This coming weekend, I’ll participate in The World’s Largest Trivia ContestTM. As per tradition, this week is filled with idle reminiscing about memorable answers in past years.
During my undergraduate years at the college radio station, I was one of the coconspirators in the creation of sketch comedy program. We were following in the footsteps of The National Lampoon Radio Hour and the Firesign Theater, but our more obvious touchstone was Saturday Night Live. In part because of that, we determined that our program would also air on Saturday nights, and we planned for weekly, half-hour episodes. As the fall semester neared, and with it the debut of the series, we had everything figured out except for the name. Brainstorming sessions proved largely fruitless. Desperate for inspiration, I thumbed through my well-worn copy of Tony Hendra’s Going Too Far, which presents a scruffy history of countercultural comedy. There I was reminded of R. Crumb’s brightly absurdist comic “Meatball.” The four-page story told the tale of meatball that careened down from the sky, bonking unsuspecting citizens on the noggin and sending them into fits of rambunctious delight. That seemed an apt analogy for our overall goal with the radio show. My cohorts agreed, likely out of weariness with the naming process as much as anything else, and the program was dubbed Meatball Radio.
Some thirty years later, on the very same radio station, the on-air announcer for a late-in-the-weekend shift for Trivia read a question that went a little something like this: “The first known fictional incident occurred in Jersey City, in a dime store, in 1959, when Mrs. Knish and Mrs. Yahootie were arguing. Suddenly a voice cried out and Mrs. Yahootie was hit. What was cried out and what hit her?”
Because the odd phrasing of the actual question part of the question, it took me a beat or two to wrap my head around what was being asked. Once I did, the answer plopped out of my head like a gumball. It must have been a reasonably easy answer to hunt down (or enough teams long ago determined that having a working knowledge of Crumb comics is a useful thing in the contest, given the preferences of at least of one writers of Trivia) because submitting “Meatball” didn’t earn us an exorbitant, memorable amount of points. The answer’s connection to my own college radio days — that I was able to draw it out of my sparking, sputtering memory banks due to bygone days and nights in the station’s production studio, feverishly editing tape while feeling rollercoaster thrills and anxiety over whether we’d be able to get this perpetually messy show ready for air — satisfyingly sweetened the moment our correctness was confirmed over the airwaves. To paraphrase the comic, all I can do is be grateful for the “Meatball.”
More info about 90FM’s Trivia can be found at its official website or at the radio station’s online home. There’s also a feature documentary about the contest, but it’s fairly hard to come by these days. To see how my team is faring over the weekend, Twitter is probably the best bet.