In an unidentified magnolia room, Lenny Henry is yelling: “Let me hear you say: ‘YEAH.’” Next to his face, a live chat feed blurts out heart emojis and comments such as: “Hello, Sir Lenny!”. Or: “I’ve had the biggest crush on Lenny Henry since his Chef days.” Or: “Hi, my team name is Wuhan Clan.”
The Dudley comic is hosting the National Theatre’s online pub quiz, a pre-recorded broadcast, streamed via YouTube and Facebook. He is joined by Lesley Manville, Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen to pose 15 minutes’ worth of intensely difficult general knowledge questions to the public. And, bizarrely, to announce that: “I will pull interesting faces while you write the answer down,” before shooting his eyebrows to the sky and gaping his jaw as if he’s running an advertising campaign for his own tonsils. Still, this is lockdown living; everything’s a bit odd.
Since our sofas became the buzziest nightspot in town, pub quizzes have captured our imaginations as ways to bond across the internet with friends and family. And cultural figures have not failed to notice their popularity, with podcasts, theatres and celebrities setting up their own digital versions. Stephen Fry, Jo Brand and the brains behind QI are now hosting a regular version for Riverside Studios. You can fund an anti-hunger charity by doing a picture round with the ex-frontman of the Stranglers, have the comedian Ed Gamble ask you trivia that’s been compiled by a jewellery brand, or take part in a massive, fancy-dress recreation of Only Connect organised by Stevie Martin and Tessa Coates of the Nobody Panic podcast.
“Quizzes are just a really great way to have a shared experience, to connect with other people,” says Coates of the event that she put on due to popular demand by listeners. “Our quiz was honestly the most joyful hour I’ve spent since lockdown started.”
The comically budget version of Victoria Coren Mitchell’s show that they put on – renamed “Nobody Connect” for copyright reasons – saw them completely overwhelmed by people flocking to answer questions via Zoom. They might have had an upturned tent serving as the show’s customary blue background and one of the hosts confusingly dressed as Richard Osman (“Stevie’s never seen Only Connect”), but they wound up having to turn people away. “We were like: ‘Maybe six people will come,’” laughs Coates. “It ended up being one in, one out: for an online quiz!”
Last week, The Covid Arms attempted to break the Guinness world record for most visitors to a virtual pub. Chosen format? A quiz that saw the likes of Russell Howard, Nish Kumar and The Chase’s Jenny Ryan running rounds. On the National Theatre’s quiz stream, the people merrily saying hello in the live chat hail from as far afield as Australia, India, Germany and Croatia. Quizzers have turned out in their droves to watch Helen Mirren sitting in her bedroom, reading out questions about history. It is also hard not to note that she has a slightly wonky bedside lamp. Or that Lesley Manville has artfully tilted her camera up so you can’t see her bedspread.
“Part of the beauty of these quizzes is that there’s just something so levelling about them,” offers Coates. “We’re all at home and we’re all desperate for human contact. It’s a great chance to feel like we’re all in the same boat, even if your host is someone like Dame Helen Mirren.”
Given that your quizmaster is in a different location, these events also offer the chance to be a total cheat, if you want to. “But what would be the point?” asks Paul Roberts, the ex-Stranglers frontman, whose Indy-House Pub Quiz sees around 100 teams congregate via Zoom to answer trivia questions interspersed with the odd musical interlude where people dance around their living rooms to songs such as Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. “If you’re sitting at home making up things to win a prize, would you feel good the next day? These events are about the coming together; they’ve been driven by popular demand. It’s people working at their best.”
As the National Theatre quiz comes to an end, participants really seem to be having fun with the format. Commenters are mock-quibbling over how many points they’re entitled to. Even Lenny Henry is enjoying joking around with the format. It’s not often that pub quiz hosts reveal their own answers in a shrill tone of shock that suggests they’ve never seen them before. Or exclaim: “HOW COULD THAT BE?” in response to their facts. But then pub quizzes are rarely delivered by knights of the realm across the internet to an entirely house-bound audience. Our times aren’t normal, so neither, increasingly, are our pub quizzes.
Hosts Nobody Panic podcast hosts Tessa Coates and Stevie Martin.
Format A recreation of TV gameshow Only Connect played via Zoom call.
Topics Anything you’d usually find asked by Victoria Coren Mitchell.
Sample question (answers below) What connects the following: Julian Assange, Khan Noonien Singh, Alan Turing and Smaug?
Difficulty rating 4/5
Details are released via @nobodypanicpod on Twitter; next quiz 28 May, free entry
Riverside Studios Charity Quiz Nights
Hosts Stephen Fry (13 May), Jo Brand (27 May).
Format A family-friendly Zoom quiz for flashy prizes such as a £300 restaurant dinner for four. Questions from QI producer John Lloyd.
Topics Music, theatre, comedy, food and drink.
Sample question What unusual object did Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, find in her soup in a New York restaurant?
Difficulty rating 3/5
Buy £25 tickets via riversidestudios.co.uk; proceeds support Riverside Studios and the Imperial Health Charity
The Indy-House quiz
Host Paul Roberts, ex of the Stranglers.
Format A two-hour Zoom quiz for prizes such as gin tastings and canoe tours, featuring impromptu dance-alongs and the host bantering with random participants.
Topics General knowledge, music and picture round.
Sample question Which pub was fictional character Hilda Ogden a cleaner in?
Difficulty rating 3/5
Quizzes are weekly via Zoom on Friday nights; £5 per household to support the Felix Project; sign up via indytute.com
The National Theatre quiz
Hosts Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Lesley Manville and Lenny Henry.
Format A 15-minute live-stream with short gaps between questions for you to frantically jot down answers.
Topics History, sport and the National Theatre.
Sample question Who was the first president to preside over all 50 US states?
Difficulty rating 5/5
Streaming for the next month on the National Theatre’s YouTube page and Facebook
They were all roles played by Benedict Cumberbatch; A dead raccoon placed there by Peta; Rover Returns; Dwight D Eisenhower