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Beat the geek 

by Kathy M. Newman

Paul Goebel, long known professionally as "The King of TV," is one of the three regular trivia "geeks" on Comedy Central's new game show, Beat the Geeks. The game show pits two ordinary contestants against the TV geek, the music geek, the movie geek, and a rotating geek expert (on such topics as South Park, comic books and Michael Jackson). Goebel, who was born in Flint, Mich., and educated in Arizona, realized after college that he could make a living from knowing a lot about TV. In addition to his role on Beat the Geeks, he is a husband, a father of two, a stand-up comedian, and, occasionally, a substitute teacher.

Beat the Geeks premiered Monday, December 10, at 7:30 pm, and Goebel agreed to answer some questions about the state of contemporary geekdom.

Q: What is a TV geek?

A: I think of geeks as brainiacs or eggheads, people who know a lot about obscure books, math or dead presidents. A lot of people don't make the distinction between geeks and nerds. A nerd is more pathetic than a geek. A geek is just someone who knows a lot about something. Bill Gates is a computer geek. Hugh Hefner is a hot chick geek. I'm a TV geek.

Q: Does Beat the Geeks make fun of geeks?

A: We do try to have fun with our role as the "god-like" geeks of each trivia category. Sometimes we really get into it with the contestants, seeing who can toss off the most crushing insult. But the whole premise of the show is to elevate the geek. The contestants who win are so clearly geeks themselves in their chosen field of trivia.

Q: If geeks are held in low esteem in our culture, TV is held in even lower esteem. Why is TV at once so important to us, and such a scourge?

A: Cable was just getting started when I was growing up, and so we could only watch what the networks fed us. There was a lot of bad TV in the 1970s and the 1980s. Cable has changed things. Now we can watch live sporting events from all over the world. We can see places and people we might never get to see in "real life." C-Span allows us visual access to Congress. TV mirrors life much more than the movies do -- it is part of our every day lives, our daily existence.

Q: The robes you wear on Beat the Geeks are a parody of the academic ceremonial garb. They make you look pompous. Are they uncomfortable?

A: Actually, the studio temperature ranges from freezing cold to boiling hot, so it's hard to stay comfortable under the robe. Sometimes I wear pants and a shirt underneath, and sometimes I wear as little as possible.

Q: What makes Beat the Geeks different from the latest round of TV game shows?

A: Beat the Geeks is hip, tongue-in-cheek and designed for the under-40 crowd. We don't take ourselves as seriously as shows like Millionaire or Weakest Link. Also, we're in the best time-slot for a game-show: 7:30 pm. That puts us in the same league as the game show classics, like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.

Q: How long have you been the King of TV?

A: I've been the King of TV for 10 years. I was living in Chicago, and I was listening to this radio talk show by a local DJ named Jonathon Brandmeier. He had a regular guest, this woman who called herself the Queen of TV. But it was easy to stump her with questions about 1980s television, and so I thought, if she's the Queen of TV, then I'm definitely the King. Brandmeier brought me onto on his show as the King of TV, and I developed a stand-up act around it. Today I make a living from knowing a lot about TV. I have a stand-up act in which I sing TV theme songs and answer trivia questions. I make no apologies for what I do.

Q: When do you say when someone says, "I don't watch TV"?

A: I ask them, "Do you have a TV?" If they say, "yes," then I say, "Then you watch TV." When someone says "I don't watch TV" it means "I don't watch bad TV," or, "I don't watch what everyone else is watching." TV is like pie. Everybody likes pie. There are so many different kinds of pie that everyone likes at least one kind. If you can't find something on TV that you like, you're not looking.

Beat the Geeks airs weeknights at 7:30 pm on Comedy Central.

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