Here's an all-too common scenario at a bar: A random topic — be it essential new-wave albums or Martin Scorsese's best films — comes up and an expert suddenly emerges. The know-it-all rapidly cites a dizzying array of research and anecdotes, all in the name of appearing smarter than everyone else.
The person also usually hopes no one double-checks the claims.
"You always have somebody who knows way too much about something, but then they hope you're not going to look [facts] up," said Patrick Storck, a 37-year-old living in Belair-Edison.
In January 2012, inspired by regular scenes like this, Storck and friend John Bennett created Expert of Nothing, a live game-show-meets-comedy performance that takes place every final Sunday of the month at the Windup Space.
The game's premise is simple: Convincingly connect two random ideas (Storck's example for Sunday's '80s-themed game is Transformers and the Cold War) and make the audience believe your knowledge — or impressive-sounding, but inaccurate faux-knowledge — is true. Each game, which averages an audience of 30 and changes its overall theme monthly, can be listened to as a podcast on iTunes.
Storck says the beauty, and the comedy, comes when contestants are completely committed.
"If they want to be the blowhard know-it-all they can," Storck said. "If they want to be the professor-type they can. We leave it up to the personality of the contestants. It's less likely they'll get stuck or freeze if they know they can go wherever they want."
After two months of planning and three workshops with friends as contestants, Storck and Bennett settled on a format that includes three rounds. In the first round, eight contestants will creatively compare and contrast two very different topics from a single theme for two minutes. A short question-and-answer session from the audience follows. The second round is similar to the first, but with only four players. The final round finds the last two contestants going head-to-head in a debate.
The key to winning Expert of Nothing is to captivate and persuade the audience and judges, also its hosts, with compelling arguments. Truth and lies are told with the same fervor. Storck says he and Bennett reward confidence, audience reaction and staying on-topic, but adds that people enjoying themselves is much more important than crowning a winner.
The game was created to connect different types of Baltimoreans, he says.
"We've brought in comedians, DJs, lawyers, teachers, people from all walks of life because we know there's a whole lot of different scenes in this city," he said. "If we can get four or five scenes together, then maybe that'll lead to something else."
The concept of Expert of Nothing is bizarre and intriguing, which makes it a natural fit in Baltimore's DIY arts scene.
"Russell [de Ocampo, Windup Space owner] and I were having a conversation about making the city weirder, because it got a little too normal for awhile," he said. "We want to see more fun, oddball stuff."
Those interested in competing can claim player spots by expressing interest via Expert of Nothing's Facebook page.
For first-timers, Storck offers this advice: Base your argument around a thesis statement. Rambling is part of the fun, he says, but a clear thesis makes it easy to stay on-topic. The player convincing enough to outlast his or her opponents wins a small trophy with the label, "Expert of Nothing, Physical Validation."
A typical game of Expert of Nothing takes, on average, two hours, Storck says. He and Bennett attempted to pick up the pace, but quickly realized that went against the game's spirit.
"A good length for a comedy show is an hour and a half, so we had been trying to rein it in," he said. "But then we said, 'Well, it's probably [lasting that long] because everyone's having fun."
If you go
The next Expert of Nothing game takes place March 31 at the Windup Space, 12 W. North Ave. in Station North. It starts at 8 p.m. Free. Call 410-244-8855 or go to expertofnothing.com.