What started as a part-time gig at a bar in Bordentown six years ago has turned into a full-fledged business for Matt Sorrentino. His Quizzoholics bar trivia company started as a once-a-week hosting job at Bordentown’s Dubh Linn Square. Now he and his “quizmasters” host six events two days a week.
Locally, they can be found at TGI Friday’s in Hamilton each Tuesday and at Chickie’s and Pete’s in Bordentown (hosted by Sorrentino) and Curtin’s Wharf in Burlington on Wednesdays.
Sorrentino’s pub quiz strikes a good balance between stand-up comedy and a satisfyingly tough game of trivia — not surprising, considering he spent eight years on the comedy circuit.
“I think in life in general, you try to use everything in your past to make the present the best that you can make it,” he said. “When you’re doing comedy, you get that banter with the audience. It gave me that edge in trivia. The questions weren’t challenging at first, but I could use that personal back and forth with the crowd to make it a more vibrant event.”
Up to 20 teams of six or fewer players compete for a $50 bar gift card — good for about 10 beers and some crabfries or a handful of entrees at Chickie’s, a sports bar with several huge TVs and an even bigger beer selection. The game takes about two hours, and Sorrentino’s on-the-fly jokes or rebuttals never disrupt its flow. He often banters with hecklers mid-round and isn’t shy about calling out patrons who do things like shout out answers, a big no-no. “I know you want everyone to know how smart you are,” he has said, “but people are trying to play a game.”
The game consists of nine rounds. Staples generally include the following categories:
Sports: This “Joe” was allegedly associated with the Chicago White Sox’ plan to fix the World Series in 1919.
History: Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allan Poe, William Shakespeare, and Jane Austen: Who is the odd one out?
Science: The production and emission of light by a living organism is known as this.
And the arts: Which mid-2000s television theme song includes the lyric “Somebody save me?”
(Editor’s note: The answers to trivia questions posted throughout this story are listed at the bottom of the article.)
Each night starts with current events and ends with a double-or-nothing general knowledge final round, where teams can earn two points per correct answer, but any wrong answer negates all points for that round. This causes lots of hand-wringing over what or what not to write. Most of my group has either written a wrong answer and lost all of our final-round points (like our friend Marty did when he was certain the Battle of Bull Run, not the Battle of Fort Sumter, started the Civil War) or hesitated on a question we were sure about and then lost by two points.
On one recent Wednesday night we were stumped this one:
Which continent has the largest percentage of fresh water?
But we got another, thanks to Marty’s math skills:
What is the highest possible bowling score without any strikes?
The eighth round used to challenge teams to name 10 things within a certain amount of time — the 10 best-selling albums of the 2000s or 10 most commonly eaten meats, for example — but has evolved into a visual round. Sorrentino gives each team a piece of paper with 10 images that need to be identified, like “badly drawn movies,” Disney film opening credits, and sports logos with everything but the color red removed.
The game also always includes two audio categories — one to name the titles and artists of five songs following a theme, and another that changes from week-to-week, like eight-bit versions of television theme songs or “name that movie” based on a quote that’s played over the PA system.
The setup is successful — enough that teams should make a reservation, especially when it’s all-you-can-eat crab night at Chickie’s and Pete’s, generally every other Wednesday.
Sorrentino said his company’s popularity is the result of a lot of trial and error. He keeps categories like current events, music, and other pop culture towards the beginning of the game to hook people who might not have even come in for trivia. He and his other hosts make sure to include one question in every round that 90 percent of the room might know, and another that 10 percent of the room could get.
The double-or-nothing round was born from what Sorrentino called a “design flaw” of his early games — a group might be so far behind in points that they leave the bar. Now, he says, most teams have a chance to win. For the most part, there are dominant teams, but the winner generally changes week to week.
“You want it to be challenging, but you don’t want people to feel stupid,” he said.
He also recognizes that part of his job is bringing revenue to a bar or restaurant on a night that would otherwise be slow. He and his staff promote each event across all social media platforms (@Quizzoholics on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), and one of their most successful methods is posting a different clue or free answer on each site. It gives patrons a reason to check the Quizzoholics social media pages consistently while also advertising that night’s event.
“You’re designing from the bottom up for bars,” he said. “You want to bring patrons in, keep them there, and have them come back to eat and drink and enjoy themselves for two hours.”
Sorrentino grew up in Pemberton. An alumnus of Southeastern University in Florida, he had always dreamed of doing stand-up and decided to go for it when some colleagues from an internship at Geico during college convinced him.
He ended up making enough money doing comedy that he quit his job and moved to Los Angeles. Thirteen months later, though, he was broke.
“I thought in my dumb youth that money would translate when I went to Los Angeles,” he said. “There were maybe 100 comedians in Florida. There are probably 100,000 in Hollywood.”
A combination of things — homesickness, Christmastime, the impending birth of his sister’s first child — convinced him to move home. He drove the whole way home and was almost back when he hit “the world’s biggest deer” in Virginia, totaling his car. At 25, he started with a blank slate and moved back in with his parents, carless and jobless.
He ended up at a bank — it was “soul sucking,” he said — and mutually parted ways after six months. While collecting unemployment, he ended up falling into a trivia hosting job in 2011 at Dubh Linn Square in Bordentown, now closed. It took off, and Sorrentino appeared at the bar first once a week and, later, more often to DJ on the weekends, or produce and plan events. He also hosted trivia at Dubh Linn’s Cherry Hill location.
Sorrentino still sees regulars from the Dubh Linn days, including this writer — my friends and I have been going most Wednesdays for the last six or so years, and we’re not alone. Knowing that we’re in for a night of humor and a tough, fun game of trivia has kept us and other teams around. Regulars also know what to expect, and so does Sorrentino.
“I’ve been hosting in Bordentown for six years,” he said. “I have a feel for what people know. When you have lots of returners, you can develop the quiz to fit that group.”
Sorrentino hopes to continue growing his base, especially as he takes on new hosts and new venues. He didn’t say exactly what his financial deal is with each bar, but he notes on his website that “our rates vary depending on contract length and payment options but are very affordable and incredibly competitive.” He also warns that a trivia audience is not built on a single night. “It can be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Once people discover your quiz night they’ll be back, but word of mouth takes time to spread.”
He’s confident in his quizmasters, though.
“The people who host the other games are all awesome,” he said. “They’ve become really great friends of mine in real life. I think it takes a special person to come into a room full of strangers who are drinking and give them a test.”
Of course, a little humor puts everyone at ease — even when he tells the losing teams to “get smarter friends.”
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson is associated with the White Sox’ attempt to fix the World Series.
Edgar Allan Poe is the only non-Brit on the list.
Bioluminescence is how living organisms emit light.
The theme song for “Smallville” includes “Somebody save me.”
Antarctica is the continent with the largest percentage of fresh water.
The highest score a bowler can get with no strikes is 190.
This article was originally published in the June 7 U.S. 1 newspaper.