Arts & Culture

NPR quiz show ‘Ask Me Another’ comes to Durham

Comic Ophira Eisenberg hosts “Ask Me Another.”
Comic Ophira Eisenberg hosts “Ask Me Another.” GETTY FOR NANTUCKET FILM

As the youngest of six and the daughter of immigrants who met during World War II, Ophira Eisenberg wasn’t a shoe-in to become a comedian. Sure, they joked around at the dinner table, but her parents had a traditional immigrant mentality, she says: They worked hard and expected their kids to get lucrative jobs.

Yet the Canadian comic tried stand-up in her early 20s, just to give it a shot, and was quickly hooked. Today, she’s the host of the NPR quiz show “Ask Me Another” and she has a film deal for her 2013 book “Screw Everyone: Sleeping my Way to Monogamy,” for which the screenplay is still being written. “Hopefully, the next stage is it will be sold to a studio or produced by people with deep pockets,” she says.

“Ask Me Another” will be at Durham’s Carolina Theatre Wednesday, recording a show to air that weekend on NPR affiliates (locally on WUNC at 1 p.m. Sunday). The News & Observer caught up with Eisenberg to talk about her radio show and book.

Q: Your show is part of the NPR quiz show phenomenon. Were you a fan of that kind of show before you got your own?

A: I always joked around that I was never a good trivia person, but I’ve always excelled at head games. One of the nice things I think I bring to it as someone who isn’t a puzzle genius, is I’m sort of the person between the audience and the puzzle geeks, someone you can sort of relate to. I’m sort of the liaison or the conduit.

Q: Your book is open and honest. You’re used to being open onstage as a comedian, but how was it to take that step and put it in print?

A: I will say that a lot of the stories in the book I had told onstage or in other iterations. ... You feel good about it, you hand in your final transcript, you close down the lid of your laptop and you go to bed. And then I woke up first thing in the morning, alarmed, like “Oh my God, people are going to read this!” – totally filled with dread. You just have to remember all the advice that has ever been said or written by writers of all types, which is, if anyone had a concern of how critics would react, no art would ever be made.

Q: Aside from being honest about your personal and private life, you go against the cultural double standard where a man can have a certain sexual experience and it’s okay, and a woman can’t. Was that part of the nervousness?

A: No. I guess that I am so nontraditional in my head, I had completely forgotten we lived in a culture that was that traditional. I was like, “there are more people like me than are not like me.” Through Twitter and Facebook I found out I had a lot of male readers and they really liked it. There’s nothing in the book where I bash men; I’m never hateful. I always really liked the company of men on many levels – friendship, company, I really like the energy of men.

There are these older women who are like, “you think that’s interesting? I’ll tell you one day about my life.” Then there was the other side where someone was like, “I got married right out of high school, college – whatever – and I really wish I had played the field a little bit more, figured out who I was a little bit more.” If anyone freaked out about it, it’s because they didn’t read it.

Q: I read a quote from when you talked to Lianne Stokes for “Hello Giggles,” where you said “one of the worst lessons in life is if you are super-crazy in love with someone, it’s not going to work out.” Is that one of the messages of the book?

A: I think anything in life is kind of like that. If something has an insane, really high-voltage aspect to it, it’s probably unsustainable. Someday it’s going to have to be day-to-day. Some morning it’s going to have to be like, “hey, I woke up and there’s no milk again. What’s going on?” It’s gonna be just mundane things and you have to work together as a team. I think when you are running down the street after somebody at 2 a.m., you think that this exciting thing is going to be possible forever, and that is just impossible – unless you are running down the street to get milk.

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