THE THIRD AND FINAL game show that I invaded was my favorite – “Win Ben Stein’s Money” on the Comedy Channel.
It was 1998, during the show’s second season. I was in LA for a few days and arranged for a tryout. Compared to the Jeopardy quiz this audition was more like asking someone out on a date. I chatted with about five staffers and we sat around cracking jokes. They liked that I had just put out a small book called the “Joy of Revenge,” and was pretty much a sarcastic SOB. After all, this was on the Comedy Channel.
Two months later, at about ten o’clock at night I got a call from them asking me if I could come to LA the next day to be on the show. It was kind of last-minute, but I said, “Sure, no problem.” So what if it was a 450 mile drive, did I care? Well, yes I did, but this show had one very attractive feature: you played for cash. I didn’t need any more rice.
In contrast to the Jeopardy shoot, “Ben Stein’s Money” had the feeling of a “Wayne’s World” episode. The set looked like somebody’s basement rec room.
My fellow contestants were a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and an LA lawyer. After the first round the lawyer was history. I was in first place. The reporter dude was in second and Ben would be joining the game.
In the second round my brain kicked into overdrive and I smoked both Ben and the reporter. That meant that, after a short break, it would be Ben and me, one-on-one, mano-a-mano, winner take all – $5000 and no parting gifts.
During the break Ben and I sat down on the edge of the stage and chatted. He was very nice and at ease. He asked me how I prepared for the show. He was taken aback when I told him that I had been called less than 24 hours ago.
For the final challenge Ben and I were sequestered in our own private “Isolation Booths.” His had an easy chair, Art on the walls, and a cooling beverage on a small table. My booth looked like the inside of a plywood shipping container: one bare light bulb hanging down, a wooden stool, and sitting in the corner a half empty box of cheese crackers.
My theory on shows like this is that, “You either know this crap, or you don’t.” You really can’t study for it.
Jimmy Kimmel asked me ten questions about all sorts of things. I got 7 out of 10 correct. Dumb luck. He happened to ask me about stuff I knew.
He then asked Ben Stein the same ten questions. He got only five correct.
A ton of confetti and balloons dropped from the ceiling and Ben congratulated me, shaking my hand. He told me that only about 1 out of 10 contestants bested him. I beat him like a rented mule.
About two weeks later I got a check for $5000 in the mail – no dishes, no Zenith televisions, and no rice. Just money, lucre, scratch, geetus, dead presidents, moolah.
About half of it went to taxes and a healthy portion of the rest went into a new, state of the art, computer and printer.
The television industry limits people to three game show opportunities. They don’t want people to make it into a career. Trust me – given my track record on game shows, it would make a lousy career. Not a lot of money, but at least there would be something to cook up for lunch.