Astoria’s trivia buff


| brennison@queenscourier.com |

Answer: A Queens trivia junkie, “Jeopardy!” champion, singer, mixologist and podcast host.

Question: Who is Tony Hightower?

Hightower, whose array of interests is matched only by his passion for knowledge, appeared on two episodes of “Jeopardy!” in December after “half-heartedly” taking the popular game show’s test.

The 43 year old has harbored a soft spot for trivia and facts since childhood — he lists Trivial Pursuit as a favorite game.

“My parents convinced me that knowing stuff was good,” the Astoria resident remembered. “And that has never stopped.”

Though “knowing stuff” is vital to competing on “Jeopardy!,” the seemingly endless collection of categories makes it near impossible to prepare in the short time you have following notification. Once the “shock” of receiving the call to appear on the show subsided, Hightower decided, for a little peace of mind, to bone up on one subject United States Vice Presidents. During his time on the show, there were, of course, no questions on the second in command.

Until the cameras began rolling, Hightower’s nerves were active. Pumped full of coffee and given time to familiarize himself with the actual game board helped ease some of the anxiety.

“Once I rang in and answered I was fine,” he said. “It was all a blur.”

His goal for his appearance was simple: don’t pull a Wolf Blitzer, referencing the cable talk show host who entered the “Final Jeopardy!” round in the red.

Appearing on “Jeopardy!” comes with abiding by an ode of silence. Contestants are forbidden from divulging the details of their performance until the show airs. Keeping his victory secret may have proven more difficult than actually competing on the show.

“It was so hard. You can’t say anything. I had to convince myself I had lost. I had to play a little Jedi mind trick on myself,” Hightower said.

A viewing party was held at Dempsey’s in Manhattan, where Hightower holds weekly trivia nights. Once the supportive crowd — who shouted his name throughout the episode — realized Hightower was on the precipice of victory, a roar erupted through the throng of supporters.

“It got pretty loud in there,” Hightower said.

The next night did not prove as successful, though Hightower is not complaining. He walked away with more than $23,000 for about an hour’s worth of work.

A well-rounded trivia buff, Hightower tries to avoid having one area of expertise — though he is an admitted music nerd. When he feels his knowledge of a subject is lacking he finds a way to immerse himself in it — even if that means starting a blog.

Hightower launched “Cocktailians,” a blog about cocktails, in 2008 with his friend Sam — the alchemist behind the project — in order to learn more on the subject.

“We get to go to parties and people make us exciting and interesting drinks. It’s a fun side of life,” he said.

If you want to know if a cocktail bar is worth its weight in martinis, Hightower suggests ordering the Corpse Reviver No. 2.

Many of the other “Jeopardy!” contestants are also well-read trivia aficionados, but for most it is just a hobby, a “second” job. For Hightower, it is so much more. It is his career.

He began hosting trivia nights in February of 2006 following the breakup of his band, with whom he left Canada approximately a decade ago. Hightower also hosts a subscription-only trivia league which has four seven-week seasons a year.

“A really good trivia night is going to start conversations. That’s the real attraction of trivia nights and trivia. It gives people other things to talk about,” said Hightower, who can effortlessly weave from a conversation about cinema to chatting about the God particle.

For a taste of the conversations good trivia can start, Hightower also produces weekly podcasts that are a funny, fact-filled look at the world of trivia. He even once interviewed “Jeopardy!” legend and 74-time victor Ken Jennings.

In addition to the trivia nights and leagues, Hightower hosts private and corporate trivia events that can be catered to small get-togethers to large business functions. Gigs are already booked for the year, including trips to Las Vegas and Florida. He is also considering opening a few more trivia nights.

“There are a lot of horrible trivia nights, maybe I can make a few less,” he said.

Hightower writes all the questions for his trivia nights, though he and his business partner, Lisa, are considering hiring writers as the business, Trivia NYC, expands.

The Toronto native has been living in Astoria for the past six years after moving from Manhattan.

“I love [Astoria]. It’s great. I like the fact that it’s relaxed, hugely diverse, open all night and you can get into Manhattan quickly,” he said.

Oh, and for those wondering, Alex Trebek, “is a lot nicer than the editors allow him to be,” Hightower said, while also managing to be “wickedly funny.”

For more information on the trivia nights, or booking a private gig log onto www.trivianyc.net.