What makes a good game of Quizzo? A good quizmaster. And there’s no one in the city with a public presence quite like Johnny Goodtimes, who has a habit of emblazoning his constantly-updated Twitter page and website with negative Yelp reviews (“Has the personality and emceeing skills of a log,” reads one). We spent a night with the 10-year Quizzo vet, shadowing him from South Street to University City on two of the set stops on his four-night-a-week schedule.
7:30: O’Neal’s Pub, conveniently located across the street from an imposing mural of Larry Fine, is no place for a sheltered Penn student like myself. It’s narrow, crammed into the middle of South Philly. The locals swear every color of the rainbow at the Phillies. But it’s Johnny’s first stop for the evening, and all I can do is gaze at an illuminating case of IPAs — and wait.
7:40: The man himself arrives, clad in a faux-faded Philadelphia A’s tee and sporting a tired smile. Tonight is apparently going to be a bit of Johnny Goodtimes history : the last evening for the speaker and mic — dinged and scratched from years of use and abuse —that he lugs all over the city. “It’s the grand finale,” he jokes.
7:55: Johnny’s eyes light once we start talking about his upcoming book, which will be loosely based on his stint as a dolphin trainer in Hawaii. “If I sell 10 copies and it’s all to my family, I don’t care,” he says. “I want to say at the end of the day: ‘I finished a novel.’” Two drafts in and on the verge of seeking out an editor, it’s a big step for the man, who —by his own admission — is: “really bad at starting projects and not finishing them.”
8:17: It's showtime at O'Neal's, where around 30 regulars have spread throughout the room, clustering into groups of five or so. One glance down at the five-round scoresheet, and my eyes are instantly locked onto a giant logo that reads: "Shibe Vintage Sports." Shibe, (nee Pro League Authentics) has a foothold in Center City, specializing in gear of teams you've probably never heard of, like the Philadelphia Atoms (NASL) and Giants (Negro Leagues). "The Phillies stink, so we've gotta create our own buzz," says Johnny, a co-investor.
8:25: Ooooohhhhhhhhh my goodness. It's time for a Johnny Goodtimes Weekly Double, but he's more fixated on the goings-on of the Phillies-Braves game from his perch at the corner of the bar. "Now that dumbass GM thinks we have a shot," he sighs, as the Phils hold a 4-0 lead.
9:00: The door to O'Neal's flies open, and the bar is greeted by a squeak of "Johnny Goodtimes!" A girl covered head-to-toe in tattoos and sporting a purple-haired bob comes over to pay homage before disappearing into the void upstairs.
9:08: It's time for the audio round. This week's category? German versions of American songs. "Let's not kid ourselves, this is the one you wanna hear," Johnny says as an indecipherable version of "Bohemian Rhaposdy" reverberates through the first floor, the old speaker giving it all during its retirement celebration.
9:42: It's postgame, and Johnny's able to do what he does best — work a room. The winner is "Ruby Tuesday," but spirits are high across the bar. He flutters from table to table, paying his respects to each cadre of friends he sees once a week on Tuesdays. The crowd cajoles him for a couple rounds of "Name that Tune." The Penn kids at City Tap House can wait.
10:05: We're snaking through Center City now, the dim light of Sansom or Walnut or God-knows-where bouncing off his black Scion. We're talking about baseball, as we have been all night, and Johnny takes a moment to reflect on the time he messed up Trevor Hoffman's concentration while taking in a game at Denver's Coors Field (Hoffman was just over two weeks removed from coughing up the 2006 All Star Game):
"He starts to run on the field, and I yell: 'Come on Trevor, just like the All Star Game, baby, Just like the All Star Game! He started to jog out and he stopped, and I could tell he heard me, and went out there and gave up two runs in the bottom of the ninth."
A quick check of baseball-reference.com confirms the blown save, at the very least.
10:25: City Tap House isn't nearly as crowded as it usually is during the school year. There's only about nine tables of quizzers tonight, mostly Penn kids that have stuck around to do research or work in the admissions office or whatnot. Compared to O'Neal's, Tap is almost too expansive: the lighting too bright, the ceiling too high.
"You should make this dark and brooding, like I'm trapped by my own fame," Johnny smiles. "Like 'Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.'"
11:00: The Tap House regulars have decided to mess with Johnny tonight. In first place after two rounds: "My name is Johnny Goodtimes and I'm a registered sex offender." In second place: "Eff you, Johnny Goodtimes."
11:37: It's audio round time again, but neither of us are in the mood to let Bohemian Rhapsody play out as the quizzers labor over their answer sheets down below. Instead, an equally wretched cover of "Paint it Black" groans out of the speaker.
"Nothing brings the horror of the Vietnam War in focus like an accordion," Johnny says.
11:55: Johnny won't divulge where he gets all his questions from as I prod him during a round break, but he's willing to give some insight into his approach to the game.
"I try to make the questions so that people can make an educated guess, even if you don't know." His questions and themes are usually topical. One round centered entirely on Portugal, the aforementioned audio round on Germany. The World Cup makes for solid inspiration.
It's not exactly Ted Williams' "The Science of Hitting," but it's good enough.
12:15: Game over — "Eff you, Johnny Goodtimes" won, by the way — and the Penn kids are trudging home. Flyers for Shibe's grand opening speaker events and World Cup party line their pockets and litter the tables.
For the final time, the speaker hums to life.
"My name's Johnny Goodtimes, take it light."