Northampton Press

Friday, April 10, 2020
CONTRIBUTED PHOTOOphira Eisenberg, host, WNYC and National Public Radio quiz show, “Ask Me Another. Copyright - Dan Dion CONTRIBUTED PHOTOOphira Eisenberg, host, WNYC and National Public Radio quiz show, “Ask Me Another. Copyright - Dan Dion

You can ‘Ask’ Ophira Eisenberg more than ‘Another’

Wednesday, March 7, 2018 by DEB BOYLAN Special to The Press in Focus

Behind the scenes of your favorite game show, local pub trivia night, board game and puzzle page, lurk a team of freelance professional game writers. They often don’t have a public byline, yet they are the anonymous beating heart of every popular quiz show, word-game and riddle challenge imaginable.

These crafty and clever masters of pun and subtle wit don many hats including: researcher, historian, pop-culture junkie, number-cruncher, joke writer and wordsmith. It takes an inimitable outlook and creative flair to come up with challenges such as “Poems rewritten to be about ‘Star Trek’ characters” and “This, that or the other,” the latter whereby contestants are tasked with determining which one of three possible categories an obscure item falls under.

The above noted puzzles are just two examples of games played on the popular WNYC and National Public Radio quiz show, “Ask Me Another,” hosted by comedian, author, actress and storyteller Ophira Eisenberg.

Eisenberg, along with sidekick-cum-house musician, Jonathan Coulter, control the flow of gameplay as pairs of contestants compete head-to-head in the game segments. The winner of each round of pairs competition advances to the final game where they then face off to win a small prize of little monetary value.

Interspersed between the questions, Eisenberg will engage in colloquial banter with the contestants and Coulter.

The show usually features a “Very Important Puzzler” (VIP), often a celebrity or well-known guest who will also answer some trivia questions directed at them. Frequently, the prize awarded to the winner of the final round is an item of memorabilia provided by the VIP.

While “Ask Me Another” is primarily a trivia contest, the hour-long broadcast can easily be described as game show meets variety hour with interviews, bits of music and comedic riffing sprinkled in between the game play.

“We try to make things a little bit more clever and a little bit more convoluted,” says Eisenberg in a phone interview when asked about the type of questions contestants might encounter on “Ask Me Another.”

“[For example] if we’re asking questions about an Academy Award winner, you probably have to marry that person’s name with an animal sound,” laughs Eisenberg.

“There are people that do this for a living,” she says about the team of writers responsible for creating the trivia questions.

“They work for television shows. They write for ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire,’ crossword puzzles, some of them write for HQ [a real-time trivia app for Apple and android devices]. HQ is a huge thing right now.

“But every show, there’s a trivia game, there’s a guessing game, there is a word game, and there is a music game. Everyone that we work with, they definitely have their skill-set.”

“I think our pool right now is maybe about 20 to 30 freelancers.”

Games that make it onto the show are purchased from the writers.

“It’s actually a nice little freelance writing gig for professional game writers. Which is nice,” she adds.

“I don’t think I would have come across those people in my other walks of performance life.”

The VIP portion of “Ask Me Another” is tailored specifically to each visitor to the show.

“We have a special guest every show. Their game is usually written in-house and we brainstorm what would be a good game for them. One that springs to mind is when we had [comedian and former ‘Daily Show’ correspondent] Roy Wood, Jr. on the show.

“It turns out, he loves jigsaw puzzles,” explains Eisenberg. “You might not think of him that way if you know him as a comedian and on television doing political comedy.

“So, we found out this little tidbit about him and we’re like, ‘That’s in our wheel house. Let’s write something about that.”

Asked about her own secret passions, Eisenberg explains that her plate these days is quite the full one.

“When you are doing a fulltime job hosting a [weekly] trivia-comedy show for NPR as well as pursing your stand-up career and storytelling and raising a two-year-old, you don’t have any secret passions.

“They have been taken from you,” she laughs.

“My guilty pleasure I will say is that I love reading super trashy detective novels. That’s what puts me to bed, that and the, ‘Great British Bake-Off’ [TV reality show]. That [‘British Bake-Off’] makes me feel like the world is a happier place. That is the only bit of reality television that I consume.”

Eisenberg regularly hosts the legendary live storytelling series, “The Moth.” She is also raising her toddler son, Lucas, with her husband Jonathan Baylis, author of the 2008 compilation of his autobiographical comic book series, “So Buttons: Man Of, Like, A Dozen Faces.” Mocha, a Boston terrier rounds out the family dynamic in Eisenberg’s Park Slope, Brooklyn, N.Y., abode.

“It is known for being the place where people have kids,” says Eisenberg about her Brooklyn neighborhood where strollers are more common than Starbucks and a large population of very young children abound.

“If I lived there without a child I would be so angry all the time. When you are with a child, you are a plop in the chaos. It feels great because you know, like your kid having a meltdown. How could they possibly have the biggest meltdown of all?

“It feels sort of insulated in a good way,” adds Eisenberg. “It’s the right place for right now.”

Fans of Eisenberg who braved the Nor’easter March 2 were in the right place to catch her 8 p.m. performance at ArtsQuest Center, Fowler Blast Furnace Room.

“I think I was one of the first people to come out when it just opened up and Ryan [Hill, Programming Director, ArtsQuest] was just starting out booking some comedy there.”

Later that night, March 2, Eisenberg was special guest of the “We’re Good, You’re Great!” Improv show featuring Matt Candio and Evan Stutts (formerly of Mandudebro).

“They actually have people tell a story and that’s what they use for the fodder of their improv,” explains Eisenberg about her role in “We’re Good, You’re Great!”

“I’m going to be their guest storyteller to tell a tale that they can then spin off their improv from.

“I love that space,” says Eisenberg of SteelStacks’ ArtsQuest Center where she last performed February 2015.

“What a great addition to Bethlehem,” says Eisenberg of SteelStacks and ArtsQuest Center.

“I mean, it’s just such a beautiful space. Even better, people go to it. It provided something that everybody wanted.”