AC: I think the realization that by and large the audience is rooting for you and there to see what you've got to offer. And luckily for us, we do pick-ups at the end of the show.
Ask Me Another is a co-production of NPR and WNYC. Catch up on the latest episode filled with puzzles, word games and trivia on NPR One or wherever podcasts are available.