Almost every day, Scott Rogowsky shows up on people’s phones twice (well, if they have the HQ Trivia app, that is). At 3 PM and 9 PM EST, there he is, delivering 12 trivia questions live. The questions can be about anything, from “Which one of these is a US state?” to “Which of these is used in 3D printers?” Contestants have 10 seconds to answer each one, and those who get all 12 right have a chance to win a cash prize.
Growing up, Rogowsky didn’t necessarily dream about being a host for a smartphone trivia app (because who could’ve possibly dreamed that job would exist?). Rather, he wanted to be a professional baseball player.
“I got as far as Division III collegiate JV, but during sophomore year I randomly took a stand-up comedy class and was immediately hooked,” Rogowsky says. “By the time I graduated, I was focused on comedy writing and stand-up exclusively.”
From graduation to his gig today, Rogowsky has held a slew of fun jobs—from an internship with The Onion (seeing his headline on the front page was priceless), to making videos for ESPN and Comedy Central, to co-hosting the ABC News show “Would You Fall for That?” His favorite thus far, though? Working at Topps, a company that makes candy and trading cards.
Flash forward to almost one year ago, when Rogowsky got a call from an old colleague at The Onion, Nick Gallo (who he’d kept in contact with via Facebook). Gallo, now HQ Trivia’s Director of Content, suggested he try out for HQ’s host position. Rogowsky had no idea what he was walking into, but soon he realized it’d probably be great fit for his skill set and interests. So, he auditioned, and got the part.
“I get to perform twice a day working in sly jokes and references to things I love,” he shares. “When people tweet me after a show and say things like, ‘I got your Mr. Show reference’ or ‘You quoted my favorite David Bowie song!’ it gives me a thrill to know I’ve connected with them.”
Despite choosing a super competitive industry, Rogowsky never gave up on his dream of making other people laugh for a living. (And we’re sure glad he didn’t.)
You Mentioned That Most of Your Gigs Didn’t Pay Much—How’d You Make Ends Meet?
My first year, I subsisted on savings and my summer job at Trader Joe’s. After that, I was an unpaid production intern on a short-lived Adult Swim show, a copywriter for my cousin’s temp agency, and a sales associate at Bonobos for one week (I made $500 and got two free pairs of pants!).
Eventually, I settled in freelance video production and worked my way into some independent contractor gigs. Those were the dark years. I recall one tax filing where, due to my numerous business expenses, I technically made negative $7,000.
But paying dirt cheap rent (my first apartment was $475 each month), making my own food, and not buying anything but the absolute essentials is what kept me afloat (along with the occasional loan from the First National Bank of Mom and Dad).
The Entertainment Industry Can Be Tough—What Motivated You to Stick With It?
With show business, there aren’t annual reviews. No rewards for time served, no-one to provide guidance, promote you, or give you a bonus. Instead, it’s like climbing an invisible ropes course. You keep struggling and grappling without any idea if you’ve made any progress.
And, truthfully, it was difficult. I often imagined quitting and moving to Spain to teach English. But I think a prideful stubbornness just wouldn’t let me quit when so many of my peers were finding success. I wanted something to show for all my effort. And I felt that, if I kept trudging along and doing good work, someone would notice me and give me a chance.
What’s Your Favorite Thing About Stand-Up Comedy?
I love the moment when you first hit the stage after being introduced. The perfunctory applause dies down, you get yourself settled at the mic, and you look out into a blinding light and a room full of strangers. And you think, “Why the hell did I agree to do this?” But then you tell a joke, and you get a laugh, and you instantly have your answer.
It took me a while to learn, but the best lesson is that none of this really matters. There are thousands of comedians going on stage every night around the world. The truth is, no one’s going to remember what you said up there.
Favorite Piece of Career Advice?
Say yes! Be nice! Avoid artificial sweeteners!
Photo of Scott Rogowsky courtesy of Phil Provencio.
Abby is a writer, career coach, and health educator living in Portland, Maine. When she’s not trying to make the world a happier and healthier place, you can find her cuddling with her cats, hunting down the city's best coffee and grilled cheese, or dipping her toes in the Atlantic. Say hi on Twitter .More from this Author