By TOM CHESEK
Special to Asbury Pulp
ASBURY PARK, NJ – The question was a tricky one, regarding the founding of the NHL, and the number of member teams at the time that the league came together in 1917.
The correct answer (four) fairly flummoxed fans who were brought up on the legend of the hallowed “Original Six” franchises — prompting Quizmaster™ Jim Norton to observe with a dry drip of feigned arrogance, “To all of you who actually submitted ‘The Original Six’ as your answer…and who even underlined it, like I’m some kind of an idiot…well you’re wrong. Fuck you. YOU’RE the idiot!”
It was just another Tuesday in Asbury Park — traditionally a day of rest for many local businesses, there in the drab foothills of the working week — and a day often given over to some creatively wacky pursuits; a fact hammered home by this coming Tuesday’s head-spinning Steel Cage Match of a city council election.
But on May 7, a homegrown tradition returned to take root, as the pop-cultural force of nature known as Tuesday Night Trivia reappeared with a reassuringly familiar host (Gentleman Jim) and a new lease on life, at an all-new host venue — the atom-age retro rec room Asbury Lanes.
It’s a welcome-back for an event that originated at The Brickwall last year, moved to The Downtown in Red Bank for an aborted run — then hastily bugged out to the center Lanes, home to such live game shows as Sex Toy Bingo and occasional editions of Bachelors & Bachelorettes (co-hosted by Norton with DJ Values). In fact, it pretty much cements the standing of the Lanes as the closest thing we’ve seen to a “game show bar;” a place where aspiring quizmasters/mistresses can find their inner Wink Martindale — just as coffeehouses, community theaters and comedy clubs continue to nurture new generations of the quite possibly talented in their own way.
“Honestly, I never set out to be some sort of live game show host,” claims Norton of this latest “bottom rung of show business” endeavor. “It sort of found me.”
According to Gentleman Jim — a suburban family guy and recovering title insurance agent who, when he’s not acting as self-described “emcee, scorekeeper, off-the-cuff insult comic and Ombudsman” of the weekly event, can be found serving as a serious soundman pro for everyone from Frank Sinatra Jr. to Iggy Pop — the role of the Quizmaster™ (yep, he claims to have trademarked the word) is one for which “you’d better bring something else to the table…make people laugh along the way.”
None of which is to suggest that Tuesday Night Trivia is not a serious — and at times seriously challenging — competition. Despite the emcee’s occasional wisecracks and discretionary awarding of bonus points, “TNT” is an interactive attraction for which participants are expected to bring the sum total of their knowledge in each of six categories: General Knowledge/ Science/ Current Events; Sports, Games and Leisure; an audio Music round; History and Geography; a Picture round keyed to visual clues, and an Entertainment and Pop Culture round to finish it off.
Teams of up to eight players are encouraged to sign up prior to start time (selecting a colorful name for one’s crew is optional), filling out paper quiz sheets as the host reads off the questions from his somewhat magisterial perch on the club’s stage. Ten points are awarded for each correct answer (15 points on optional “bonus rounds”), with team totals tallied up after each round of competition — and the night’s top two teams getting to share in some “valuable prizes.”
“We try to do it a little differently than other places that have tried this sort of thing,” says Norton, a veteran of such legendary local punk bands as Crucial Youth and the Shock Mommies. “It’s early enough so that it’s school-night and work-night friendly…but it’s hard enough so that we don’t have 16 ‘winning teams’ in one room.”
It’s a level of difficulty that this correspondent can attest to, having taken part in several TNT tourneys — sometimes solo, sometimes with a hastily assembled team of random acquaintances shanghai’d in off the street — and we can vouch that it pays to diversify with a table of armchair experts on anything from basketball and Broadway musicals, to Periodic Table melting points and post-2000 country hits.
“You’re gonna have a fun time, eat, drink, and hang out with your friends,” says Norton. “The bar gets to sell some drinks — and I get to play God for a little bit.”
There’s no charge to take part in Tuesday Night Trivia, and no cover to take it all in from the sidelines. Doors open at 7 pm, sign-up starts at 7:15, with game time scheduled for 7:30 and food/beverage table service available. Check the Facebook page of “Tuesday Night Trivia at Asbury Lanes” for updated info and Nortonly wisdom.