Proud Michigan native, cult movie working man, genre icon, snappy dresser, professional snark-master -- of all the labels one could attach to Bruce Campbell, game show host has heretofore not been one of them. And yet, after viewing his trivia show Last Fan Standing on the newly launched streaming network CONtv, it's a wonder it has taken Groovy Bruce so long to step up to the podium.
Released each Monday, this is a series that promises fans that, if they can find it at a comic con, it will be asked about on Last Fan Standing. The competition resembles a traditional game show setup -- with perhaps more superhero tees and the occasional cosplayer. Four players buzz in to answer questions related to sci-fi, horror, fantasy, comics and gaming. They accrue points and either advance to the next round or get the heave-ho.
But beyond simply reading the cards, this is trivia the Bruce Campbell way. Campbell shows up in flashy host attire and puts a snarky spin on the proceedings. In signature BC fashion, he banters with his contestants (and the audience) and rules like a game show king by encouraging, shutting down, and even paying off his loyal subjects. And because CONtv is a creation of comic-con organizer Wizard World and Cinedigm, the show films at fan events [and, in the interest of full disclosure, I am often hired as a host at these and other conventions]. The result is a fun, honest and at times raw assembly of die-hard nerds and newbies gathered on stage with a marquee player of cons.
To discuss his new role as host, Bruce Campbell joined me to talk about taking the helm of Last Fan Standing, and how the show just might change the world. Along the way, we also learn about Campbell's unrequited love for Barbara Eden and Julie Newmar.
What's your game show host personality? I've seen some episodes filmed, and I'd say you're the loveable jackass. Is that appropriate?
I would go with snarky, thank you very much! It's not your father's game show; we don't have to play by those same protocols. If the fan is sucking at it, we get to tell them. We can give them a shoulder massage, loosen them up a bit, give them some money. Whatever works; it's a little freewheeling.
Who are the game show hosts you grew up with?
Wink Martindale! Gene Rayburn! Name 'em. I watched all those shows -- but not Wheel of Fortune, because it made me feel stupid. Jeopardy made me feel stupid, too, so I watched that even less. I only watch shows that make me feel smart, and Last Fan Standing is going to make a lot of these fans -- and one fan of each game -- feel smart. I don't know bupkis about trivia, but it's been impressive.
Is it better to be a friend or adversary to contestants?
I tend to forge a slightly adversarial relationship. More like their uncle who will say anything. He's the lovable, irascible host. But we're still formulating this and tap-dancing as fast as we can here, and figure out what works. But so far, the way the game has been structured pretty well, it's held up.
Talk about filming these episodes at the Wizard World comic cons, and how that impacts the show's dynamic. For instance, are you getting folks dressed as Darth Vader or Kirk?
You can come up dressed as whatever you want. We've had a couple guys come up in full regalia. Because we're filming at the actual Wizard World conventions -- they put on about 25 cities per year, and we took the show on the road to Portland, New Orleans -- our fans come right off the show floor. They're unfiltered, unscreened. We're risk takers here, which usually ends in good results.
What is an area of trivia you could dominate that no one else could challenge you on?
Oh, where good hiking trails are in Oregon. That's about it. Call me and I'll tell you all the trivia on where to hike in Oregon. Pop culture, I would be left in the dirt. Thank God I'm asking the questions and not answering them.
Your personality seems to encourage folks who want to try out their material on you, and who want to mug for the camera. Is that a good contestant?
We can get muggers and know-it-alls; they're just going to take a fall like everyone else, though! If you're a know-it-all, you better know it all, or else you're outta there.
Has there been a favorite takedown so far?
We've had guys who have had really good runs where they've answered the first six questions and got every single one. Then someone out of nowhere comes from behind. The audience has been good at rooting for underdogs, and they get involved. The thing we have to do is tell them not to shout the answers! You wouldn't believe it. From my vantage point, there are people rocking back and forth, biting fingers because they want to scream answers. But we will go to the audience -- if our contestants don't get the answers, we'll humiliate them by asking the audience to chime in.
What do contestants get out of this, since they don't get a free car or trip to the Bahamas? Is this just bragging rights?
Absolutely! That's huge. To get through and be the last fan standing on this show? Eventually we're going to contact these people and bring them back. We'll have regional playoffs, nationals, even international. There could be Last Fan Standing World Edition. If you want to bring the world together, this is how to do it.
You're like the United Nations of game shows ...
I'm glad you pointed that out!
While you were working on Burn Notice, you had to step away from the cons a lot, and have recently returned. Have you discovered younger celebrities approaching you as fans?
Stan Lee fawns all over me every time he sees me. I'm like, "Stan, just calm down, man. Calm down. We'll be at other events together." I have to say Elvira gets pretty chummy when she sees me. I think she's got the hots for me, just saying. Barbara Eden -- I would do Barbara Eden.
Now you're just bragging.
I am bragging! You asked the question! Heck yeah, Barbara Eden. Hot! Julie Newmar? Hot! I've proposed to Julie Newmar, the original Catwoman. She turned me down.
When are you heading to New Zealand to film Ash vs. Evil Dead? Will that throw off Last Fan Standing?
It will, but we'll get right back at it. We'll start filming in April, done with the season in August, and it'll hit the airwaves sometime after that. Then back at it with Last Fan Standing. But I've got to keep working in the industry to keep my street cred up; it's like going to prison every so often. … But this digital network is in tune with the modern way of watching stuff. ABC, NBC, they've had 80 years of doing what they do. To turn that big boat around is going to take time. Cinedigm and Wizard turned this around in very short fashion, and offered shows when people want to watch them, how they want to watch them, and on what device. That's the modern way. They're going to be ahead of the curve, and that's what made me excited about CONtv. This is how you want to watch TV in the future.
How do you think you'd do on Last Fan Standing? Also, keep an eye out for more from Bruce Campbell, where we discuss the upcoming Ash vs. Evil Dead series on Starz, along with the actor's tips on being groovy.