The upstairs room of West Asheville’s Buffalo Nickel transforms into a cerebral battle royal every Tuesday. Starting around 6 p.m., tables become scarce as Kipper Schauer, a 10-year hosting veteran, prepares to emcee his pop-culture-infused trivia night. “My trivia is very much a wormhole into the things I find interesting. The people who gravitate toward it are people I consider to be potential friends,” he says. Schauer’s multimedia trivia night has gained a fiercely loyal following.
Indeed, trivia hosts can draw a devoted crowd as David Brown can attest. The host of Doctor Brown’s Trivia says, “I’ve got teams that have been with me seven or more years. The community of friendly competition they’ve formed is fun to watch. They’re part of my social circle; they’re my friends.” Brown has been hosting trivia in Asheville since 2006 and currently runs weekly games at Barley’s Taproom and Highland Brewing Co.
Trivia allows Brown to draw on his academic background. “I’m overeducated. I’ve got a PhD in U.S. History and this is what I’m doing. But I want to be [in Asheville]. I’ve always wanted to be here,” he says. Brown knows trivia is more than a night of questions and answers and notes it borders on a cultlike vibe. “The people who are into trivia culture are really into it,” he says. “It’s their thing. And I like being a part of that.”
Schauer echoes that sentiment, saying his trivia nights are intensely competitive: “It’s not like showing up and taking a very quiet test against 10 other teams. It is a competition, it’s a battle, it’s a sport.”
If trivia is a sport, then it’s a team sport. Danielle Topping says anyone can prove to be a useful team member. “It’s not about knowing every answer, it’s you being part of a team and knowing that one answer you know and nobody else does,” she says. Topping is relatively new to hosting. Her Geeks Who Drink trivia, on Wednesdays at One Stop, is only a few months old. She has been at it long enough to understand that prepping for a match doesn’t have to be intentional: “You have no idea what you know,” she says.
Before there can be an answer, there has to be a question. Schauer spends about eight hours writing questions for his two trivia nights every week, but say it’s worth it. “I have complete ownership of every single one of my questions and I try to find questions that delight me or bring up a sentimental value of some sort,” he says.
In the meantime, Topping spends about three hours a week prepping, but she doesn’t write her own questions. The Denver-based Geeks Who Drink has a writing team, including a six-time Jeopardy champion, provide her trivia night’s questions. “We have really funny quiz writers and they like to make fun of things they know will get a rise out of people,” she says.
To the casual observer it might not seem advantageous to write original questions, but Schauer says it’s the only way to customize the game and make it authentically local. “If I see some teams are excelling on a week-to-week basis, I will take note of their strengths and try to provide challenges to them that give other teams an equal chance of taking home the championship,” he says. “And that’s the advantage of being very devoted to your trivia night, writing your own questions and knowing your players as friends.”
Brown spends about six hours a week crafting questions and says it allows him to be deliberate about writing a question that is simultaneously tricky and accessible to the audience. He’s also a firm believer that trivia hosts can’t forget that they’re there to give the host establishments a boost. “If I wanted to, I could do a quiz where no one would get a single point,” he says. “Where’s the fun in that? My job is to drive traffic, get people to come in and have good time. If a team’s getting blown out they’re gonna leave at halftime, and that means they’re not eating and drinking.”
As for Schauer, he says his game is not for the faint of heart. “It’s not a quiet trivia night; I’ve fined tuned this over so much time and everything is done for a reason,” he says. Staying loyal to what he likes keeps his game fresh and the crowd interesting. “I don’t try to keep young and hip. My focus is sharing my love for pop culture with other people through trivia.”