Joey Bland, a veteran of Second City’s touring company and standout shows like American Mixtape and Rod Blagojevich, Superstar, sat down with The Real Chicago to discuss his job as emcee on Game Night, what it was like to play the disgraced former governor of Illinois and his experience as a two-time champion on Jeopardy.
Q: How did you get your start in the comedy world?
A: I moved to Chicago after college to take classes at Second City and iO. I’d fallen in love with improv in college and wanted to give the Chicago experience a try for a couple of years. It’s been many more than that.
Q: When did you know you were hooked?
A: I knew I was in love with improv, not from my first show, but from my first audition. That was the first time I even tried it. It should’ve felt very stressful, but it didn’t.
Q: What is the most fun aspect of running the show on Game Night?
A: You said it in the question. You get to run the show. I feel really dialed in to both the performers and the audience. The performers all have fun personalities, and as the audience gets involved, their personalities get revealed as well. I like to be able to take a break from the game play to exploit and enjoy the characters on stage and off. It’s always fun in the second act to go back and talk to someone who was an audience volunteer in the first act. It always catches everyone off guard in a good way for a second, and as the host, I can do that kind of thing whenever I want. The short answer is… power.
Q: Why do people gravitate toward this show so much?
A: I think people love game shows, and that’s part of it. People sincerely enjoy the competition, and I think most people really want their side of the audience to win. That’s always fun, and it always re-surprises us. “They care!!” That’s always funny to us in the show. I also think the word is out about some of the games being familiar from TV, and that’s a cool element of the show. They are games people fantasize about playing when they watch them.
Q: Did you have a favorite game show as a kid?
A: I had two. I always loved Pyramid. In fact, my college roommate and I used to watch it on the Game Show Network; we’d mute it and play along. Like, one of us would watch the TV and give the clues from the titles you could see.
Secondly, I’ve always loved Jeopardy. No surprise there, I guess. But the reason I love Jeopardy is the question writing. If you watch something like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, I think there are always questions where you could say, “Well, nobody would know that.” Questions like: “In 1988, how many American homes had personal computers?” Your answer has to be a guess. I don’t like that. I like that on Jeopardy, the questions are always something someone would know. Even if your category was the Spanish-American War, you’d have to say, “I definitely don’t know a thing about that, but someone who reads more history than I do probably would.” I also feel like a lot of the questions have clues in them, so they’re like puzzles. You may not know the answer, but you can still get it from the content of the question. What a long and nerdy answer!
Q: Being an emcee for game shows can’t be all that different than improvising Shakespeare or playing Rod Blagojevich, can it?
A: It’s a very different show from the other shows I’ve done, but, of course, being on stage is being on stage. I learned a lot from being Rod Blagojevich. First of all, I learned too much about Rod Blagojevich. But I also learned a lot of valuable stuff about being on stage. I was on stage in that show for 53 minutes of its 55-minute running time. It made being the host of something like Game Night, which has a lot of moving parts, seem easier.
Q: What was the toughest question you answered on Jeopardy, and what is Alex Trebek like in real person?
A: I was on three shows. Obviously, I lost the last one. The Final Jeopardy question in the second show was one that I was proud to figure out. It basically asked what the oldest capital city in the Americas was. And it gave the year of the city’s founding as, like, 1496 or something. I didn’t know the answer at all. Thinking of old American capitals, my mind first went to stuff like Boston, but then you look at the date and realize, it’s only a couple of years after Columbus. So I thought Columbus landed in what is now the Dominican Republic, and I knew the capital of the D.R. was Santo Domingo. It turned out to be right. That was cool.
As for Alex Trebek, you don’t get to know him at all. But, coming from someone who now has some hosting experience, he is very good at “the hi job.” I realized that at the time, too. It’s an overlooked skill. But he is great at it. You know that thing he does, where he seems to kind of condescend to the players if they mess something up? He sounds cocky or snooty or something? Well, he did that to me when I missed a big question. He said something like, “Whoa. Not even close.” I didn’t realize he’d even said it, though, until I watched the show air. At the time, he seems encouraging when you’re not doing well, and proud when you are. I was impressed. Also, when the cameras are off, he’s very, very silly. That set is kept very lighthearted and supportive, which definitely mitigates the presence of the egotistical, socially awkward stress-freaks that are there to play the game.
Q: Finish this sentence: Being involved with Second City is…
A: An avenue to being part of a huge, extended family of excellent people. We get hired to run workshops for corporations and teams to help them with teamwork, communication skills and that sort of thing. I always keep in the back of my mind, during stuff like that, “I hope I can teach these people to hang out with their co-workers and friends the way I do with mine.” The people are the best.
See Joey emcee Second City’s Game Night at Up Comedy Club Wednesdays at 8 p.m. and other dates. Visit www.UpComedyClub.com for more information.