Local game show pits bar-morons against one another in fake TED talks
Published: July 25, 2012
A conversation with John Bennett and Patrick Storck runs the gamut of trivia: the merits of disco musicals (“lots of punch dancing”); the movies of Nicholas Sparks (“There are seven movies. Or one, if you really look at it.”); the creator of Wonder Woman (“He also invented the lie detector.”).
Mastery of minutia suits the cohosts of Expert of Nothing, a game show-esque competition that requires contestants to connect disparate topics—say, quasars and Grover Cleveland—on the spot. “Basically, it’s like if [the two topics] were their double major, and we’ve asked them to give their thesis,” Storck says. Three rounds of monologues, debate, and Q&A sessions determine the winner, the ultimate BS artist. “If anybody can be that person, that Cliff Clavin bar-moron, who just can argue anything and get out their most twisted logic,” that’s the champion of Expert of Nothing, Bennett says.
Storck, a national toy salesman and playwright, and Bennett, a tugboat dispatcher and the host of the Windup Space’s Mondo Baltimore movie series, created the live show at Windup as a platform that allows non-comedians to experience the limelight.
“There are a lot of open-mic nights in Baltimore. We wanted to do something different, where not just comedians, but people who kind of want to have a taste of that—filmmakers, musicians, people who are generally outgoing—can get up onstage and do a little bit of something,” Storck says. In devising the game, the pair also paid attention to audience interaction, incorporating the Q&A portion to encourage the audience to be “invested in the show. That’s what we really aspire to do,” Bennett says.
Expert of Nothing starts with eight contestants. In the first round, the competitors each pick a topic they’re familiar with, are assigned another topic at random, and then deliver a minute-and-a-half spiel that relates the two subjects. Bennett and Storck keep a spreadsheet of topics, arranged by category, pertaining to anything from plant life to mythology. “Some of them are so general—like tree,” Storck says, “and then some of them are like—”
“Chester A. Arthur, or the Egyptian uprising,” Bennett chimes in.
In a past episode, local filmmaker Chris LaMartina had to discuss the connection between Wonder Woman and Mitt Romney. “I believe the crux of his argument was that Mitt Romney had a sexual fetish to dress up like Wonder Woman, and that is something that, in his entire campaign, he’s been trying to suppress,” Bennett recalls.
Each monologue is followed by a Q&A with the hosts and the audience. In June’s episode, contestant Chris Kinslow, comparing Tennessee Williams and George Washington, averred that Washington was gay. An audience member asked, “Do you think calling his home ‘Mount Vernon’ meant something?”
Following the barrage of absurd questions, the second round pits four contestants—those who were more convincing—against those who were less so. “We used to call it ‘the people who were cut,’ but we realized everybody stayed onstage for the second round, so they weren’t really cut. We didn’t want the sense of rejection, so we basically have the defendant and the contrarian,” Storck says. The first-round winners make new arguments about different topics; eliminated competitors give them the third degree, trying to poke holes in their cases.
Whittled down to two contestants, the final round is a battle royale. The rivals pick a topic in advance and then argue its relevance to a shared topic. “It really becomes a head-to-head competition between two bar know-it-alls,” Bennett says. “It’s the best entertainment in a bar. It’s two morons arguing about something they don’t know. They are so committed to convincing you, and usually at least one of them’s lit.” The moron who emerges victorious is rewarded with a bauble, usually something engraved: “I’m on a first-name basis with the people at Things Remembered,” Bennett says.
Storck and Bennett met in June of 2010, through Mondo Baltimore, the group that screens a god-awful movie every month at the Windup Space. “Patrick was one of the best hecklers that we had at Mondo,” Bennett says. From their interactions there, the two collaborated to come up with Expert of Nothing. Storck developed the oration-meets-trivia slant. “It was originally something more along the lines of doing fake TED Talks,” he says. Bennett’s competitive spirit gave the project its game show-like structure. “I would keep trying to push ‘it’s about what they’re talking about,’ and [Bennett] would say, ‘yes, but it’s about [being] against everyone else,’” Storck says.
As the show has evolved, they’ve tweaked the rules. “We just built in a new safety net called Kobayashi Maru—a Star Trek reference,” Storck says. (At this, Bennett begins quietly laughing and mutters, “Neeeerd.” “It was your idea,” Storck shoots back.) If a contestant invokes Kobayashi Maru—a no-win test used as a Starfleet training exercise—he can veto an assigned topic, but only after revealing the scarring incident that prevents him from talking about it. “It’s not just that, ‘Oh, I don’t know that one, I don’t like it,’ you have to say, ‘Oh, I can’t explain that because—’” Storck says.
“Because bears killed my cat,” Bennett interjects.
The pair has brought in sound engineers to record the shows, which they air on iTunes. If the podcast takes off, Storck envisions doing special shows in New York or Los Angeles, as a means to “let people know that there are a lot of creative people in Baltimore that are worth looking at.” After saying syndication would be a plus, Bennett adds, “I just want to get a home game [version] with my head on the box. I have simple pleasures.”
For more information visit expertofnothing.com
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