SF Sketchfest Review: NPR’s Ask Me Another on 2/5/2014

by Gordon Elgart on February 10, 2014

Ophira Eisenberg in action at Ask Me Another's home at The Bell House in Brooklyn.

Ophira Eisenberg in action at Ask Me Another’s home at The Bell House in Brooklyn.

This is a review of a radio show that hasn’t happened yet. Because of that, I’d like to start with a giant spoiler alert. You’ll be able to listen to most of what transpired here tonight on the radio on March 14, and on podcast soon after that. I won’t tell you any specific quiz questions, and I won’t tell you who won, but I’m gonna spoil some surprises, for sure. As for why anyone would ever want to go to a radio show taping of a radio show they already listen to? I’ll try my best to explain.

The cast of NPR’s Ask Me Another (Ophira Eisenberg, Jonathan Coulton, Art Chung and two producers who are very good at quietly talking while listening to a radio show taping) came to the Castro Theatre in San Francisco as part of SFSketchfest. Though not technically a comedy show, it is a puzzle and quiz show hosted by funny people, so you’ll oftentimes find yourself laughing along with the ingenuity of the puzzle themes, or the cleverness of the specific clues that were given.

The live show kicked off with Ophira Eisenberg coming out to do some crowd warmup. We were treated to a story about the folly of making assumptions about internet porn usage where nerds are involved, as the secretive laptop use might just be Harry Potter related. Then we were treated to a performance by Jonathan Coulton of his song, “Ikea,” which judging by the laughter coming from the people in front of me, they had never heard before. Having happily sung along, I was ready for the real show to begin.

This night kicked off with Farhad Manjoo, tech columnist for The New York Times (or Wall Street Journal if it’s last week), who played a game called Yahoo! Seriously where all the answers were sourced from Yahoo! Answers. His opponent was a self-appointed fact checker for Slate, and he had worked with Manjoo many times in the past on getting the facts straight. This was a tough matchup, for sure.

After this brush with celebrity, the show moved into a word game called “You Can’t Handle This Handle” that involved words that start with “At,” like a Twitter handle starts with “@”. Then we quickly moved along to an interview with local legend, Mythbuster Adam Savage, who told us it’s easy for him to drop by since he lives a ten minute walk from the Castro. He then told us very seriously not to follow him home. He was his usual amazing self, telling stories of myths he busted and didn’t bust, scary stunts, and working with Jamie. (All appearances by Adam Savage are great; I have no idea why I don’t watch Mythbusters anymore.) Adam then finished up by giving a couple of contestants a quiz about past myths busted or proven true on his show.

Next up was a musical game called “The News According to Huey Lewis” that used rewritten lyrics to “The Power of Love,” sung by Jonathan Coulton, to ask questions about news stories of the ’80s. This led into a segment with the VIP (Very Important Puzzler) of the night — Danny Pudi. During his interview, I learned things I didn’t know about him, such as his background in Polish folk dancing. He shared some Polish quips with audience members, and then discussed the differences between his character on Community and himself. He was tested on these differences by being matched up against Adam Savage in a game that tested their knowledge of famous action movie one liners.

Finally, the show ended the way the show always ends, with the Ask Me Another final round. Individual game winners are brought up to answer questions, spelling-bee style, until only one person remains. This person is crowned victor, and receives a prize provided by the VIP. This particular night had a pretty entertaining prize, and you should listen to hear what it is. I promise it’s worth it.

Now, the taping of the show ran for about 100 minutes, and the show itself is 60.  So let me explain the major benefit and drawback of seeing your favorite NPR show taped live in the audience. You get the benefit of seeing all the bits that get cut out of the actual show, but then you learn something you can’t unsee: a lot of great stuff is cut out of the version you end up hearing. If I lived near the Bell House in Brooklyn where this show is taped regularly, I’d have to go every week. The fear of missing out (Andrew W.K. on March 24!) would overcome me! Safe out West, I only can wonder about the joy that disappears from this show on a regular basis, and eventually my disappointment will fade. Until then, I’ll always have the memories of this evening, and keep relying on my weekly 60-minute dose of puzzles.


Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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