Photos courtesy HQ Trivia
If you’ve been wondering why your office seems to come to a standstill at 3 p.m. on weekdays, HQ is probably the answer.
Started in August of 2017 by Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll, founders of video streaming platforms Vine and Hype, HQ Trivia is the digital, in-your-pocket equivalent of your neighborhood pub quiz: The host reads 12 general-knowledge questions of progressively increasing difficulty, and players have 10 seconds to select the correct answer from three possibilities. At the end of the game — which only lasts about 15 minutes — whoever is left standing splits the cash prize, usually $2,000 but special events have regularly driven that figure up to $10,000 or even $20,000.
Games run live every day at 9 p.m. and again on weekdays at 3 p.m., drawing hundreds of thousands of players. (Last night’s surprise fifteen-question, $15,000 game drew a record-breaking 1.7 million contestants.)
At nearly every one of these show times, even on holidays, players are greeted by the smiley, effervescent, bearded face of host and Harrison native Scott Rogowsky (whom you might remember from his viral “Fake Book Covers on the Subway” videos). The Johns Hopkins graduate and comedian now goes by many names: “Trap Trebek,” “Quiz Kalifah,” “the Semitic Sajak,” “Quizzie McGuire,” “the bougie Barker,” “Host Malone,” “the woke Woolery,” “Regis Trillbin,” … the list keeps growing. We caught up with the “Quiz Daddy” himself, without even the benefit of multiple-choice.
What did you like about growing up in Harrison?
It’s great to live in Harrison! There is a strong Italian heritage in Harrison, which explains our small town’s cornucopia of terrific pizzerias and delis, and every year on Columbus Day we also celebrate how great it is to live in Harrison with a parade and carnival. It’s where I helped my dad campaign for Westchester County Legislator in the early 90s, and where I purchased and planted my first stink bombs.
For the last few months you’ve been crashing back at home in Harrison (having been called to host HQ Trivia just as you were packing up your life in NYC to head to L.A). We hope you’ve found a new place in the City, but is there anything about living in Westchester you’re going to miss?
Yes, I will be moving to the West Village very shortly, and I’ve been spending many nights crashing with friends or hotels in the city if I wrap work too late, but I have enjoyed my time at home helping out around the house, eating Friday night dinners with mom and dad at home, and trying to clean up the basement which has proved to be a Sisyphean task.
Speaking as another suburban Jewish kid from Westchester who accidentally took stand-up in college and later became a trivia host, what do you wish you could go back and tell your younger self as career advice?
I tried to tell myself this all along, and I still believe it, so I’m sure my younger self would say, “Yeah, I know” — but the advice is keep your head down, do your best work, don’t give up, and always remember: Everything is meaningless!
Have you read any good books lately? (Both real or imaginary covers included.)
Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul by Jeremiah Moss is a terrific book I read recently, which broke my heart and got my blood boiling at the same time. It traces the origins of hypergentrification and the suburbification/touristification of New York City, based on the blog Jeremiah keeps which has chronicled the shuttering of every great restaurant and shop — everything that made New York “New York” — over the past decade. I also thoroughly enjoyed Jason Zinoman’s biography of David Letterman, one of my late night heroes and major influences.
Is it getting harder to come up with new game show host nicknames for yourself? Do you outsource to the fans, or do you lay awake at night trying to come up with the perfect alliteration? (Not that we do that or anything.)
I love getting tweets from fans with suggestions for new names, and I’ve started outsourcing to comedian friends of mine as well. Gotta keep it fresh, twice a day! Yesterday I was in a building whose lobby was closed for asbestos abatement, and “the host with the asbestos” magically occurred to me.
A couple nights ago I passed a Faceboook’ed screenshot of a tweet (…yep) that essentially read,
Me in 2017: “Who’s this annoying HQ host?”
Me in 2018: “If Scott Rogowsky isn’t hosting HQ tonight I am permanently deleting the app.”
Did you ever imagine having such a particularly devoted personal following when you started this job?
You can never fully account or plan for anything in this business, or life in general. I always hoped to have fans, and I certainly had them before HQ Trivia, thanks to my six years of hosting my own talk show (Running Late with Scott Rogowsky) and my viral videos, but I’ve never experienced such intense fandom as I’ve seen with HQ. There are multiple fan pages, people who dressed as me for Halloween, people making fan art, and even someone who created a Scott Rogowsky talking doll!
More and more celebrities are being revealed as “HQties.” (Dan Rather’s family famously won on Christmas.) Who’s been your favorite to find out about?
As a sports fan I love hearing about athletes who play. Last night I learned that Major League all-star and World Series champion Mike Napoli plays HQ, as does the greatest Jewish baseball player of my generation, Shawn Green. LA Chargers offensive tackle Russell Okung plays. Danielle Fishel, who played Topanga on Boy Meets World (and my first celebrity crush), is a huge fan, as are Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel (who guest hosted a HQ game, which continues to blow my mind).
Who would you love to find out plays HQ?
Jason Isringhausen — my favorite player on the Mets growing up (my first AOL screen name was Izzy1204 in his honor). I think my next nickname needs to be Jason Quiz-ringhausen.
As you mentioned, celebrity cameos/hosts on HQ have included Ryan Seacrest and Jimmy Kimmel. Who would you love to see guest-host an evening?
Will Ferrell as Harry Caray.
Do you have a favorite Savage Question?
That’s like asking if I have a favorite child! They’re all beautifully savage in their own unique way.
HQ has been blamed for everything from the coming technological corporate dystopia (fair) to the subversion of logic in favor of instinct (symptomatic at best), to a drop in workplace productivity (no comment). How does it feel to be the willing hand of such a massively fun seven-headed dragon?
I don’t know what you’re talking about. MY workplace productivity has soared! Never been busier!
Finally, if heaven is real, when you get to the pearly gates what question do you want to find out God lost on?
Before we disappear to play our 3 p.m. office round, here are some quick tips to make you the rulers of the HQ-niverse:
1. Play as a group to broaden your knowledge base
2. Play on multiple phones so your team can split the total prize instead of just one portion. (Also you can split the difference on questions no one knows the answer to.)
3. Yeah, you’re allowed to Google but it’s just bad form (and slow if you’re a lousy typist).
4. Open the app when a game isn’t running and quickly swipe up from the bottom of the screen with two fingers for an extra life! (Seems to work about once a week.) Or, you know, just invite friends instead of being a Richard Dawson about it.
5. Remember to have fun! Like this lady: