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Serious Fun

A love of minutiae, hours on Wikipedia, a chance to bust on customers—the makings of a popular trivia night

By Ali Hibbs and Elizabeth Knapp

On any given night of the week, Capital Region bargoers can find at least three different bars hosting a trivia event, which is sure to draw a crowd. Every bar has its own style, and many local venues have had consistent success in terms of attendance and general enthusiasm. Albany’s Bombers Burrito Bar is a venue that exemplifies the intensity of the region’s trivia craze, bringing arcane knowledge and trash-talking hosts to Lark Street for almost 10 years.

After almost a decade, Bombers is still packed on Tuesday nights. Die-hard regulars often show up hours before the game even starts, to be sure they get a seat. They play for free drinks and prizes as well as good, old-fashioned rivalry and bragging rights. As trivia nights across the country are being outsourced by new companies that specialize in running such events for venues who have neither the time nor the talent to devote, Bombers seems to be one of the only bars left that still has that homegrown feel. Hosts are typically hired from within and players are able to vote on some of the categories for the following week.

“I’m one of those people who remembers weird shit,” says Tom Templeton, who attended Bombers’ trivia nights religiously for three years. He kept coming back for the questions and the atmosphere.

Templeton started going to Bombers’ trivia seven years ago, around the time that ‘Tequila’ Jeff Klampert was the host. Original host of the bygone Bombers Bingo Night, Klampert was offered the trivia gig in 2004, following the raucous success of the often-bawdy bingo nights. “It was doing well before I started hosting,” says Klampert, mentioning that the two-for-one drink specials virtually guaranteed customers. “But we doubled or tripled the crowd.” Quick-witted and disarming, Klampert excelled at entertaining the crowd and diffusing drunk tempers. Never shy about abusing his audience, Klampert says that he also made sure that everyone knew that it was all in good fun. That was the best part of the job, he says. “I got paid to drink and make fun of people. I like being able to rag on people and joke around. It’s nice because when someone messes with a guy with a microphone, they’re going to lose every time.” His least favorite part, he says, was the actual writing of the questions; he credits his former co-host, Joe Bellacosa, with more enthusiasm in that area. “He likes that kind of stuff.”

Bellacosa began co-hosting with Klampert in 2005. “I basically got the job because Jeff and I were friends and he knows that I know a lot of stupid stuff.” For the first year and a half, he was writing 90 percent of the questions. Five years later, Bellacosa is still there, joined now by Vinny Fiacco.

“It’s fun,” says Bellacosa. “It’s become a part of my week, like it’s part of every trivia player’s week. I like to think about the questions and categories and then come in and see them play out in front of people. And they come back every week, which is the ultimate judgment of whether they’re enjoying themselves.” Bellacosa even has inspiration when it comes to the questions. “Want to know my influences? Socrates, Popeye, John Locke, and Link Martindale,” he says.

Rookie trivia host Fiacco, who also hosts the trivia night at the new Bombers location in Schenectady, agrees with Klampert about the perks of being the guy with the mic.

“The best part of the job? Definitely being able to say whatever I want into the microphone—and getting away with it. I’m not particularly mean, but I get to say whatever I want and people are like, ‘Yay, trivia guy!’ And that is just glorious.”

According to Klampert, the idea to let the audience choose some of the categories was a direct result of Keanu Reaves. “Sometimes we would run out of ideas and be like, ‘I don’t know what the heck I’m going to write about!’ It actually started because we did a round on Keanu Reaves, because he’s a terrible actor. And Joe and I thought it would be funny to keep doing rounds on really bad actors.” After a while, they began letting the audience choose the actors and, eventually, entire categories.

While some bars compile seemingly random questions and assign point values based on their level of difficulty, Bombers’ trivia format is pretty straightforward. They have six categories with 10 questions—each worth one point.

Fiacco and Bellacosa now split the work of writing the questions every week, they each take three categories and scour Wikipedia and other sources for questions and answers. They choose four or five categories and allow players to vote on the remaining categories for the following week. This gives people time to study up on a particular topic, says Fiacco, and provides a compelling reason to return. He knows he can’t hold back with the difficulty of the questions, since Bombers trivia fans are up for a challenge. “Some people will print out entire Wikipedia articles and bring them in to study before the game,” he says. “It’s pretty serious.”

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