“It tests the grey matter in a very down-to-earth sort of way.” | Dave Chawner on staying mentally sharp, safe and silly with his virtual pub quiz

C/W: Mental health, anorexia, parental death

Tell us about your quiz.

It was the first week of lockdown that I thought about it. I put it out to Facebook to ask if people thought a virtual pub quiz would work because I didn’t think I’d seen it done anywhere else. This was about four weeks ago. I just asked, “Is this a ridiculous idea?” People were really receptive, it was incredible.

It works very similarly to a lot of things now, it’s pay by donation with a recommended £1 per person fee. But if you can’t afford that, or you work for the NHS, or you just don’t want to pay it, DM me and I’ll send you the link for free. The first week it really took off. We had over 180 people donating, which was amazing.

Unfortunately I lost massive momentum because the next quiz was supposed to be on the Wednesday but unfortunately my dad passed away on the Tuesday so I didn’t manage to do it for two weeks. Last week was the first one back and it’s been great.

There’s loads of them around now and people are going to other ones, which is totally understandable. A pub quiz is very much like a sitcom – you’ll find what you like and then you’ll be quite loyal to that type.

Last week we had about fifty devices streaming it on Facebook and fifty or sixty streaming it on YouTube live, so we’re getting about 100 to 120 devices. Sometimes you get families playing or teams.

What made you want to do a quiz?

I used to do pub quizzes ages ago. I love the silliness of it and the stupidity. It’s just one of those things where if I can make myself laugh, hopefully I can make someone else laugh.

I’m writing a lot at the moment about mental health. I don’t know if you know about the five ways to wellness. They’re connection, action, learning, mindfulness and giving. I really do thing, especially in times like this, having those as a checklist is really useful. Keeping your mind ticking over by learning or challenging yourself is really good fun.

I’ve started implementing more ridiculous rounds each time. There’s one called ‘Who Came First?’ which isn’t as rude as it sounds. It’s questions like ‘Who is older, Ant or Dec?’ There’s one called ‘Una Understands’ – my girlfriend is Northern Irish, so she’s going to say something in her Northern Irish-ness and people have to decipher want she means in normal people language. There’s a picture round.

It’s just a lot of silly good fun to perk people up. It’s from 8 until 10pm every Wednesday. It’s recommended £1 per person, but you can play for absolutely free.

What would you say is the secret to a good quiz?

Now, loads of people differ on this. I actually, embarrassingly, did quizzes for about five or six years. There was this one place that came back to me after I’d gone full time into comedy and it was a pub I loved.

I did a quiz where Ellie Goulding played. Andrew Lloyd Webber got really angry at me. He was in the pub and I wasn’t going to treat him any differently to anyone else, so I said “Hi, mate, we’re doing a pub quiz, do you want to do it?”

And he said, [fantastic Andrew Lloyd Webber voice] “Is there a musicals round?” I said, “Well, there’s a music round and a picture round.” He got really annoyed that I wasn’t amazed by him, I found it so funny.

Personally I think the – not even secret, but the best way to have a good pub quiz is to just fill it with personality. My kind of personality that I want to project is the feeling of how much I used to look forward to that quiz.

We used to have ridiculous rounds. I don’t do it any more because I don’t think it’s very tasteful, but we used to have ‘Morbidity Bingo’. One of the questions was about Roger Bannister, the man who ran the first four minute mile, asking if he was dead or still alive. It made for genuinely the most fun afternoon, with about 100 people playing it. It was brilliant.

I think the secret to a good pub quiz is to genuinely enjoy it and do the sort of quiz that you would want to do yourself. I’m not really bothered by chemical elements or ‘what year was Cicero born?’ But I am very, very interested in ‘which sitcom had more episodes, FRIENDS or Frasier?’ and ‘name the celebrities from their Simpsons characters’. It’s little things like that. I love bad autobiographies too. Alan Titchmarsh had one that was called Trowel and Error. I’m really lucky that I have this opportunity to find these ridiculous, stupid things.

There was an in joke I used to do – there would always be a question about Mrs Doubtfire because I love Mrs Doubtfire. And I do loads of stuff about dogs because I adore dogs.

You mentioned incorporating mindfulness into your quiz. How do you go about that?

One of the problems I’ve got with mental health is that I think it’s all been very high-faluting. I always say that one in four of us might have mental illness, but four in four of us have mental health. I think it’s really important to have distractions, to have enjoyment and to have challenges, all of which our quiz has.

I think that working on your mental health shouldn’t be people in ICUs or in-patient units. Everybody should be actively working on their health and enjoying it. In the same way that you don’t have to want to be Mr Muscle 3000 in order to go to a gym.

I think we’ve an increasingly great attitude towards health. I remember years ago you’d say you were going to the gym and people would think you were a nobhead. Now, people go regularly and will go in their lunch hour. Increasingly, it’s something I find amazing, people at the start of the year will say “I’m actually not going on a diet but I’m going to get my five fruit and veg a day, or take two days booze free, or walk ten thousand steps a week,” or whatever it is. I think that’s brilliant and we have to implement that kind of system into mental health.

Just a weekly get together, that’s your connection. Setting aside time to do something, that’s your action. The quiz element is your learning. The mindfulness is the real engrossingness. The giving is paying me. There’s all of those ways there.

What kind of topics and games can people expect from your quiz?

There are five different picture rounds and an audio round. I got threatened with a law suit from Time Warner Music last week so there will be no music round. But we have rounds like ‘Can you name the comedian from the joke?’

I really like ‘True or False’ rounds. I think in a good quiz, the knowledge should always be just out of reach. I see it like the mental equivalent of having someone’s name on the end of your tongue. That’s why I love questions like ‘What year was Channel 5 launched?’ Because people can work back through their own timeline and work it out.

There’s no swearing, it’s all family friendly. So there’s meant to be mixed ability questions. There’s food and drink, TV, films. I love pop culture stuff. I’ve got one that’s ‘According to the ASDA website, what is the current price of a Freddo?’ It tests the grey matter in a very down-to-earth sort of way.

What has been the most noticeable thing you’ve had to contend with moving from live to digital quizzes?

One of the things I’m very bad at is that I have a very short attention span and people always tell me to slow down. Because you don’t have that interaction, I think that’s something that I find quite challenging.

I haven’t done an online comedy show yet for numerous very up-my-own-arse reasons. I know a lot of people have said they find it difficult because they don’t get that sense of call and response. When you’re doing a pub quiz live you’re performing it, but when you’re doing it online you’re presenting it.

This is going to sound really self-indulgent but I’m used to presenting for radio. It’s very much like that in that you have to create your own reactions and asides. I think that’s the challenge, keeping it lively without people being right there.

Also having the live comments coming through. I thought that was going to be a challenge with people giving away answers, but it’s actually been wonderful.

I’m always really staunch about it not being my pub quiz, this is your pub quiz – this is your community and your time. It’s lovely to see people jokingly in-fighting and using the comments section to be like “ooh, Tony’s got 39, let’s see what my sister’s got,” and there are in jokes.

When I used to do them live, I used to do a ‘Beat the Bar Staff’ round, because bar staff are genuinely always some of the most worldly and intelligent people I have ever met. There’s a real snobbery towards bar staff. Maybe I’ve been quite lucky. Especially at the one I used to do, they had an unbelievable working knowledge of such a breadth of info.

Now I like to do a ‘Beat My Sister’ round, which sounds very violent, but it’s not. That’s really good fun.

The challenges have been adapting to the lack of call and response, and keeping the energy up, presenting it rather than performing it. I’ve seen this on live comedy stuff, this propensity to think that because you’re awkward, other people might be as well. That’s where you get into areas of “Am I dying? Is this terrible?” and you really have to avoid that.

Do you have any other recommendations for ways people can pass the time in isolation?

I think COVID and lockdown has been awful and terrible. I realise that each individual story and each death is a personal tragedy. I’ve been very much affected by that with my dad dying, so I don’t want to be glib. But I also think that this is a unique, once-in-a-generation, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use this time for something beneficial.

Picking up a new skill is very beneficial. For example, me and my girlfriend have started making a quilted patchwork blanket, we’re sewing it together. It’s shown us that making a patchwork quilt takes a fucking long time, so it’s just a good job that we have a lot of it.

My girlfriend has also taken up knitting. I’m reading a lot. I’m playing on the PlayStation quite a lot. I’ve been invited to a Dungeons and Dragons online thing, which I’ve never done before but I think it’s going to be really, really cool.

I think that this is going to be an amazing opportunity for creativity and development. That doesn’t have to be reading the complete works of Shakespeare or learning how to play the fucking lute. It can be something as simple as growing some herbs in a window box.

Aside from your quiz, what else have you got going on?

Like everyone else, I’ve got a podcast out, Gerry and Dave’s Week That Was. That was out years ago. Strangely, because I didn’t just create it, it’s the only thing I’ve ever done that I’m near to proud of, which is very odd for me. It was basically the radio show I used to do and we got people like Gok Wan, Uri Geller, Rachel Riley, all of these amazing people and put them on our podcast as guests.

I’ve got a book out, as well. It’s called Weight Expectations. It’s about anorexia and mental health, but it’s meant to be uplifting, it’s not a pity party.

Dave’s next digital quiz is on Wednesday 22nd April.

Book your ticket here.

Tune into the livestream here.

You can listen to his podcast here.

You can buy his book here.

You can find out more about Dave’s work by visiting his website and following him on Twitter and YouTube.