Every day, Scott Rogowsky tries to give people money. To get it, all they have to do is correctly answer 12 questions. In the fall, Rogowsky, A&S '07, became the host of HQ Trivia, an app that beams a live, 15-minute trivia contest directly to contestants' phones twice a day and once on Saturdays and Sundays. Since the game's debut, it's averaged between 600,000 and 1.6 million players per broadcast.
The prize money is shared among players with a perfect score, averaging $10–$20 per game, but the take-home earnings are less addictive than the bragging rights and the chance to spend time with the self-proclaimed HQ "Quiz Zaddy" Rogowsky, who peppers goofy puns and one-liners into the compact game-show broadcast.
Johns Hopkins Magazine caught up with Rogowsky to talk trivia, the New York Mets, and becoming a meme.
Did doing your previous shows Running Late With Scott Rogowsky or the short-lived Would You Fall for That? prepare you for talking directly to nearly a million people every day through their phones?
I probably would have been better prepared for this job had I been a news anchor for the past decade. I hadn't done much prompter work before HQ, staring down the barrel of a camera, which is what I'm doing now, twice a day, live, for 15 uninterrupted minutes. The ability to think on my feet, which I've developed over the years as a performer, certainly helps when I'm riffing on a question or vamping during technical difficulties, but those skills can be traced back even earlier to my years as a scared little boy yammering my way out of confrontation and conflict.
Doing this show, have you come across any area of trivia where you've realized, Oh, I know next to nothing about that?
The biggest blind spots for me are technology and video game questions. The closest I've ever come to being considered a "gamer" are the six months I obsessively tried to beat Aladdin on Sega Genesis in 1994.
You did the Weird World of Sports program for a streaming app. Did you come across any eccentric sports out there that the Olympic committee should consider adding to an upcoming summer or winter games?
The whole concept of that series, which was recently re-released on the Whistle Sports Facebook page, was highlighting bizarre, off-the-beaten-court sports, and frankly I think the practitioners of all of them deserve a shot at Olympic glory. Who's to say Dog Surfing is any weirder than curling? Underwater hockey is considered eccentric, but synchronized swimming isn't? Of all the sports I showcased on WWoS, mountain unicycling seemed to be the most athletically demanding and deserving of more recognition. This completely reckless 21-year-old Austrian kid was pedaling a unicycle full-speed down the side of a 5,000 foot mountain! I have never felt more confident I was about to witness someone's death.
In fact, an all-sports trivia game show sounds like something that might appeal to people—or an all music and film trivia game. Are there plans to add other HQ Trivia formats to the app?
The founders are focused on continuing to improve the HQ experience and innovate in this new media space that they essentially created from scratch. You're going to love what's in store!
You're doing nine shows a week—two every weekday and one each Saturday and Sunday, which is practically a Broadway show schedule. Is there a hang where the HQ Trivia team grabs a bite between shows?
Check your math, Bret—that's 12 shows a week! There's very little time to have proper meals around here. Suffice it to say, our Seamless account gets a good workout.
How challenging is it to write for such a specific, tight time frame? How do you know what lands and what doesn't?
We try to keep it brisk, especially during the day games when most people are at work or school and perhaps sneaking away to the bathroom to play. As far as knowing which jokes land, I have to wait until after the show when I check Twitter. If people are quoting a joke I made accompanied by happy crying face emojis, I can rest easy. On the flip side of not hearing immediate, audible feedback—there's also no heckling! And getting used to the deafening silence that greets my zingers on HQ has helped cushion the blows during my stand-up sets.
HQ Trivia launched in the U.K. in January—is there an effort to make the game more U.K. inclusive? I've played pub quizzes in London, and while we speak the same language, there are enough cultural differences that even seemingly lay-up trivia questions make me feel stupid.
The U.K. now has its own version of HQ hosted by Sharon Carpenter (a Brit living in Brooklyn) with questions tailored to their Anglican knowledge base and sensibilities. Now they can stop complaining when we ask questions about the Orioles.
What's it like to be meme-able? Is it a little odd to know there's a "Scott Rogowsky" section of GIFs on Giphy?
The meme-ification of fandom is something of which I had been peripherally aware but never myself a participant. Now that I'm the one getting meme-ified, I must say, it's incredibly flattering to think that a) I have fans and b) they're taking time out of their day to create these WORKS OF ART. I am getting a huge kick out of interacting with all the HQties on social media and encouraging their creativity.
Do you think HQ Trivia debuting during this moment in American history plays any role in its popularity? I mean, using the device through which we consume the daily barrage of the 24-hour news cycle to take a brain-teasing 15-minute break from that information stream almost sounds like a self-care regimen.
I haven't given too much thought to that aspect. You have a solid theory here. This past year has been so topsy-turvy and surreal in so many ways. The degradation of hard facts and the rise of fake news have led many people—myself included—to feel unmoored from our sense of the world around us and even our sense of self. Answering questions that have verifiable, factual answers might very well be giving people a reliable anchor to reality that is otherwise missing in our daily media diet.
Choose your own adventure: Either HQ Trivia catapults your career into a success template for comedy writers, actors, and producers in the 21st century, or the Mets go on to carve out a Yankees-like dynasty of World Series wins over the next 30 years. Which would you pick?
Let's go Mets!