A month or so ago, I got a notice via email that NPR’s Ask Me Another, a puzzle/comedy show, would visit the Carolina Theater here in Durham. I decided I would go, opting for mid-priced, and thus first of two balcony level seats. It took place yesterday, and was quite enjoyable.
First though, I had to visit a more recent but instantly respected local institution, Cocoa Cinnamon. I’d read an article way back when I arrived in the Bull City last February about how this place was started, I think by some Russian folks? I can’t exactly remember the story, but was inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit it suggested. It kind of made sense to go on this day, since the little cozy coffee shop was located only a few streets from the theater.
I got there at 4:15. The crowd kept ebbing and flowing around me as I leaned back in a comfortable, homely chair. The only issue I had was that there was little table space inside, meaning I had to hold the giant, two-hands-requiring mug aloft. This meant I couldn’t immediately use my iPhone, which ok ok was probably a good thing, as it forced me to enjoy the environment while I sucked down the vanilla latte..
And speaking of that, yeah the price was a bit up, but I suppose you’ll have that at a non-chain establishment. However, as I said I looked forward to actually supporting locals with good business sense.
And the baristas were nice as well. I remained there till around 6:30, and thus a different woman helped me with the cookie recommendation, a giant coffee-flavored confection, than I’d encountered when I entered. She was also kind enough to walk me outside and help get me into my Uber ride for the short trip over to the auditorium.
Last chance for a $30 trip! Use my Uber code to sign up: johnm1014).
The show started at 7, with the house opening at 6:30. I had to wait a couple of minutes to go inside, but was able to do so in the lobby that smelled of popcorn. My kind volunteer usher told me that the building has two entertainment auditoriums and a cinema where, well different, movies are shown. I think they like to air old stuff as well as pre-screening newer ones. I’ve also learned that that theater has been around for 86 years.
Even so, I was glad to see that this theater had an elevator. I could have of course walked up the stairs, but hopefully the lift would make it more wheelchair accessible. I’m not sure about the small steps that lead up to one’s seat though, but I guess they probably have an area where chairs can park before actually getting to said stairs.
I was told that the auditorium where Ask Me Another was staged holds approximately 800 people. Into my seat, I settled in and immediately sent my cane sailing away somehow. The woman to my right couldn’t initially see it, which caused me to panic. But luckily, it had just fallen to my left. I also enjoyed a short conversation with the guy on y other side, who said he was a great fan of the show but hadn’t known what Ophira Eisenberg, the show’s host, looked like; since he’d only listened to the podcast.
Things actually got started about 12 minutes late, I suppose not too surprisingly. Weekend Edition’s Scott Simon did the courtesy announcement “please turn off your smartphones,” then Ms. Eisenberg came onto the stage. She buttered us up, “Durham, are you ready to party!”, and told stories of predictable Southern hospitality as she walked through the grocery and on the street.
“Um, I wasn’t really sure how to react to that”, she thought in response to some such acknowledgement.
The house musician, Jonathan Coulton, worked the audience into a fervor with a silly song in which he instructed us to sing roughly in a way that represented whichever characters the song was referencing. Sadly, I couldn’t exactly hear what they were saying. That’s probably not much of a surprise, though. They definitely had fun with it, and the energy of the crowd made me smile.
Then, the official recording began. What we hear on the radio only lasts an hour, but it actually takes about two to complete. It begins with two contestants answering a series of crazy category questions. The first was “Are you ready to rumble!” in which all of the correct responses would end in MBLE. The competitors got into it, mumbling “are you ready to mumble?” sounding meak and quiet when saying “are you ready to humble?”, and the like.
The next category was sports teams. They would give some silly clue, and the contestant had to determine which college team was being spoken of. Everyone was kind of quiet as she mentioned this, till someone did the example, saying something that referred to the Blue Devils. More people boo’d than cheered, which amused me since we were definitely in Duke territory. I guess in the Carolina Theater, it was a partisan Tar Heels crowd. Well, of course.
“Wow, a lot of emotion there!” she laughed in response to the crowd’s reaction. “Everybody’s like blah blah when the category is mentioned, but when I ask you who’s side you’re on?…”
After another category of some kind, she interviewed a musician who now lives in the area, but is originally from California, I think. He’d lived in Iowa before arriving in Durham, and commented on the hilarity of being able to walk onto his driveway in barefeet on Christmas here. I’m not sure if I would do that, but well… They then asked him to identify a series of songs that had been altered lyrically in some way. More contestants then did this as well, identifying songs associated with states but who’s state names had been changed to more exotic locales “to bring about world peace,” according to the show’s proctor.
Intermission happened at roughly 8:30, and I got my exercise getting up and sitting down as people moved about along the extremely narrow steps. My knees were so close to the heads below me that I had to make a conscious effort to avoid knocking them against those heads repeatedly. It was fine, though.
The final round was on hills, in honor of Chapel Hill. They nearly ran out of questions to ask the two finalists, and so came down to a tie-break that gave the win to the first to buzz in and answer correctly.
So those are a few of the highlights I can recall. Overall, I really had fun and found it to be a fascinating experience. As someone else pointed out, it was interesting to hear Eisenberg go back at the end and re-speak short portions that the producers, through an earpiece I think, told her to smooth out. This particular episode will actually air on January 22nd, and I will probably listen to it to see how it juxtaposes with what I heard while live in the place.
Now, still looking forward to the live Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me taping I’m due to attend in Chicago. I guess that’ll happen sometime next year though. I want to do more other stuff like that as well.
But that’s a thing I really love about Durham: it’s small, but has good transit and enough umph to attract some pretty cool acts. We’ll see what else I can find indoors, to keep my mind off of the falling temperatures.
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