Ask Me Another with John Darnielle
The Carolina Theatre
Wednesday, Nov. 19, 7 p.m.

Fans of the NPR-syndicated Ask Me Another filled the Carolina Theatre on a chilly mid-November evening for a live taping of the radio quiz show, which normally calls WNYC home. Host Ophira Eisenberg, who called Durham “a chiller Brooklyn with barbecue,” deftly explained the mechanics of the evening before kicking off the first round of play. She was joined, as always, by Jonathan Coulton, Ask Me Another’s one-man house band. He helped shake up the talk-heavy program with occasional licks from his acoustic guitar.

The premise of Ask Me Another isn’t terribly complex. Two contestants face off in a round of a word games with a pop-culture bent. In one game, the names of different countries were inserted into songs about states, and contestants raced to correctly identify the proper state. The point was less knowing anything about geography than recognizing the tune of “California Girls.”

Ask Me Another regularly features a guest star, a role filled on this night by John Darnielle, the singer-songwriter of The Mountain Goats and the author of 2014 National Book Award nominee Wolf in White Van. After a few clumsy getting-to-know-you questions, Darnielle faced his solo round, which focused on identifying lyrics from metal songs.

Darnielle aw-shucksed and demurred, but he got every question right, which meant that some lucky listener across the country won a free t-shirt. After the round, Coulton handed over his guitar, and Darnielle appropriately launched into “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.” A few Mountain Goats fans chimed in to shout “Hail Satan” with Darnielle, but it was odd not to hear the whole room roaring along, as tends to be the custom at Mountain Goats shows.

Sure, some the evening’s jokes were a little hokey, but they were still creative, with the show’s quick pace buoying even the goofiest puns. The audience, too, added to the enjoyment: When one contestant incorrectly sang “I’m gone to North Carolina in my mind” from James Taylor’s “Carolina in My Mind,” the crowd unleashed a disapproving “oooooh,” to the surprise of the hosts.

In fact, sitting in the audience may have been more fun than being on stage—you could play along without the pressure. The taping also afforded intriguing insights about what it takes to make a live radio program. If you missed the taping, you’ll be able to listen in and play along yourself from home when the podcast is released on January 22. You can also hear Ask Me Another on WUNC every Sunday.