Just a minute with Larry Gogan
September 6, 2010 in Quiz Show
For some time now I’ve been trying to come up with an idea for a quiz. A quiz that no-one else has thought of. A quiz that will be entertaining, easy to grasp and challenging at the same time. A quiz that, once it’s initially successful, will not fade in the public’s affections and will run for years and years.
I’ll be turning 33 this month and, as far back as I can remember, there’s never been a time when the JAMQ did not exist. It is, by accident or design, a perfect nugget of quiz – quizzing distilled, if you will. The 60 second time limit puts pressure on the contestants, prevents cheating and ensures that the round is over before the listener’s attention wanes.
It was quite a thrill this week when, in honour of this blog’s 100th post, Larry Gogan himself spoke to me about the JAMQ.
The first thing I asked the great man was how the quiz came about.
“It started the same day as 2fm did, May 31st, 1979. Cathal McCabe was my producer and we had this idea that we needed a ‘slick’ quiz to go with this ‘slick new station’. So that was the thinking behind the rounds only taking a minute.”
After 31 years, is there a chance that it’s the world’s longest-running quiz?
“It’s funny that you should ask that as the Guinness Book of Records people are looking into that idea! Someone mentioned it on Rick O’Shea‘s show recently and he called them up, I guess. It hasn’t been on for the entire time, though. In 1981, the director of radio thought no-one was interested in our ‘silly quiz’. So we cancelled it. But there was pandemonium, uproar! We brought it back after a month.”
The JAMQ has become part of our culture and is certainly the most famous quiz in Ireland. Larry’s own generous phrase “Sure, they didn’t suit you”, to those contestants who (let’s say) didn’t do so well, is instantly recognisable. There is also a long-standing chain email which tells us of over 30 “Actual answers given to Larry Gogan…” I asked Larry what he thought of this particular part of his fame.
“Well, regarding the catchphrase, I hear that everywhere I go. It’s the first thing people say to me! But, I feel that you have to be fair to people, especially if they don’t do well.”
Does he ever wonder why those people who struggle to answer a single question ring in?
“Not really. I’d say that nerves must play a part, if someone doesn’t do well. But I wouldn’t be into slagging people off.”
And the email?
“Now, they’re not true at all! I’m nearly certain of that. I even know where that one, the one about ‘a pig in sh…’, where that came from. It was a joke Brendan Grace used to have in his act. Someone heard it one night and then told it on Gay Byrne‘s show. I don’t know if they said it was a joke or not… But, to this day, people come up to me and say ‘Oh I was listening that day when you asked the As happy as… question!’ and sure it never happened at all!”
At this point I laid out two theories I have about the JAMQ. Firstly, that the scores through the years would make a good base for a study into how the Irish public’s intelligence levels have gone up or down. Has Larry noticed any changes in the ability of the contestants?
“That’s hard to say. We give out a jackpot prize if someone scores over 18 points and it hadn’t been won for a long time but now, in the last month, two people have claimed it. I know our record score is 25 and that happened years ago. Other than that though, I can’t really remember the scores…”
Happy that my idea for a PhD proposal is obviously still available I proceeded to big theory number 2: the time limit of the JAMQ makes it impossible to cheat.
“Oh I think so, yes. It’s just too quick. You’d know if someone was popping away to check google but it’d take up a lot of time.”
Have they ever had any instances of cheating? For example, during the end-of-year championship, is there a chance that a competitor might ask some quizzing expert to stand in for them?
“Well, we have no way of knowing. We’re just dealing with voices at the end of a phone line. I believe we had cases in the past of people pretending to be from that day’s location when they were actually from the other end of the country. These days though, our system can tell you where someone is ringing from if they’re on a landline. With mobiles we have no idea, of course. But we do note the numbers. Not so long back we had a guy ring in, and he called himself Paddy or whatever, and the system said that we’d had a guy called Mickey ring in from that number previously. When the researcher asked him about this he claimed that Mickey was a different fellow and that they shared the phone!”
What does the future hold in store for the JAMQ? When the unthinkable day comes and Larry retires,what then? Will it also be retired? Or are Rick O’Shea and Ryan Tubridy even now circling, hoping to pick up the inheritance?
“Well, it’s such a simple idea, and that’s why it’s been a success, in my opinion. But all I really have is the name. There’s other shows even now, Tony Fenton, Ian Dempsey, that are doing quick quizzes. I think I even heard Derek Mooney say one day, to a caller, that the quiz she was taking part in was “Just like the Just a Minute quiz…”! So who knows?’
On that note, he bid me farewell. A charming man, I’m glad to report, just like he is on the radio.
You can listen to Larry Gogan’s Golden Hour (featuring two rounds of the JAMQ) from 1-2pm, weekdays, on 2fm (90-92 FM). Someday, you might even hear my voice – if I ever pluck up the courage to have a go at the JAMQ!