Last year I was given the chance to sit down and talk with Mike Trapp from College Humor about his upcoming show Um, Actually. This year during NYCC 2019 I got another chance to chat with Mike regarding how the first year has gone and where he plans on taking things from here. Um, Actually is a super nerd game show where contestants are read a statement that is incorrect and must buzz in and in the most nerdtastic way, correct him. Every answer must start with the phrase, ‘um, actually’!
The show covers several different fandoms and the conversations during each episode are amazing. You can watch shorter snippets of each episode on College Humor’s YouTube channel, but you can find the entire show on their subscription network Dropout. I highly recommend subscribing for this show and so many others.
Julia Roth: So they let you stay!
Mike Trapp: They let me stay!
JR: Who are you blackmailing now? This is the real question.
MT: It’s probably Sam [Reich], I’ve got something on him.
JR: Is it his Tick Tock password? Is that what it is?
MT: Yeah, I am going to post a really terrible Tik Tok and ruin your followers.
JR: He popped up on my feed and I was like…uhhh
MT: I know that guy!
JR: So it has been a year, how has it been?
MT: It’s been a year! It has been good, I think we are still constantly learning more about the show and how it works. It is more comfortable now I think, which is not to imply is was ever uncomfortable but you sort of start to fall into this pattern and you start to like find combinations of guests that we think will be fun. It becomes more like a well oiled machine. I think everyday there is something that is like, well maybe we should tweak that, maybe we should change that or maybe we should move something around. It’s still going and it is still changing and will become this weird evolving thing forever.
JR: Now do you guys film a show a week or do you film in masses?
MT: We film in a batch. We actually just, on Tuesday, we just finished another batch of 12 episodes. Which is actually smaller than the last batch we shot. I think we shot 24 of them. Which was a little exhausting, there was a lot of questions to write and a lot of keeping the energy up and gaging guests. We are now on a quarterly system were we shot a batch every three months that will full hopefully be running on a perpetual conveyor belt.
JR: Just keep it going.
MT: Yup like here is the next one and then the next one.
JR: So as far as your questions and your guests go, do you guys write a bunch of questions and then say okay these guests would be perfect for them or do you go well you guys are on your own figure it out?
MT: It’s a mix, we can’t wait until the casting is done to write all the questions because we just wouldn’t have the time to do that. The casting normally only happens closer to the shoot time because people don’t know what they are doing so far in advance so we can’t rely on that. So we are usually writing questions with a fun first ethos, where we find a piece of trivia we can twist into something or some weird observation that we can twist into a question and then look at our full slate and see if there are any obvious holes, like oh we don;t have a single anime questions here or something like that. And once we got a big batch of questions and we start to know the cast we start distributing things based on what people have said they were in to. Usually there will be a couple things where this person said they were into early 80s cartoons like no one else has listed so we usually write up one and look and see if we can find a funny 80s cartoon thing. On a typical episode maybe half the questions, each person has about two or three questions geared towards them and the rest are more of a free for all, this is what it’s gonna be so let’s see what happens.
JR: There is always going to be that moment where you say, I pulled this question out of nowhere and someone will say, I know it!
MT: Trully, like we had Erika Ishii on, she’s great, and we asked a question that I think was submitted by a fan about Invader Zim and she didn’t list that ever but as soon we started she was like, ‘I know everything about Invader Zim and I’m gonna tell you all about this’. And it’s the things you don’t think to talk about are the ones where you think, oh I do know a lot about that and I just didn’t know how to say it.
JR: It’s like the time my mom told me I’d never have to use this information again, and well guess what guys!
MT: Truly! I got a point that was worth nothing on an internet comedy show!
JR: When you guys are filming and recording, is it like one straight thru and whatever happens happens?
MT: Yeah so we are not like a live stream so we do edit things down. We probably cut maybe about 20 to 30 minutes out of each episode. We’ll shoot and ask a question and everyone will have a conversation about the property or the piece of trivia for a couple minutes afterwards. Sometimes we will have a lot of really fun and funny stuff in there and we will just have to cut and choose the best little sound bite from there. Sometimes we won’t have much to talk about and we just roll right along. There is a lot of fun stuff that ends up on the cutting room floor, but I found that one of the things that have constantly been shifting the most has been finding the balance between how much people watch the show for the trivia and the gameplay aspect or how many people watch the show for the conversation. Because it seems like some watch for both and some only watch for one, so it’s finding the thing that will please the most number of people.
JR: Yeah, I need people to keep watching this so let’s figure this out. Who has been your favorite guest on the show?
MT: Ohh. That’s an interesting question. Well a couple of names come to mind, I’m hesitant to call out any one person as like, this is my favorite person. Brennan Lee Mulligan, also a cast member at College Humor, will forever be the one who destroys the show every time to the point where I’m like, I am going to get you but he has also turned the crowd against me. He remains my arch enemy on the show but is a joy to have on every single time. He totally gets the show and it is fun to have the conversation and answers the questions and does a great job with it. Amy Vorpl is a dream. One thing I love about her is she holds nothing back. If she has a story or though and has the most expressive face in the world. It is just all their on the camera. It is a dream to watch her episodes because you can see all the emotion popping out. Honestly, I feel like I have made friends from doing the show and having people on and like maybe I didn’t know much about you before or I have only seen a couple of their videos and now when they come back to do an episode and it is like, ‘hey it’s you again! Let’s talk some more!’.
JR: No that is great. So who has been, well no we said Brennen is your arch enemy.
MT: He is the guy to beat for sure.
JR: You are right, I feel like every episode I watch that he is in, he wins.
MT: Yes, I think there is only one web episode that he was in that he didn’t win. Otherwise he has pretty much annihilated things. But we have had a couple of other folks on too. John Gutierrez who has been able to pull, sometimes we put a question in there that we don’t expect anyone to answer it is just sort of like this is a fun piece of trivia we want to talk about and if someone happens to know it cool but if they don’t this is just an excuse to talk about this. And there have been questions like that where Gutierrez can be like oh yeah it is this. And usually very quietly in this polite way like, ‘I think it is exactly the right answer you were looking for’ and it is. We will definitely have to at some point get all the top all time scorers and put them together in a big old bloody deathmatch, but schedules as always is the bane of that plan.
JR: Just be like, show up here but we are not telling you what is happening and then guess what guys!
MT: Only one can win!
JR: You are never leaving here alive! So this has been going on for a year, there are a lot of episodes, I binge watch it a lot. I will watch about six or seven episodes in a row and then come back to it later. But how do you keep it fresh?
MT: Oh I don’t know, please tell me. It certainly gets harder to write the questions because you sort of pluck from the lower hanging fruit. One thing we have been trying a lot has been doing these themed episodes which are about one every three months. Which is specifically focused on a theme that we either don’t get a chance to delve into all that often or has a fandom that doesn’t overlap with the other things we are talking about. That has been a fun way to mix things up, it has been a way to reinvent a lot of things. We will change the props out just for this themed episodes, we will try new shiney questions for those episodes. And I think the shiney questions too, everytime we do a new batch of shoots we reinvestigate which ones aren’t working and if we should get rid of them and then come up with new things we can try. And bringing new guests in are all ways to keep things fresh and keep things alive. It is certainly a challenge for every game show, it is the same format and is just going to keep being this, Jeopardy will be Jeopardy but you know you can have college Jeopardy and you can have all those other ones.
JR: Speaking of shiney questions, how do you come up with them? Is it just a bunch of stuff in a hat and you pull it out?
MT: Do you mean coming up with the concepts?
MT: It comes from a couple different places. Sometimes it comes from a format, like we really want to have something visual here. So we think, what can we do, can we change or manipulate images or something like that. Sometimes it comes from a name, there us one that we have in an upcoming episode called gone in sixty seconds that is just asking people to list as many fictional characters that names end in “gon” in this sort of weird lightening round. Which is sort of totally just an excuse to have this really dumb title but is also a really fun lightening round fast paced thing that was fun to do. I don’t think we will ever do that one again but it was fun once. And sometimes it is looking at things that we haven’t been able to tackle in questions. Like we had one that we shot recently, it is hard to write questions about board games for instance, which people are certainly very passionate about but just because someone is into board games doesn’t mean they are in to every board game. Trying to find something, asking about rules kind of isn’t fun because there isn’t fun trivia there. Some games have a deep lore but some of them don’t which is usually where we go to for our questions. So, a shiney turned out to be a good way to get into board games that way. So we had a game that was like a mystery box where we had game pieces from a bunch of different board games and see if people could identify what game they were from. The shiney questions kind of fill whatever need needs to be filled whether that is fanatic or presentational or anything else.
JR: So guys have, because it is literally nerd life on the game show, how do you guys pick which fandoms make it in. Because obviously board games is something that is hard to write questions for where like Game of Thrones because it is so popular there are probably a million and one questions that you can write. How do you filter out some and bring in other fandoms?
MT: Yeah it is a really good question and it is probably the trickiest thing about the show because I don’t want to be the arbiter of like what is, I feel like it carries a weight of judgement to say we will talk about this we won’t talk about that. I don’t want to be in that position. At the same time I don’t want to ask a question about a property and just be met with blank stares.
JR: They would be like, well we don’t know that.
MT: Yeah, a lot of it is like testing the waters. If there is something that feels like, oh here we had a Dinosaucers question right. It’s like well this is a cartoon from the 80s that some people might know but are their a lot of huge Dinosaucers fans out there right now. Like I don’t know, but the question is interesting enough even if people don’t get it then it’s fine. We can still test the waters with that. Or having these themed episodes, it kind of since we started I wanted to do a musical theater episode because I know a bunch of people who are just as passionate about that as anything else but the same people will tell you everything about any broadway play can not tell you anything about The Lord of the Rings so I don’t want them to feel like they are floundering on the show. So let’s build a show just for them. The fan submitted questions, we have been this thing where one question per an episode is from a fan and that has also been a good way to see what the fans would dictate to talk about. Like hey here is a Warhammer 40K question you haven’t asked this question and it is like, yeah you’re right we haven’t asked a question for that but you wrote one for us so we will use it and give you credit and that will be a chance to let that thing shine.
JR: What do you guys have planned for the upcoming year, what are your goals for the show?
MT: I would like to try and get some more big names to do a video question. I know it is a big ask but I feel like it would just be very fun to see people from tvs and movies saying something wrong about stuff. We had Kristian Nairn for, well I forget which one.
JR: You guys had him last year!
MT: Oh yeah, we have had a couple of folks willing to do it and it is always a dream. Like I know you are working on eight movies but can you say something wrong about a thing, just like record it on your cell phone. I totally get why anyone would be hesitant about doing that, but I would love to try and get more of those in our upcoming episodes.
JR: Alright, well thank you again so much!
MT: Absolutely, thanks for talking to me again!