Meet The Bay Area’s Quizzard of Trivia
What happens when a comedian is a contestant on Jeopardy, wins a car on another game show, and later finds themselves wanting to combine their love of comedy and trivia? Noah Tarnow started a “trivia night spectacular” – a bar trivia night crossed with a TV game show called The Big Quiz Thing(BQT).
The story of Tarnow and The Big Quiz thing starts off in New York and has some twists and turns which lead them to where they are now. Multiple cities, a large team of quizmasters, and both online and in-person events. Tarnow worked hard to get here and his story will inspire anyone who wants to follow their dreams, however wacky the idea might be.
“This is a weird job.”
While we hear so many people moving away from the Bay Area to pursue a more stable career, it’s refreshing to learn about Tarnow’s story about how his career led him to build a trivia game show and eventually come here to grow his business. “Twenty years ago, I was facing the fact that I wasn’t going to make it as a stand-up comic in NYC, but I nonetheless felt the need to do something for a (hopefully adoring) audience.”
“Coincidentally, around the same time, I won a car on a short-lived VH1 game show and I competed on Jeopardy! (“competed” = nope, I did not win). I thus set out to become a game show host, or at least a writer of trivia. Unable to secure employment in that field (I nearly got a gig writing for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?), I decided to hire myself. Inspired by bar trivia events, I created my own event,” remembers Tarnow.
Laughter is a key element in every BQT event.
Every Quizmaster during a BQT event has their own unique way of making folks laugh and stay engaged. Tarnow’s own history as a comedian is evident in his stage presence. Beyond his hilariously bold personality, he’ll nearly always wear his signature blazer is fully sequined and showy – if it’s not bedazzled, it’ll minimally be extra velvety. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and he gives you props and extra points if you can make him laugh with your team’s wacky answers or heckling of other teams.
He had some hilarious stories to tell from events over the years but I laughed so hard when he said sometimes he gets in fights with nerds who just need to be right even when they are wrong.
“I’ve gotten in some really ridiculous arguments with some ridiculous nerds, God love those guys (yes, they’re always guys). I had a semantic discussion over what the word “popular” means; I had to talk down someone who refused to believe that Jacksonville, FL, is a large city; I got in a bitter debate over what exactly Billy Joel meant by “rock & roller cola wars” at the end of “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”
A quick pivot saved Big Quiz Thing during the pandemic.
Being a quizmaster and creating a successful career with a successful trivia game show isn’t easy. You have to facilitate, keep people on task, keep things fun, bring up jokes on the fly and make sure you keep the crowd engaged. For years, Tarnow and his team had regularly successful in-person events. When the pandemic hit, everything had to change, and that created new challenges for BQT.
Previous to 2020, BQT was mainly an in-person bi-coastal event. But once we were deep in another stay-at-home order, Tarnow and his team pivoted their format. Now, 2 years after the original shut down, they have built a business that can work for either in-person or online formats. Lucky for them, in-person events had a digital element which helped as they moved forward. By shifting to more corporate events online, BQT has been able to work with companies like Netflix, Salesforce, Google, Facebook, and more!
Tarnow says, “The second the stay-at-home hammer came down, we knew we needed to retool our game to deliver it completely online (something we’d been toying with for a few years, in fact). Worst-case scenario, I figured, we’d spin our wheels for a couple of weeks (ha!). The virtual shift worked out great: By April of 2020, we were booking more events than ever, for clients old and new, way beyond our usual hub cities.”
Big Quiz Thing brings levity in a time when we all need to laugh with those around us.
Let’s face it, we need more reasons to belly laugh these days. One of the reasons Big Quiz Thing is so different from other types of trivia events. They use comedy to create events that bring people together with laughter. This trivia event doesn’t take itself too seriously and you shouldn’t either.
“Making a crowd of people cheer, laugh, high-five, and smile. I’m so lucky to get to entertain people for a living.”
As someone who is terrible at remembering things, I can attest to the fact that BQT is for everyone. The nerd who seemingly knows every factoid on the internet may actually lose to the person who “doesn’t like trivia”. BQT isn’t as intimidating as when you go to a bar trivia night and the nerd next to you is a complete know-it-all.
What’s next for Tarnow and the Big Quiz Team?
Thanks to the BQT quickly pivoting in a smart way during the pandemic, they now are able to offer online events for team building, trivia writing consultation and in-person events have finally come back. Tarnow admits he missed in-person events because he feels his comedic background can really shine that way. Maybe he misses wearing his sequined blazer in front of a crowd?
Really, Tarnow just wants to keep showing people that trivia is more than just answers to obscure facts.
“One of my career goals is to promote the idea that trivia is an art—like music, like dance, like painting—and its skilled practitioners should be recognized as true professionals.”
You can find more information on Big Quiz Thing here:
NOTE: Big Quiz Thing has grown to have multiple quizmasters.
Eric de Picciotto
J. Keith Van Straaton
*all photos are from Big Quiz Thing unless otherwise noted.