How Scott Rogowsky became the game show app guy

An interview with NYC comic and HQ Trivia host ahead of his Just for Laughs performances.

Scott Rogowsky

Other than my girlfriend’s, the only face I see every day is Scott Rogowsky’s.

At 9 p.m., Rogowsky’s mug appears on my phone live from New York. He references some ballplayers, asks a dozen questions (I get about five of them right) and we do it all again tomorrow. A year ago, the idea of dropping everything to play a game on my phone every day at the same time would’ve been unfathomable — or as everyone has pointed out, very Black Mirror-ish. Today, HQ Trivia is as essential a part of my routine as a morning whiz.

Rogowsky, New York native and HQ Host Malone, Quiz Khalifa, Trap Trebek etc., is about as shocked with the app’s rapid ascent as anyone.

“It wasn’t so apparent in the beginning when we were in beta and there weren’t that many people playing, but it was fun,” he recalls of the early days, which were less than a year ago.

“I kept setting these bars — I felt if we got to 50,000 people a game by January, I’d consider signing a contract because I had these short-term contracts that kept getting renewed. We ended up going from around 20,000 at Halloween to 80,000 just before Thanksgiving, then the Daily Beast article dropped and went viral, and we went from 80,000 to a million by New Year’s. We couldn’t physically get everyone in the game.”

Before Rogowsky knew it, he went from living at his folks’ to appearing on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, Jimmy Kimmel and even the Super Bowl. Quiz Daddy isn’t his original gig, though — he’s a comedian and live talk show host, and will be doing a mix of both as he brings his Running Late program to Just for Laughs. He also just finished producing and editing an audiobook with fellow comedians the Sklar Brothers called Sklars and Stripes. I asked him just how crazy it’s been.

EL: What’s an average workday at HQ for you?

SR: I’ll show up around 5 p.m. for a meeting. It’s a rundown meeting with the production team to go over the graphics, run through the quiz to make sure we like the wording. Then I start preparing anything I want to prepare. Then I can leave, I can grab dinner, since there’s plenty of time with this new schedule (two shows at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.)*

EL: How much of what you say is prepared beforehand and how much is improvised?

SR: It’s a mix of improv and notes I’ve made. I try to offer some background on the questions and answers, trying to give people a little nugget of knowledge to take home with them. I have to make it entertaining as well with some jokes or off-key singing — whatever’s in my brain at the moment.

EL: Do you talk about HQ in your stand-up?

SR: It depends on the set or where I am. I have to acknowledge it in some way because a lot of people come out because of HQ. I’ve got some jokes about how my life has changed since this whole thing blew up. But I’m not doing trivia up there.

EL: I can imagine being the first host of a live game show app might offer inspiration for your comedy.

SR: It’s all still hard to wrap my head around. I guess maybe in a few years, but it’s already starting to become normalized, copied and all these companies are announcing similar things. In a couple of years it’ll be just like TV. I can imagine when television first came out people had the same reaction. It became very quickly established and part of the cultural norm. Maybe by then I’ll have a better perspective on it. We’re pioneers in this thing, and who am I the equivalent of? Who was the first late night host, Steve Allen?

EL: You’re Yuri Gagarin.

SR:  I’m more like the dog, Laika. The first dog in space who died within hours, that’s me.

EL: How’d you get the gig?

SR: I auditioned for it, back when they just announced this thing privately. A friend of mine was working for the company that created HQ, and I knew him from The Onion where I had interned in 2008. He called me up and said they needed someone for a live game show on your phone and I said “sure.” This sounds like the lowest on the entertainment totem pole. There are Snapchat comedians and now I’ll be an app comedian, that’ll be my contribution to society. Lo and behold, it’s a thing. People like it. Early on, I wasn’t sleeping or eating and I was living at home. When I got the job I had just given up my apartment. I was living at home and coming in to do the test shows. After I signed a temporary contract I found a sublet closer to the office. I did that and moved to Nolita for two months. Then I needed a long-term strategy. Now I’m well-situated in a place I like with furniture I actually own. It’s nice. No more furnished sublets. ■

Running Late With Scott Rogowsky is at Mainline Theatre (3997 St-Laurent) as part of Just for Laughs on July 25 & 26, 11:59 p.m., $21.96

* CORRECTION: Since this article came out in the print edition of Cult MTL, the schedule has been changed to 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. daily instead of 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.