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Monday, June 1, 2015

Chatting With Noah Tarnow of NYC's "Big Quiz Thing" Which Debuts in SF June 9

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2015 at 11:40 AM

Quizmaster Noah Tarnow - RYAN MUIR
  • Ryan Muir
  • Quizmaster Noah Tarnow

Updated: The Big Quiz Thing's residency at Neck of the Woods begins on Tuesday, Sept. 8. The June 9 event is a preview.

In June 2006, when I was living in Brooklyn, several friends and I went to The Big Quiz Thing on the Lower East Side. We didn’t win, but a woman came up to us and asked if we wanted to be on a new reality show called Show Me New York, where you would be interviewed in front of your favorite restaurant, park, or monument to talk about it.

We agreed. She made and broke several appointments, and I was about to tell her to go to hell when she honored a commitment and we met up in front of Bloomingdale’s (strictly as a rendezvous point). She was highly agitated and wearing a headset, and put us into a cab because the producers wanted to switch locations at the last second. The cab turned out to be the Cash Cab, which none of us had even heard of at that point.

“Congratulations, you’re on Cash Cab!” said host Ben Railey, from the driver’s seat.

“Uh, we’re supposed to be going to this other show.”

“This is the show!”

We had to get out and re-tape our entrance, because they want you to look elated and not completely baffled. In any case, we won $2000. Divided three ways, it was $666.66, on 6/06/06. True story.

Nine years later, The Big Quiz Thing has blown up to become one of New York’s biggest trivia nights, a multimedia experience with its own TV show. Quizmaster Noah Tarnow is taking his show on the road, stopping in San Francisco on June 9, at Neck of the Woods in the Inner Richmond. It's the preview for an every-other-Tuesday residency that picks up in early September. There's no cover, but there are lots of prizes: tickets to a roller derby, passes to the Exploratorium, gift certificates to Green Apple books and other local businesses.

"But fun is the greatest prize of all," Tarnow told SF Weekly.

A lot has changed since The Big Quiz Thing’s debut, 13 years ago, “back when trivia in bars was unknown in the US." Tarnow was a standup comic hoping to write for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Unable to find work, he decided to make his own trivia night and give it a game-show feel. The result was pure spectacle with lots of visual and audio components, so that “even if you lose, you’re still entertained,” Tarnow said.

Considering that the average trivia night involves an uncharismatic host mispronouncing things into a mike and taking 45 minutes to grade each round as a table of people scream at televised sports as if nothing else is going on, the fact that the Big Quiz Thing has put in some major improvements is significant. For one, a new quiz app is about to roll out; it requires that at least one person on a team bring a tablet or laptop, but cuts the time needed to tote up scores.

“And I don’t have to read people’s insane handwriting anymore. I daresay how much you think I might have improved,” Tarnow said, referring to my 2006 attendance.

Amid all the accolades, some strange things have happened over the years. Tarnow once did a show on his birthday, and tasked people with guessing his weight. No one believed he weighed as little as he did, and skeptics were so incensed that they brought scales the following week.

Sometimes, the competition gets heated and people get angry. Drunk nerds armed with oodles of useless information can be quite feisty.

“I’m proud of the fact that more often than not, I’m able to talk them down,” Tarnow said.

And for the record, Tarnow was well-aware of the Cash Cab producer combing his audiences for potential contestants. She nearly succeeded in getting him on the show, too, but he canceled the day of. (A Big Quiz Thing regular claimed that Cash Cab was also poaching some of Tarnow’s questions, but Tarnow says he couldn’t be bothered to investigate.) Tarnow has been on Jeopardy!, and won a car on VH1’s short-lived Name That Video, but he saves his real adoration for another long-time host.

“Bob Barker made everyone feel good” even when they lost, Tarnow said. “It’s that perfect balance of maintaining a legitimate game and having a good time.”

The Big Quiz Thing, Tuesday, June 9, 7 p.m., at Neck of the Woods, 406 Clement, 415-387-6343.

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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.


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