If your mother ever told you were wasting your time watching TV, she was wrong. Paul Goebel watches at least five hours of TV a day. And he's turned all that tube time into a flourishing career.
Most notably, Goebel was one of the trio of "geeks" on two seasons of Comedy Central's Beat the Geeks. As a $40,000-winner on Greed and the winner of TV Land's Ultimate Fan Contest, the stand-up comic got to share his frightening vast trove of trivia knowledge on all things televisual.
And he's unashamed of being labelled a geek. In an interview with Canoe.ca, he said: "Back in the day, the word geek was synonymous with nerd or loser. And now clearly that is not true. You can be a geek and still have social skills. Bill Gates is a geek, and he's a nerd, for that matter, but he's in an enviable position. He's certainly not a loser."
Each show set three contestants against three geeks who specialize in movies, TV and music, as well as a guest geek who specializes in anything from James Bond to the Beatles to the pages of Playboy. (That last guy was a little creepy, too.)
“I had known the producers before the show, since I was pitching them on a TV trivia show,” Goebel told us. “They built on that and added two more people.”
Goebel became the TV Geek. Andy Zax, the usual Music Geek, wrote Rhino Records' trivia contest. The Movie Geek, Marc Edward Heuck, was harder to find. The producers went to a store specializing in hard-to-find movies and were directed next door, to talk to the projectionist.
One of the show's idiosyncrasies was hair. Goebel has an Elvis style 'do, along with mutton-chops, while his fellow Geeks had long hair. The producers took hair very seriously. "[Co-host] Tiffany [Bolton] cut her hair before the second season, and they nearly fired her," remembers Goebel.
The Movie Geek had also cut his hair, quite dramatically, creating a panic backstage at Comedy Central. "In those second season shows, Marc is wearing hair extensions. I joked about dying my hair and the producer told me to show him first."
The Movie Geek became the most challenged geek on the show, despite a prodigious knowledge of movie lore. "He had tendrils into every nook and cranny," says Goebel. "He'd know some of the TV questions I missed, and he and Andy would talk about bands I'd never heard of."
Even so, everybody has blind spots. Even Geeks. For Goebel, it was soap operas, as well as their night-time cousins. On most game shows, there is a "Chinese wall" separating the writers from the producers and contestants. But on Geeks, as well as on Win Ben Stein's Money, the talent are the "contestants," and their weaknesses become obvious.
“During the first season, after I got a soap opera question, I told the producers, ‘I won’t answer any soap opera questions,’” says Goebel. “You can give me soap opera questions, I just won’t answer them.”
Even so, Goebel spent a lot of time honing his TV trivia knowledge. He even became a fan of China Beach, which he hadn't watched until he started "studying" it. Then again, he's always building his trivia muscles: watching TV, playing TV trivia games and reading books about TV. It's what he does.
With Geeks off the air, he's pitching ideas of his own, but he also has a Web site (www.thekingoftv.com) where he takes questions. There are things he won't answer (including soap opera questions, of course) but generally, people aren't trying to "out-geek" him so much as they're curious about a show or actor.
The three geeks, along with host Blaine Capatch, take the show on the road now, billing themselves as "Meet the Geeks" and facing off, live, against college kids. They were even invited to a UCLA trivia bowl tournament, where they finished fourth. "We were in a position to finish third, but we're old and it had been a long day, so we settled for fourth."
They also showed up once on Win Ben Stein's Money. Marc was knocked out in the first round, while Andy went head-to-head with Stein. The "Mighty Mr. Stein" prevailed. "Playing against Ben … he's crazy," says Goebel. "He really wants his money and he plays four times a day, so he's very fast on the buzzer. Anything you know, he'll know as well, so your only chance is to buzz in ahead of him."
Both Ben Stein and Geeks were cancelled at the same time. Game show analyst Steve Beverly says that Comedy Central simply tired of game shows, especially once the Millionaire fad sputtered out.
“Shortly after Geeks wrapped its second season Comedy Central got a new head of development for the West Coast,” explained Goebel. “She fired the second-in-command and was therefore forced to cancel all the shows he developed or pay him for airing them. Those included Geeks and Battlebots. Since they were cancelling two of their three game shows they decided to save money and cancel Ben Stein, too. Ben's salary was huge, not to mention the prize budget."
Goebel is not only an expert on TV shows, he's also appeared on a number of them, including Will & Grace, Ally McBeal, Roswell, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Boston Common.
Unsurprisingly, he is a staunch defender of TV. "It's ridiculous that three or four people can drink coffee and discuss a movie for hours, but if they talk about TV, somebody will say, 'Is that all you do, watch TV?' When people say that movies are better than TV, I have three words for them: The Real Cancun. That was a terrible movie based on a great TV show."
In fact, at a time when movies have about as much plotline as your average PlayStation game (and almost as many explosions or car chases), one can argue that TV is actually better than movies these days, especially given the productions out of HBO and other cable channels.
“Back in the day, there were three channels and half of what was on them wasn’t any good,” he adds. “Now, there are so many channels and shows that are really good, you can’t watch them all. My wife only adds one new show a season.”
Although fewer scripted TV shows are shared cultural reference points, Goebel thinks that reality shows have emerged instead as the grist for today's water-cooler conversations. "Reality TV is so compelling that people don't want to miss them. You watch American Idol and that's an experience you can only have watching TV. You cannot get that anywhere else, not in a movie theatre, not in the pages of a book or magazine."
Growing up in Flint, Michigan, Goebel also watched some Canadian TV. "I'd be amazed that you'd get great stuff like SCTV alongside some really bad sitcoms. I'd watch King of Kensington and I'd say to myself, 'I know this is supposed to be funny; I just don't know how.'"
Canadians have, however, taken to Geeks, and they definitely know why it's supposed to be funny. It has been airing on the Comedy Network (essentially, a knock-off of Comedy Central) since April 2003. "When Blaine went up to Toronto, he was mobbed by people who recognized him from Beat the Geeks," says Goebel. "He said it was like being a movie star."
Unfortunately, the Comedy Network only airs the second season of Geeks and has beaten it to death, playing the same shows four times a day. Comedy is currently planning on quietly cancelling the show in the second week of June. "I'm hoping that a letter-writing campaign might save it."
He says the Meet the Geeks show has also been looking to tour Canadian campuses. If you're interested, contact the Geeks' booking agent at www.Bass-Schuler.com.
And, while you're browsing around, Goebel is running for president, as part of Showtime's reality show American Candidate. Go to AmericanCandidate.com and cast your vote for a truly trivial candidate!
First posted: May 2004