Game Show Boss
Game Show Night host Barb Barker wields a potholder.
“I like questions, that’s why I became a game show host,” deadpans Birmingham’s supreme contest show host, Barb Barker. For the past year Barker has been the MC of Game Show Night at local bars, restaurants, and coffeehouses. Described as “cheesy but brilliant” by observers, most of her contests are based on popular TV game shows from the 1960s and ’70s. “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire” is inspired by the 1960s-era show “To Tell the Truth,” when they would have somebody with an interesting story, “maybe somebody who walks barefoot from Canada to Mexico or somebody who made Evel Knievel costumes,” Barker explains. “Somebody not famous who had an interesting story.” Her version of the game, like the original, includes one person telling the truth and two impostors. Contestants must guess who is telling the true story. “Generally, I ask questions [of possible would-be mystery guests] like, ‘What’s the most interesting or creative thing about you or that you’ve ever done?’ I had a guy with a third nipple, but it was kind of disappointing, because we had the guy reveal it to us at the end. And it was a niplet, it wasn’t even a full-grown nipple.”
Barker’s contests rarely include trivia. “That’s already been done. There’s trivia anywhere if you want to find it. Trivia is too much like taking SAT tests, so it’s not something that entertains me. All my games are social, creative, and intuitive.” She does admit that she would probably enjoy administering SAT tests. “I do have the Guinness Game, which is the closest that my Game Show Night comes to trivia, but it’s trivia that nobody would ever possibly know, usually stuff from the Guinness Book of World Records, like, ‘How many milk crates did Sam Bartholowmule of Dubuque, Iowa, balance on his head in 1973?’ People guess 7 or 700 or 12. That’s a warmup game so that you don’t pull a creative hamstring when the real games begin.” Prizes include paid-off bar tabs, restaurant gift certificates, or “a bottle of something.”
Barker got her start as a performer of sorts years ago selling advice on the streets of Seattle for a nickel, similar to Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip. “We were on a very well-traveled pedestrian sidewalk,” she reminisces. “My crew and I became very famous in that very select subgroup out there. It was really helpful for me because for everybody who would come up for advice, you’d sort of put a little show on for them. So that was kind of my training.”
Barker’s Crazy Commercial Competition game is based on the Home Shopping Network. Contestants are given one of two dozen odd items, which they must tout with relentless enthusiasm and creativity. The contest Human Scrabble involves competitors grabbing a Scrabble tile from a bag. “Each person is a letter,” explains Barker.”If you are an ‘H,’ you would write the letter on a large piece of paper and form coalitions with other people that have letters that you could form a word with, and the group with the longest word is the winner.”
Among the most popular segments of Game Show Night is Game Shows for Drunk People. “Tactile Tummy is really funny. I have about 20 different items and you have a guy who is blindfolded and you have three girls. Each girl will rub a different item on the guy’s tummy and when he guesses the correct item, he wins a point and the girl wins a point. The items might include a hairbrush, a calculator, a clothespin,” says Barker. “It’s really just an excuse to have girls touch guys’ naked stomachs. I also have Drunk People Make Noise. Each contestant has to come up with a unique sound and the conductor plays the people by touching the person’s hand and you have to keep making the sound as long as your hand is being touched. It’s sort of an ‘American Idol’–style competition of whose songs do you like the best. . . . The reason Game Shows for Drunk People came up is because the first few shows I did, toward the end of the night people weren’t paying any attention because they were drunk. So I sort of shortened the show a little bit and have the option of Game Shows for Drunk People, which are much simpler, easier games to play. I start about seven and end around nine, and by the time I end people are happy but not stupid drunk. It can be played by those who are stone-cold sober or you can play it blind drunk.” Barb Barker hosts Game Show Night at Crestwood Tavern (5500 Crestwood Boulevard, 510-0053) on the first Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. and at Rojo (2921 Highland Avenue, 328-4733) the third Sunday of every month from 5 to 8 p.m. Details: comeoutandplaygameshows.com. &