Asheville already has its share of totally rad weekly trivia quizzes and pub games for geeks who like to drink, but those trivial pursuitants looking for something with a ‘70s game show vibe may want to bring their big brains to 35below once a month for the delightfully different Olde Virden’s Super Happy Trivia Challenge. The next installment is Wednesday, Oct. 21.
“Asheville is overrun with incredibly talented sketch and improv groups, so I wanted to do something a little different,” says Super Happy Trivia Challenge co-host and co-creator Adam Jack Arthur. “From there, the idea of a panel-style trivia show began to form. ‘Match Game’ and ‘Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!’ were huge inspirations for me.”
One Wednesday a month, Arthur and his co-host, Troy Burnette, invite local performers to answer questions from a thoroughly researched stack of several hundred topics ranging from beer, superstitions and various geeky minutiae from “Star Trek,” Star Wars, “Doctor Who” and “The X-Files,” to guessing the song title from lyrics read by a Christopher Walken impersonator.
“The categories ran the gamut from political to sci-fi geekdom to pop culture,” says previous participant Betsy Puckett of the LaZoom Comedy Tour and the improv comedy troupe LYLAS. “There wasn’t an animal husbandry category, though — clearly an oversight — and Mr. Arthur seems to find sadistic pleasure in making middle-aged creative people do math on the fly.”
“The math stuff was somewhat difficult,” admits panelist Jeff Cantanese, who participated in September’s inaugural challenge. “Well, not so much difficult as to be entertaining while calculating. Adam may require us to show our work, but then where else might you get to see ‘y-intercept’ graphed in the form of interpretative dance? It’s definitely a game show and entertainment, as opposed to a trivia night. Although there are opportunities for audience participation, it’s mainly an opportunity to watch a bunch of local ‘celebrities’ act like idiots and attempt to answer questions in categories about which they know nothing.”
Aside from obtaining the affection or derision of the audience attending the proceedings in Asheville Community Theatre’s intimate black-box performance space, contestants are also vying to win a prize offered by the event’s sponsor.
“I have two friends in Tennessee who make and sell Olde Virden’s Red Hot Sprinkle, which is an amazing pepper shake like what you see in pizza joints,” Arthur says. “We eventually will search out more sponsors, but it is a live show, and despite my best efforts, the panelists (and the audience) can get a bit risqué.”
Audience participation, while not onstage, is still certainly appreciated.
“The audience does interact with the panel, often unsolicited,” Arthur says. “The atmosphere is so fun and free-flowing, I think they get swept up in the excitement. In fact, after our first show, I created The Bungalow Man Award for Audience Participation in honor of a delightful audience member who volunteered a great deal of information about the construction and placement of bungalows around the world.”
Cantanese, who in addition to being an SHTC participant is also the artistic director of the Asheville’s Attic Salt Theatre Company, says 35below is a perfect location for the once-a-month event.
“It’s intimate and allows for audience-actor interaction,” he says. “I’ve loved watching Adam get excited about new ideas as the concept was becoming reality. He had an idea for something smart, interesting and helpful to the community. And now, we have … this. My hope is the audience gets something that is pointless, yet remarkably entertaining. There’s not a lot of local theater happening on Wednesday nights, so here is something to make you laugh and get through the rest of the week. I think [Samuel] Beckett said it best when he wrote, ‘Nobody comes, nobody goes, nothing happens. It’s awful.”
Arthur is understandably a little more positive in his assessment of what he has in store for the next episode. “The October show will definitely have a Halloween vibe,” he says. “As for how, you’ll just have to come out and see.”
WHAT: Olde Virden’s Super Happy Trivia Challenge with Rodney Smith, Allen T. Law, Sam Stewart and Jeff “Hootenanny” Catanese.
WHERE: 35below, ashevilletheatre.org
WHEN: Wednesday, Oct. 21, at 7:30 p.m. $12