HQ Trivia’s Scott Rogowsky Talks Phish Memories and Bar Mitzvah Requests

Dean Budnick on February 9, 2018

“Let’s get down to the nitty gritty, let’s get this show on the road” has long been recognizable to Phish fans as a line from “AC/DC Bag.” But, now, this phrase has come to signal something else as well, via the HQ Trivia app. Host Scott Rogowsky utters this line just prior to the first question of the live game, in which any player who can answer 12 consecutive multiple-choice general knowledge questions shares the grand prize. Rogowsky—who has long hosted the comedy talk show “Running Late with Scott Rogowksy” at various Manhattan venues—quotes Phish to upward of a million HQties, every night at 9 p.m. and weekdays at 3 p.m.

Do you recall what first led you to the music of Phish?

I picked it up at summer camp like a lot of my friends. The camp counselors would listen to it at these Jewish summer camps up in the Adirondacks or the Berkshires. I remember listening to Hoist, and seeing the “Down with Disease” music video. Then, I really got into Billy Breathes. I watched a lot of MTV, but I certainly was not one of these musical prodigy kids, even tastewise—I wasn’t Jake Fogelnest, let’s put it that way. The first album I bought on cassette was Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, so let’s get some perspective. And then I had Puff  Daddy & The Family [No Way Out] and Weird Al’s Bad Hair Day. I was definitely into Weird Al as a kid, and Adam Sandler’s comedy tapes and my parents’ Allan Sherman records.

It’s funny. I just went to the MSG run, and I happened to be sitting next to some kids I went to camp with. The odds are crazy, but I haven’t seen these kids in 20 years and they recognized me. It was bizarre.

My first show was on Feb. 28, 2003 at Nassau [Coliseum], which is now this legendary show that people talk about as being one of the best post-hiatus shows—with the “Destiny Unbound” and “Soul Shakedown” breakouts—and “Tweezer,” “Bathtub Gin,” “Harry Hood” and the “Contact” encore. It was an amazing, amazing show for my first experience. That summer I went to IT and that was ridiculous, and I went back to Nassau that fall [during Phish’s 20th anniversary run].

But in ‘04, just as I was getting into it, they announced the breakup. I probably hit six of those 2004 shows, including Hampton, SPAC and Camden. I tried to get to as many as I could that summer because I thought that was it, but I didn’t go to Coventry. I watched it at the movie theater.

You mentioned Allan Sherman. You drop in Yiddish words the same way you drop in Phish references. Have you received similar feedback?

I’ve got this Jewish following now. A Jewish radio host just called me [Nachum Segal], and all these people are hitting me up for bar mitzvah requests. I’d do the same thing. I think all Jews are obsessed with other Jews, especially ones that kind of make it and are publicly visible. I love knowing Jewish baseball players and Jewish actors. It’s always nice to know, “Oh, he’s one of us!” There’s definitely that tribal mentality. So I think when people find out that I’m Jewish—and I don’t make a secret of it on HQ—they love that.

Has anyone at HQ asked you to tone down the Phish allusions?

No, not so much. I’m just trying to be myself, which is why I was doing these references when there were 100 people in the game. It’s all been organic. I just do what I find is funny. I would get a kick out of watching someone drop these lyrics or some Yiddish, so I do it. I also make references to my favorite radio show, The Best Show with Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster, and also to other bands that I love.

I went crazy with the Phish stuff recently for MSG. Everyone was getting jazzed up, and I was going to the shows and I wanted to tip my hat. Most people don’t even realize what I’m doing—they probably think I’m being fanciful with my word choice when I say, “I’m broadcasting live from Gamehendge.” Sometimes I wonder, “Are people Googling that and trying to figure out what Gamehendge is? ‘What is the land of the big baboon? What is he talking about?’” So to me, it’s funny. And I just love that people get a kick out of it.

Other than Phish, what are some of your other memorable live shows?

My parents aren’t big music people. My dad never took me to a show growing up. My first concert experience was relatively late in my life—Phil Lesh and Friends at the Beacon Theatre in November 2001. In the summer of 2002, I went to the Adirondack Mountain Music Festival, where Mos Def and Talib Kweli headlined. Psychedelic Breakfast was there, before they changed their name to The Breakfast. When I was in college, I was working on the student board and I brought them there.

I went to a moe.down one summer. I went to Bonnaroo in 2004. I’ve gone to The Dead and Dead & Company. I saw The Other Ones at MSG in ‘02. I also always love watching Dark Star [Orchestra]. I’ve seen Pink Talking Fish a few times, and that’s a fun show.

I’d also love to give some shine to this band called Landlady. The frontman, Adam Schatz, is so engaging and funny—and it’s great musicianship, lyrics and everything. They’ve got the total package. They’re certainly fans of Bowie and Talking Heads, and I’m sure the lead singer has gone to a Phish show or two.

How did you come to host HQ?

I auditioned for it back in April and, thankfully, they chose me out of a bunch of people they saw. It’s the perfect gig for me. For stand-up comedians, hosting a stand-up show is pretty low on the totem pole. It’s the sort of the thing you do when you start out before you’re a headliner. But I’ve always enjoyed hosting and, especially in this situation, just speaking to the camera is something I’ve been working toward. So it’s a great fit. 

This article will appear in the March 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here