The good folks at Moviepilot were gracious enough to arrange for me to cover all three days of the Wizard World Comic Con in Portland, OR. I was honored, excited and nervous all at once, because even though I’ve been around a while (probably longer than most of you reading this), I’ve never actually attended a Comic Con before, never cosplayed or hung around those who do (although my youngest daughter, because of my long hair and beard, suggested I cosplay as Jesus).
Still, I was up for the challenge, and for the first day of the Con, since most of the celebrity Q&A panels were scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, I planned to mingle and see what was there, get some pix of some of the more impressive cosplayers and sit-in on a few of the events scheduled for the evening.
But, alas, I feel like I may have let Moviepilot down on this first night. Sure, I met some folks with awesome costumes, and was in awe of the vendor booths which filled the Oregon Convention Center (it’s truly movie-TV-comic-geek heaven). But then I got distracted like Dug the Dog spotting a squirrel when they announced Bruce Campbell’s new game show, Last Fan Standing, would be beginning in a few minutes.
Oh, hell yeah! I just had to cover this!
Last Fan Standing is a new program which will soon air on ConTV, a channel dedicated to all-things pop culture geeks love. It’s similar to Jeopardy, except contestants are chosen from the audience through a preliminary trivia quiz, where everyone is given a clicker to respond to a series of multiple choice questions related to movies, television and comics in the sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres. The top eight scores get to compete onstage, four per game during the two episodes taped each day at Wizard World Comic Cons across the country.
With Bruce Campbell as the host, how could I resist? I’ve been a huge fan of Campbell ever since Evil Dead 2, and this would be a great opportunity to get some photos of him.
But when I showed up at the ballroom where the show was about to begin taping (showing my press credentials), I was simply handed a tiny clicker and told, “You’re playing.”
Playing? I briefly considered reminding them I was just here to cover the event, then thought, what the hell? So I took my seat among about 300 other fans, still mostly hoping to get a good shot of Bruce in game show mode (it does kinda seem like a role he’s born to play). Anyway, before Bruce even came out, they needed to select the contestants through 15 multiple-choice trivia questions, which we answered by choosing the corresponding button on our clickers. And the faster we answered, the more points we received.
I think I missed three answers overall, and when the four contestants were selected for the first show, I wasn’t really disappointed I wasn’t among them. While I have considerable knowledge of pop culture trivia, I knew I was hobnobbing with folks whose dedication far exceed mine. Besides, I was only covering the event anyway.
Bruce Campbell came out for the actual taping with these four contestants, and let me say, the man is as quick-witted and funny as you’ve always imagined, sharp with the congenial verbal jab and dead-pan stare at some of the dumber responses to his questions. ConTV couldn’t have picked a more perfect host. However, seated twenty rows back, I still couldn’t get a decent picture of him in action.
Round 1 consists of a series of questions, and the fastest to hit their button and answer correctly gets points. If they answer incorrectly, someone else has a shot. This is followed by the ‘lightning round’, and whoever has the lowest score afterwards is eliminated. Round 2 follows suit until there are just two contestants remaining. For the final found, the points are reset at zero. There are three genre-related categories available. Whoever has the current high score gets to pick their category first. The runner-up picks from the remaining two, but gets the first shot at answering the five questions related to that topic. At this point, the questions are really difficult and obscure. Whoever answers the most questions correctly in their chosen category is the winner and the Last Fan Standing.
One contestant during the first show, quick on the button and possessing an unholy amount of geek knowledge, wiped the floor with everyone else. Campbell often made numerous amusing comments throughout the taping at how one sided this game was, and had a lot of fun at the expensive of those who were getting smoked by this guy. Shortly before the final round, the producers called the numbers (printed on the backs of the clickers) of the four slated to participate in the second episode.
My number was called.
I checked my clicker, then put on my glasses and checked again. “Holy shit,” I said out loud. “That’s me!” I was one of the top eight??? Out of 300 people???
I got a few pats on the back by strangers seated around me and headed forward, quickly ushered backstage where I barely had enough time to drop my backpack before I was signing release forms and being wired with a microphone to go onstage. A producer kept reminding the four of us to be confident and outgoing on the show, but I was still reeling from the fact I’d be sharing the stage with none other than Bruce Campbell, not to mention being filmed before an audience of hundreds to be aired on TV. Confident? The only time I’m ever confident is when I’m safely at the keyboard of my computer! I’m not too photogenic, have a terrible smile and am generally introverted around people I don’t know. Perfect game show contestant, right?
Anyway, I managed not to puke and jumped onstage with my fellow contestants to the applause of the audience, which erupted ten-fold when Campbell himself came out and high-five us all before getting behind his podium. I briefly forgot my nervousness as he spoke to the crowd and cameras to explain the game…after all, I was standing three feet away from BRUCE CAMPBELL, who addressed me by name and asked me what I did for a living!
Then the game commenced, and despite my nervousness, I held my own against my three opponents, actually having the lead through the first round, although I raised the ire of the entire audience when I hit the buzzer first and blurted out that Superman was the hero raised by Ben and May Parker. Bruce calmly stated, “No, it’s the other guy in tights,” which got a big laugh from the crowd. I was actually kind-of giddy at that point…I just got burned by Bruce Campbell!!
The dude next to me, however, was an expert in everything comic and superhero-related, and took the lead in the second round (not to mention winning-over the audience with his Chewbacca impression). As someone far more at ease onstage, this guy was clearly the audience favorite. Still, despite the Round 2 questions related mostly to shit I knew almost nothing about, I managed to make it to the final round, where me and the comic expert dude would go toe-to-toe.
This was where we got to pick our topics (5 question eachs) from a choice of three…Graphic Movies, High Falutin’ Vampires and The Potterverse. Since Comic Dude had the lead, he chose Potterverse (which I had a sinking feeling he knew everything about). I briefly considered Graphic Movies, but being that this was a Comic Con, graphic movies probably meant movies based on graphic novels (rather than ultra-gory movies), so I chose High Falutin’ Vampires and hoped there were no Twilight questions.
I went first, and although some of the questions were really tough (Karen Bigelow’s directorial debut? [Near Dark, by the way]), I managed to answer all five correctly. So did Comic Dude with his Harry Potter questions (even answering the last one with a confident English accent).
The game was still a tie, at which time Bruce looked at me. I threw up my hands and admitted I wouldn’t have been able to answer a single one of the Harry Potter questions, which got some laughs from the crowd (especially those cheering on Comic Dude).
From what I gathered, a tie after three rounds doesn’t happen often, so it was back to the buzzers where we would square off on the last category neither of us selected…Graphic Movies, which was kind of a mash-up of both of our areas of expertise, and it was only because I was faster on the buzzer on the last question that I won the game.
I got some applause from the audience (I wasn‘t the ‘popular’ win, probably because I displayed the personality of a plate of shrimp), but more importantly, I got a vigorous handshake from Bruce Campbell, the man I was initially hoping to simply get a decent picture of. He lead me and Comic Dude backstage for more pictures and handshakes. Bruce told us both how great we were, probably because of the down-to-the-wire suspense we inadvertently created for the show. Still, it was Bruce who dictated the backstage photos, one with me and Comic Dude, and one with just me and him. Even though he is the obvious star, he took time to genuinely compliment both of us on a job well done before being whisked away by his managers. Shortly afterwards, a producer was asking me for my address and phone number because I was getting $500 for winning the game. Wow! I wasn’t expecting that!
Yeah, I showed up as a member of the press, and yeah, I participated in the game as a fan. But as someone who’s met and interviewed a few celebrities as a writer, I can assure you that Bruce Campbell is a class act, a nice guy who truly appreciates his fans. I didn’t get the interview or photo op I wanted. Instead, I got to hang out with him onstage with countless fans watching. This was a truly unforgettable experience I’ll cherish forever (at least until the show airs and I see how awful I am on TV). If Wizard World Comic Con comes anywhere near you, do yourself a favor and come to one of the Last Fan Standing shows, because you never know. Maybe you’ll end up shaking hands with Bruce Campbell as well!
Anyway, the show ended after Day 1 of Comic Con was over, and Last Fan Standing took up most of the time I was originally planning to use covering the overall event. I’m sure the folks at Moviepilot will understand that sometimes you gotta throw away your press pass, give-in to your inner fan and bow to the alter of your idols.
In this case, Hail to the King, Baby!