It may be a new year, but that doesn’t mean you can escape “Meet the Geeks.” We’re back with our first convo of 2023! This week, we chatted to the director of our events department, Eric Kohen, about Billy Joel, Geeks history, and how to liven up your funeral. Let’s go!
We’ll start with an easy one: where are you originally from and where do you live now? I’m originally from Long Island, but I’ve been in Albuquerque for 20 years. I did have a stopover in southern California, long enough to go to high school and to realize that Orange County wasn’t necessarily the place for an overweight liberal Jewish New Yorker.
Also, unlike Long Island, there aren’t enough Billy Joel songs about southern California. Exactly, even the song about Miami is actually about New York. And as you’ve suspected, as a Jew from Long Island, I love Billy Joel. It’s ingrained in my DNA. When my great grandparents came over from eastern Europe and Russia, they didn’t know who Billy Joel was, but somehow it’s been built-in since then.
Billy Joel is like a virus, just getting in there and changing your genetic code. Anyway, you’ve been with Geeks Who Drink longer than almost anyone. How did you originally get involved? Yeah, Geeks started in 2006 and I started in 2007. The company started in Denver, and had a lot of success there, so they expanded a little bit into Colorado Springs and Fort Collins. They wanted to see if it had legs elsewhere, because trivia events were only in a couple of major metro markets — it wasn’t nearly what we see today. They’d decided that New Mexico was a quick trip down I-25, so it seemed to be a good place to expand. There were some hosts in Denver who were involved in roller derby and I was a referee at the time for Duke City Derby here in Albuquerque, and that’s how [Geeks and I] originally connected. Our previous CEO got in touch to get my opinion on some bars in Albuquerque and to give a little pitch. That was in the spring of 2007, and my first actual quiz night was in August 2007. I went to Denver to do some training, hosted my first quiz, and then my second quiz, and then I hosted all the way up until the pandemic.
Holy cow. Yeah, most of that time I hosted three nights a week. This is ridiculous and it’s going to sound braggy, but the 10th anniversary award [for Quizmasters] is called the Jewish Viking award because I was the first to hit 10 years. After me, a lot of other people started getting the award, but I just happened to be the first one. I couldn’t find a better job in that time period, which is really what it comes down to.
What has it been like to see the company grow and evolve over the past decade-plus? When things were getting started, we were so small that there were a bunch of people who just sort of volunteered to help out. I did a lot of stuff without getting paid for it, because that’s just the way it was. Then once the company started to grow, it became a part-time job and then a full-time job. At the start, everybody did a little bit of everything: I even wrote a bunch of early rounds [of questions] that you will not find in our database — and for good reason. We were kind of edgelords at the time, and thought we were being cool while writing some kind of dumb, questionable stuff. It took time for us to evolve and find our voice, and a big part of that was [Editor-in-Chief] Aaron [Retka] and a big part of that was [current CEO] Christopher [Short] honing in on what makes a good question. That’s one of our hallmarks that we toot our horn on, and seeing that evolve has been really interesting.
I bet the venues have changed a lot in that time too. Definitely. In 2007, the whole microbrewery thing just existed in little pockets and wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now. Denver definitely had it, and that’s kind of where that scene evolved from. It’s weird to look back and think about the way we did business then. Not only did we have paper answer packets, but every bar had answer packets with their own logos on them. As we started to expand quickly, we realized ‘Oh, this takes a lot of time and a lot more money’ and we had to stop doing that. We’ve also had some heated discussions around the answer packets! For so many years, one of our selling points was ‘Put your phones away [and use] paper answer packets” but we had to pivot because of the pandemic and just…not wanting to touch things. But we also pivoted because costs changed and it was getting expensive to the point of being untenable.
Do you think going digital has been a positive change? Yeah, things like being able to add transcriptions to the music rounds and audio rounds provides a level of accessibility to players who may be deaf or hard of hearing. Or maybe you’re just in a bar that doesn’t have the greatest sound system, instead of having the host repeat it five times, you have it written down for you. It solves a lot of problems, and that’s just another example of how we’ve shifted along with the times — and overall for the better.
We’ve covered how you got started, but what is your current role? I’m the director of the events department, which puts together our private events. We do corporate team building events, holiday parties, weddings, birthdays…we’ve even done wakes. And yes, a Geeks Who Drink wake has happened more than once.
It sounds like an amazing sendoff, to be honest. It can be weird on the host. Most of them end up being a lot more fun, with only a little bit of crying. We’ve done all sorts of events for all sorts of clients, and it’s great to provide those unique experiences for people, especially when it’s for quiz players. There have been so many times over the years when we’ve heard from people who had their first date at a Geeks Who Drink quiz and throughout their dating life, they went to quizzes together. Then they proposed at a quiz and they want a quiz at their wedding. It doesn’t get better than that, to think that our dumb little trivia night is so meaningful for so many people. That’s one of the things I loved about being a host, and it’s one of the things that I love about being able to put these events on.
Those events also may introduce Geeks to people who may not know about the quiz that’s being hosted in their city, or that haven’t experienced this kind of trivia night, one that isn’t just reading Trivial Pursuit questions off the cards. Exactly. We bring uniqueness, we bring tailored content, we bring custom rounds that we write for clients. And if we do enough right, and make them see the value in it, we can get additional payment in word of mouth. Of all the advertising and marketing we’ve done over the years, nothing can compare to word of mouth, when someone went to a quiz, participated in a quiz, and then won’t shut up about it. That’s how we can get new venues, new players, and new private clients.
It’s like the opposite of Fight Club. Exactly.
So to skip to one of the last questions I ask everyone, what do you enjoy the most about working here, or what have you found fulfilling about it? It’s a great group of people. I have lifelong friendships that I’ve made through Geeks Who Drink. My wife was a quiz player of mine, who I met when she came to play my quiz. On top of that, you can’t beat going to work and being friends with everyone. It’s a very collaborative and encouraging environment. We all know the biggest hassle here is Aaron [Retka], and apart from him, everyone is great. We work together, we need each other, and we’re all working towards a goal.
We also all know what the quiz can mean to some people. Like, I’d been hosting at O’Niell’s in Albuquerque for a number of years, and you see the same faces week in and week out. I remember one night I was leaving quiz about 11:00 at night with my scorekeeper Fernando, who still works for us. There was a group of about six guys in the parking lot waiting for us to come out of the bar. They always played quiz with me, but I didn’t know anything about them, and when you see a group of guys waiting for you, it can seem kind of intimidating. We said “Hey, goodnight,” and they said “Hold on, we’ve got something to say to you guys.” They’d all been in med school and that was their last night together before everyone moved on to their residencies. They just wanted to tell us how much they appreciated us, and having this excuse to go out and de-stress from the pressures of med school, where they could hang out as friends and not think about any of that stuff. They’d done the quiz for a couple of years and they just wanted to thank us for providing that opportunity for them. It was such a heartfelt thing, and that has stuck with me for over 10 years. And to think that so many years later, we’re still providing those experiences and giving people a reason to go out and have human interactions with their partners and their friends. No matter what kind of frustrations I may have on a daily basis with contracts and certificates of insurance and all the business bullshit, our ultimate goal is to make people happy. We do make people happy, and I love that we can say that we do that.