Trivia With a Twist in an Arts District Podcast

The live trivia podcast “Go Fact Yourself” tapes twice a month at Angel City Brewery in the Arts District. Shown are (l to r) guest expert Brian Kehew, contestants John Mangum and Stehanie Miller, and hosts  J. Keith van Straaten and Helen Hong.

DTLA - It’s late on a Sunday afternoon at Angel City Brewery and comedian Jonathan Mangum is cringing. He’s seated before a crowd of about 100 people, struggling to list the three films composer Wendy Carlos scored with a Moog synthesizer. He gets Tron off the bat but then hits a wall. Finally he caves and admits he only knows one before shouting out “Legends of the Fall.” The crowds bursts out laughing at the idea of the Western drama having an electronic soundtrack.

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Mangum is competing on “Go Fact Yourself,” a podcast that turns pub trivia into a game show. It tapes twice a month in the Arts District brewery.

It seems that everyone these days has a podcast. What sets “Go Fact Yourself” apart is the live setting, the game show-style presentation, and a cast that features some familiar names, with hosts J. Keith van Straaten and Helen Hong shepherding a pair of actors and comedians through multiple rounds of trivia. It also plays off each participant’s self-professed proficiency in certain subjects — Mangum, for instance, had claimed to be an expert in analog keyboards. The hosts then bring out actual experts on the topics to judge whether or not the player knows as much as he or she thinks.

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The show launched in December, setting up in the Traction Avenue beer hall after other shows from the Maximum Fun podcast network had done live events there. Admission is free, but attendees must RSVP in advance to reserve one of the 120 seats. The next episode is Sunday, April 1.

Van Straaten, a comedian who hosted a stage revival of “What’s My Line?” among other projects, developed the show with producer Jim Newman. He said it grew out of a love of trivia, but wasn’t initially intended to be done in front of a crowd.

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“The idea was that we could do it in a studio and once in a while we could take on a live show,” van Straaten said. “It became clear really quickly we needed a live audience.”

One instigator for the live experience, he said, is the show’s “Clusterfact” section, during which the experts for each topic are brought on stage and help set the wayward contestants right.

Hong, who is known to many for her role as a panelist on NPR’s weekly news trivia show “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” said the audience tends to be more relaxed than her public radio production. 

“‘Go Fact Yourself’ is family friendly. Well, it’s supposed to be family friendly,” said Hong, who also serves as the show’s scorekeeper. “But we are in a brewery, so you do have to be 21 and up. There’s beer flowing, people have a looser nature.”

The looseness is apparent, and during the recent taping van Straaten had to remind audience members not to shout out the answers, even if they knew an obscure fact about, say, keyboards or Duran Duran.

It’s a lively environment for an audience. Joseph Pintozzi said he was turned on to “Go Fact Yourself” by his cousin and went to the taping of the eighth episode. He got into it and listened to older episodes.

“It’s everything I want,” Pintozzi said. “There’s good beer and famous people doing normal people things like trivia. And I play trivia, so I love it.”

Curtis Corbett also identified himself as a big trivia fan. Sitting in the front row of the crowd, it was his first time at a live episode. He said the experience feels more like being at a comedy show than at a podcast taping.

Van Straaten said something about trivia draws a crowd.

“People like being right. People like to prove that they know things,” he said. “I think that with a lot of the more obscure stuff, you’re carrying this around in your head, so you might as well get something out of it.”

Van Straaten pointed to the “What’s the Difference?” round at a recent taping, where Mangum and his opponent, the well-known radio host Stephanie Miller, had to state the difference between facts and factoids. Van Straaten said that for people in the brewery or listening at home, it’s fun seeing the contestants try to piece together an answer.

The questions can’t be too easy. Hong said audience members have told the hosts to up the ante and to make each query more challenging. It also helps when guests have a truly interesting or niche expertise. Hong added that her chosen topic would be the Donner Party, the group of American pioneers who purportedly resorted to cannibalism when their 1846 expedition wound up trapped in heavy snows in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

“I’m like weirdly obsessed with the Donner Party,” she said. “I’m not sure if it would be useful, but I could answer questions about it.”

Each episode is also a learning experience for the hosts, Hong added. She pointed to recent episodes where she learned about the TV show “The Bionic Woman,” Miller’s expertise, and Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, a subject of fascination for actor Jason Kravits.

Back at Angel City, Mangum and Miller finished the final round, the “Fast Facts” section where they have to declare if a statement is true or false. They waited anxiously as Hong tallied the score. Finally she announced the winner… and that would be a spoiler, as the episode won’t be online until April 20.

“Go Fact Yourself” is at Angel City Brewery, 216 S. Alameda St., (213) 622-12161 or maximumfun.org/shows/go-fact-yourself. The next live episode is on Sunday, April 1.

nicholas@downtownnews.com

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