The Man with a Million Questions: Behind Iowa City trivia nights

Andrew Juhl, the man behind Andrew’s Bar Exam, the bar trivia in Iowa City, has a long history of quizzing.


David Harmantas

Andrew Juhl hosts a bar trivia night a Micky’s Irish Pub in Iowa City on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018.

Michael McCurdy, Arts Reporter

In the narrow, decorative space of the Saloon Bar and Grill, 112 E. College St., tables are filled to the brink with eager, “Office”-quoting students as a tall, thirty-something man walks table to table greeting the trivia participants while also dishing out pens and paper.

The thick scent of guacamole and queso lingers as the Sting’s pulsating “Message in A Bottle” reverberates throughout the bar. Table chatter ranges from listing all of Angela Martin’s cats to the NBA game on the TV.

After all are situated with a couple of drinks in their system, “Trivia Guy” grabs ahold of the microphone in the back corner of the bar to address the players.

“Welcome all to the one and only Andrew’s Bar Exam.,” he announces. “Before we get started let’s go over some ground rules. First rule of trivia … don’t be an ***hole.”

His real name is Andrew Juhl, and he founded Iowa City’s premier pub-quiz group, Andrew’s Bar Exam, four years ago. Before the establishment closed down in 2015, Juhl consistently played trivia at the Old Capitol Brew Works. One night after a game, the man in charge announced he would soon move to Denver, ending his trivia efforts in Iowa City.

Upset about a future in Iowa City with no trivia and with a steep background in trivia-related groups and events, he asked the founder if he could continue the game of Q & A.

“I was at the University of Iowa for five years as an undergrad and three years as a graduate student, and during that time I was the University of Iowa Quiz Club captain, basically like a coach for my entire time,” Juhl said. So I thought, ‘I’m good enough at trivia, I can do this,’ and I asked him, and he told me to write up a set of questions for next week’s show. I did, and he liked them.”

The owner happened to be the brother of a bartender at Micky’s who at the time was considering hosting trivia nights during the week. Juhl met the owners, and he said initially they had second thoughts because of his nerdy appearance and introverted personality.

But after a couple of shows, Micky’s watched the crowds grow as Juhl’s cynical, humor grew stronger in his performances.

What initially started at Micky’s has grown into an Iowa City area trivia conglomerate that Juhl never anticipated from the beginning.

The tradition of pub quiz nights spread from the UK to initially larger cities, according to a 1997 article by the New York Times. Currently, pub quiz nights take place across the U.S., and trivia takes place even in chain bars, such as Buffalo Wild Wings, that offer electronic tablets to play trivia on.

With quiz shows every night of the week in numerous bars throughout Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, Juhl now gets to spend a lot of his free time working on his lifelong passion for trivia.

Juhl’s introduction to the trivia world began early. In high school, Juhl was part of his school’s talented and gifted program, and one day his teacher got a letter in the mail about forming a team to participate in Iowa’s statewide quiz bowl competition.

However, Juhl came from a small high school in Iowa that did not fund quiz bowl, and his teacher announced the school would not form a team for the competition.

“I was 16 or 17 at the time and ended up skipping school with my best friend to drive up and participate in the quiz bowl,” Juhl said. “It was just us two, compared to most teams of five to six players, and we still placed fifth overall. We came back to school and rather than congratulations, we got three days of in-school suspension.”

For Andrew’s Bar Exam, one of its unique elements is the abundant number of questions Juhl is able to come up with. Bubbling up from what seems like a boundless fountain of information, the questions, Juhl said, actually come a lot easier than people suspect.

I like writing jokes and puns. I don’t do this for money, I do it because I love it

— Andrew Juhl

“A lot of it goes to my personal interests. I also read a lot of books, news, and Wikipedia pages,” Juhl said. “So anytime I’m reading, I have a document open, turning anything I find interesting into questions. And then I keep one huge question pile, so when I think of a theme, I group a bunch of the questions together.”

Part of the fun and occasional annoyance of Andrew’s Bar Exam are the vague themes and categories Juhl lumps his questions into. He does this with a purpose, and most of the category themes are puns he comes up with, showcasing his love and appreciation for comedy.

After high school, Juhl waited a year to attend the University of Iowa because of winning an amateur standup-comedy competition in southern Minnesota that resulted in an agent and a year of touring the Midwest.

He found other media for comedy after his participation in standup by working for 13 years at The Daily Iowan as the writer of “The Ledge,” a daily humor column.

“I like writing jokes and puns. I don’t do this for money, I do it because I love it,” Juhl said. “I love writing the questions, running the shows, interacting with the crowd, making terrible jokes, and making people groan and laugh. This is how I have fun.”

With a primary job in Cedar Rapids at a market-research company, Juhl said, he’ll continue his affiliation with Andrew’s Bar Exam until the hassle outweighs the fun. For now, one can find him or his unique blend of goofy entertainers hosting trivia five nights a week in various locations in downtown Iowa City.