Interview with ‘Hard Quiz’ question writer Gerard McCulloch – Part II

Last week saw the beginning of my two-part interview with writer / comedian / actor / MC / audience warm up man / game show question writer for Hard Quiz and Family Feud; Gerard McCulloch. And although we’re used to seeing everything run perfectly smoothly on our favourite game shows when they go to air, the process of getting them there can sometimes be a bit bumpy. Not just from the perspective of the host, the contestants and all the technicians working on any show, but from the perspective of a show’s question writers, too….

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SH: Have you ever written any questions – on any shows – that turned out to be controversial?

GM: I follow the Hard Quiz Twitter hashtag as it goes to air, and read the occasional ‘correction’ from viewers. I check every query, and luckily they rarely stand up to scrutiny. A few people disputed our assertion that every Australian postage stamp features a year, but not a denomination (i.e.; value). It’s true – concession stamps for seniors show no value, but years of issue appear, often hidden in microprinting. Someone delightfully emailed the ABC a scan of a ‘Fairy’ stamp, declaring that it didn’t show a year. I told her to look under the toadstool.

I think this is the stamp Gerard’s referring to. Look at under the right side of the toadstool, just where it overlaps the border.

GM: Some of our other Hard Quiz contestants were taken aback by how tangential to the expert topic some of our questions get. It’s true that part of the fun we have with the notion of the ‘hard’ quiz is that the questions can get ridiculously obscure. But at the time of recording, the show had not yet gone to air, so it’s understandable that some guests may have felt miffed at the licence we took. It’s a brilliant moment when a contestant still knows the answer. I would hope that in subsequent seasons, contestants will have seen the show, and know a bit more about what they’re in for.

SH: Have producers ever rejected any questions that you’ve written? If so, why?

GM: All the time! “Seen it before”. “Too easy”. “Too hard”. “It was on The Chase last week”. “Too similar to one that’s already in production”. “Too long”. “Too complicated”. “Too obscure”. “Not suitable for the viewing demographic”…  Having questions rejected is part and parcel of being a question writer.

SH: How did you come to be working on the 2014 Australian reboot of Family Feud?

GM: Apart from the questions, all shows need a writer to work on the ‘hostings’, which are the mundane things like introducing the contestants, throwing to the commercial breaks and plugging the show coming up, as the credits roll. Some hosts stick to these these scripts and some don’t, but it usually falls somewhere between the two. They’re mainly reminders to make sure everything happens in the correct order and nothing is forgotten. I filled in on that role for a couple of weeks while my friend Ray Matsen took a holiday, and had so much fun with (host) Grant (Denyer) and the excellent team behind the scenes there that they let me stick around and write questions. Writing Family Feud questions was a bit of a dream come true – I used to love watching the show in its earlier versions when I was a kid. I’ve also filled in as the audience warm-up act there too. I’m hoping the show sticks around until I’ve slowly performed every role in television there. Maybe I could be the lighting guy next.

SH: What specific skills are required to write questions for Family Feud?

GM: The ability to think out of the box. The more original the question, the greater the chance it hasn’t been done before. Questions involving un-provable matters of personal opinion (like appropriate behaviour on a date) are more fun than lists like ‘food starting with B’. Having said that, it’s been a while since they called… maybe too many of my questions got ba-bowwwwwwed.

SH: Are there mistakes or common errors that you see people repeatedly make on Family Feud?

GM: Giving answers that in no imaginable universe could possibly be relevant to the question! It’s funny to see what people come out with under the pressure of the lights and the time limit.

SH: And finally, do you have any specific tips or hints that you could give someone wanting to go on Family Feud?

GM: Mainly, have fun and don’t take it too seriously; but also, study the strategy of the game play. It’s an obvious tip, but try to think of the most likely answers rather than just hope something is on the board; that way, it’s harder for your opponents if they get the chance to steal. Also, contrary to popular speculation, they really DO survey people for the answers, so it helps to think, not, “How would I answer this question?” but “How would a bunch of random Australians answer this question?”

SH: Gerard, it’s been great chatting to you, and long may your game show career and your comedy writing career and your comedy performing career all continue to thrive! Thanks very much for your time today!

GM: It’s been my pleasure, Stephen, and may I tip your readers off that Hard Quiz is now auditioning contestants for Season 2 ! Keep your eye out for the call-outs on ABC TV, and (host) Tom (Gleeson) will probably mention it during his side-job on The Weekly with Charlie Pickering.

(* But it’s probably easier for you to just go here. – SH)

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And that wraps up my two-part interview with Mr Gerard McCulloch. I’d like to thank Gerard so much again for giving his time so generously, and to remind you that if you’re interested in seeing what he’s up to at the moment… you can head on over to his home on the web, and he’s also on Twitter, under the handle @DrJavaBeans.

See you next Tuesday! 

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