If your office is anything like ours, you’ll have noticed a strange phenomenon going on at around 3pm, when everyone suddenly whips their phones out and becomes temporarily engrossed in a round of HQ Trivia.
Already a raging success in the US, the quizzing app is growing at rapid speed here in the UK, with its regular quiz master, Sharon Carpenter, becoming a cult figure among British HQ-ties.
In a bid to get to know her a little better, HuffPost sat down with Shazzer for a chat about all things HQ, including just how much work goes into a 15-minute live-stream and how she’s finding her new-found celeb status...
Let’s start at the very beginning, how did you first get involved with HQ?
Well, my agent sent me on an audition last summer. I wasn’t really sure exactly what it was for, I knew it was for some sort of game show app, but I didn’t really have any more details than that.
It was pretty much a cold read, and an ad lib situation. I went in, and left, and then, as you do with auditions, you put it out of your mind. And then a couple of months later, my agent got a call from Nick Gallo [director of HQ], asking if I would come in and guest host a couple of episodes. And once I did, the team were really happy with me. I had a great time, it was a wild ride, and an experience unlike any other I’ve really had before. And that was sort of the start of things, and it’s been going and going since then.
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Be honest, what were your first thoughts when you found out what HQ actually was?
Ha! Well, I thought it was something that was a bit out of my wheelhouse, because I’m a journalist and my background is in television. So I thought, ‘OK, this is something very different, but why not?’. Oftentimes when opportunities like this come up, I like to explore them, because you never know what they might lead to. And as you can see with this, it’s led to something really huge. It’s quite the phenomenon.
It really is - did you have any inkling when you first started at HQ just how big it was going to become?
I had no idea. Honestly, the first time I hosted the show, when I filled in for Scott [Rogowski, regular host of HQ in America], there were maybe about 2000 players in the game. And I thought to myself, ‘wow, this is really incredible, 2000 live contestants! When have you ever had that on a gameshow before?’.
I had no idea it was going to take off to a point where we’ve had close to two and a half million in the US game. I mean, who would have thought?
Can you talk us through a typical day working at HQ?
Well for me, I usually get up at around 6.30 in the morning so that I’m not in a crazy rush. Because, of course, we’re serving the UK audience, which is five hours ahead. I’ll go over the news of the day then, I want to see what’s happening out there in the world.
I do all that before I head over to the HQ studio, and I get there at about around 8.30am. I’ll go through some hair and make-up, you know, a little bit of glam - because obviously that side of things is important as well! - and then we get going.
I’ll go over the questions maybe an hour and a half before we go to a live game, there’s a team of writers and fact-checkers that work very diligently getting the questions together and making sure we have the right questions for each show, and that they’re in an order that makes sense. So, I’ll have a discussion with those guys as well, before we go live. We may have some sort of a technical rehearsal to make sure everything’s good to go technically, and then we go live!
Sometimes I’ll take care of some other business in between shows. Sometimes I’ll come home and get changed - I’ve got clothes there, I’ve also got clothes at the studio, there are clothes everywhere in my life… or sometimes I just stay at the studio and get work done there. And then I usually leave the studio at around 5pm eastern time, which is around 10pm UK time.
You mentioned your background is in journalism, so how much do you get to contribute to the scripts?
Well, a lot of it is ad libbed. We don’t really give away too many of our secrets, but I’m very involved in the process, let’s just say that. Very involved in the process. And there’s a lot of ad libbing involved.
One thing people have hooked onto is your sense of humour and your jokes, are they all your own too?
Um… I have some pretty good jokes, I think. I think.
Basically, when I see the questions I will try to figure out, ‘OK, how can I make this really fun?’ Obviously you want it to be informative as well, but because I want it to be an enjoyable ride, I definitely try to add humour in there. So, I look at the question and I think, ‘what information can I deliver, and how can I make this funny?’. Sometimes it happens on the spot, but I do have the opportunity to think about it ahead of time as well, when I’m going over the questions.
It’s interesting, because I think from the work that I’ve done in the past, a lot of it has been a little more serious, I haven’t really had much of an opportunity to show my funny side. So my friends have always known that I have it, but my audience hasn’t necessarily known that I have it.That’s another thing that I’ve really enjoyed about HQ, I really get to express my sense of humour. And what’s even better about it is the fact that I can do that with UK audiences, who understand my sense of humour. So, yeah. They get the jokes and they hopefully laugh along with me. Fingers crossed.
With more and more people using the app every day, does that bring its own pressure?
It brings excitement, more than anything. I’ve kind of already gone through those hesitations and those feelings with the US game, because we saw that take off so rapidly, so I think with the UK game, sometimes I’m looking at the numbers before we go live, and we’re there all excited, like, ‘yes!’, when we hit a new milestone. It’s just really exciting for us, it’s more excitement than pressure, to be honest, in terms of numbers.
I fill in sometimes on the US show, and I’ve also hosted the global game, and the first time I hosted that since it’s been as big as it is now, was a couple of weeks ago. I felt a little bit nervous then, because we’re talking about, like, 1.7 million players. I definitely felt a twinge of nerves before that one.
And that’s a different audience as well. You know, I’ve really gotten to know my UK audience, and I feel really close to them, and with the US audience and the global audience, it’s quite a large group of people who may or may not know me, and haven’t seen me before, so I definitely felt some nerves then. But once you get going, it’s such a fun ride, it really is, so the nerves go out of the window.
You’re dealing with live streaming, have there been any unfortunate or embarrassing moments since you joined HQ?
Um… oh! When I first started doing the UK game... I had a mango lassi, and I was drinking a little bit of it before we went live. Little did I know, my tongue ended up yellow. So, I earned myself the nickname ‘yellow tongue’. It took me a little time to live that down.
You’ve become a bit of a cult figure among HQ users, why do you think people are so drawn to you?
Well, thank you. I don’t know, I ask myself that! That’s a hard one to answer. Obviously it’s fun to play trivia in itself - people like to challenge themselves, it’s become a real sort of community activity where people are playing with their workmates in the office, they’re playing at school, we’re seeing college students, families come together, boyfriends, girlfriends, or just people playing solo. People are playing from the Eurostar or 30,000 feet in the air on the plane.
For me, I just try to make sure that our HQ-ties - as we call them - have a fun ride every time. So I want to make sure that I bring the energy, I want to make sure that I bring some fun jokes as well, with that dry British sense of humour that we have. And I think people feel that, and hopefully they feel the energy, and have a few laughs with me, and win some cash!
What’s been your funniest fan encounter since you started at HQ?
Oh. There was an American fan who, after I hosted one of the US games, she said that she was my biggest fan, and she actually changed her Twitter name to ‘Sharon Carpenter’s number one fan’. And she sent me a tweet saying, ‘I love you so much I have to try to draw you, sorry it went horribly wrong’, and the pictures that she drew were absolutely hilarious. I was dying laughing. I could have easily been offended *laughs* but I thought it was so cute. It was a nice try, let’s just say that. Hopefully, I don’t look quite like that, but it was a nice try.
On the other side of that, there can be a lot of negativity when you’re in the public eye, especially online. Obviously HQ has its own comments section, where the comments can sometimes verge on misogynistic…
To be honest, I feel that nowadays, especially when it comes to digital formats, and having such an interactive experience and really allowing people to have a voice, obviously 90% of what we see is very positive, but as with any comments section, or live chat, you’re always going to have your negative comments.
Oftentimes, that’s just people who may not even feel what they’re saying, they’re just saying it, they’re just trolling to get a reaction, so it’s not anything that I pay too much attention to.
Similarly, social media can also be a notoriously dark place, particularly with regards to sexism and racism. Is that something you’ve had any experience of since you started at HQ?
Honestly, all I have experienced on social media, especially in recent months, has been very, very positive. I mean, there have been situations, obviously, during the course of my career, where I’ve had certain comments made to me that may have been derogatory or misogynistic, sexist, maybe even racist. But my experience with this show, I haven’t really faced anything like that on social media.
Maybe it’s because I don’t read every single tweet that comes to me. That could be part of it. But I think that in general, HQ draws a very sort of positive audience. They’re coming back again and again and again, and the reason they’re doing that is because they’re enjoying the experience. So, I think people are more focussed on how far they can get in the game, and the questions that they got out on, or their new record, or if they won - that’s what I have experienced, in greater and greater numbers as the show grows.
Let’s talk about the other UK hosts, because whenever people have filled in for you, there’s always been some kind of outcry in the comments. Do you think people are too harsh?
I think that people can be a little harsh… I think that people are just used to seeing me on a daily basis, and they’ve become comfortable with me, so I think that when they see a new host they may not be as familiar with, it can be a bit of a shock to the system. And so, sometimes you have some comments in the chat.
But I think it’s familiarity, at the end of the day. I think the more familiar the people become with other hosts who are involved, you see them lighten up.
Did you catch any of Beric’s performance on the UK game, and how do you think he did?
I thought Beric was great, and that was his first time filling in for me, I think. And he got a pretty warm reception as well! The players liked him, and he definitely had me chuckling. So, I thought he did a good job. He made me proud, he definitely did.
You’ve been based in America for a while now, but now that HQ is blowing up in the UK, do you see yourself ever coming back home and working here?
Yeah, of course! The UK is very, very special to me. It’s where I grew up, it’s where my family is, it’s where my heart is. And I could certainly see myself spending more time over there. And getting involved in some of the exciting stuff that’s happening over in the UK, workwise.
Could you imagine yourself going down the reality TV route, if ‘Strictly’ or ‘I’m A Celebrity’ came knocking?
Well, I can’t dance very well, so I don’t think I’d be a great contender on ‘Strictly’, I’d have to put in extra work. I think that in terms of reality TV it would be more on the hosting side of things, the presenting, rather than as one of the cast members.
You mentioned earlier on that your background was originally in journalism, could you imagine going back to hard news after something as fun as HQ?
Oh yeah, definitely. To me, at the end of the day, I think there is something in common [with HQ and hard news], we’re still delivering facts and enlightening and informing. It’s a test of your knowledge. I’m learning new things every day working on HQ as well. Obviously it’s delivered very differently, but there are some similarities there.
I enjoy doing hard news… my first official job on-air was doing business news for CBS, so yeah. I love telling stories, and I haven’t put that to bed at all. I like telling stories with substance that can help inform and educate and enlighten, and I love to entertain as well.
HQ has brought more attention to you as a presenter, do you have anything new in the pipeline as a result?
Since I’ve been on HQ I’ve certainly had a lot of people reach out to me with different types of offers. I get all kinds of messages, let’s just say that… so there are always things in the pipeline, nothing I can really reveal at the moment, but there’s always something exciting that I’m working on.
Is there a dream project that you’d really like to be a part of?
I think that my goal in the future is to have my own media empire. And so that’s what I’m building towards... over the next few years. Ryan Seacrest is someone who’s been a big inspiration to me, and Oprah Winfrey, obviously, is someone who’s been a big inspiration.
So, continuing to host, I mean, I would love to be involved with HQ for as long as I can, it’s been an amazing ride, and I’m sure it’s going to be all the more exciting as we move forward. But yeah, I would love to be at a point where I’m hosting a number of shows, like Ryan Seacrest, and have a number of shows on the air simultaneously. My goal is to have five shows that I have executive produced on the air at the same time, in the UK and the US. That’s what I’m aiming for.