Question Mark

Here’s yesterday’s Sunday Times column about Ask Roulette. My favourite, no question.





I went to a hip event in New York last week. I know it was hip because there was a lot of facial hair in attendance – not the pedophile type, I’m talking grade-A, hipster-quality. And I happen to know that FH/M2 (facial hair per metre squared) is how you measure coolness these days.

Advertised as Ask Roulette, it’s ‘A conversation series where strangers ask each other questions on stage, with only three rules: 1) Anyone can ask a question. 2) You can only ask one once you’ve answered one. And 3) You can ask anything.’

I figured either it would be a crowd of three, awkwardly asking each other why we’re such losers. Or it would be packed, with more questions than an eight-year-old watching lions shagging on Discovery Channel.

Fortunately for this column it was the latter. The MC was a comedian, backed by a guy in a questionable jumper on keyboard, and another on guitar. Two chairs on stage were separated by a partition so the strangers couldn’t see each other as they filed up, answered a question, asked a question, then left the stage.

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Were they legitimately curious or is everyone just interviewing for a spot on a reality show? Wanting to be famous seems to be our new default position. Due to popular demand and to match programming, Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes have been extended.

I had questions. I wanted to ask the keyboarder what made him decide to wear that jumper? And hey you, with the glasses, wanna go back to my place? I could only come up with mean questions or sex questions. Good thing I was more interested in what other people were asking.

Lots of the questions were dull. I could have done without ‘In what way are you patriotic?’ or ‘Have you ever jumped over the Subway thingy?’ But many instigated debate, like ‘Which work of fiction would you want to be true?’ The stranger answered, ‘That’s hard, I like really sad books.’

Other peepholes into human psyche were questions like, ‘If you could do something that made you disgustingly wealthy, but also made you a public laughing stock, would you?’ The answerer opted for anonymity, but in a show of hands, a third of the audience would do it.

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A big surprise was how long it took to get around to sex. There were 36 questions in total, and it took 18 to get to a sextion; ‘Where do you fall on the Kinsey Scale?’ (On this scale created in 1948, 0 means exclusively heterosexual and 6 is exclusively homosexual.)

It took an hour and thirty-five minutes for the word ‘pornography’ to come up. What’s wrong with these people? Surely the thing we’re all most curious about is sex? Or am I just a gutter brain? You know how in the old days when people bought condoms, they would buy additional decoys like gum and plasters, to disguise the condoms. The night felt like that. People hiding their dirty questions with ones like; ‘Have you ever had a sublime experience in nature?’ Blech! Excuse me Miss, but didn’t you mean to ask; ‘Would you ever consider anal sex?’

‘How much do you lie?’ ‘When were you most disappointed in yourself?’ and ‘What advice do you wish you hadn’t ignored?’ Which inspired a seven-minute tangent about the answerer’s relationship with his father. How did this turn into a therapy session checked-shirt-beardy-guy?

Question number twenty-seven: ‘If you could do any drug without consequences, which would you do?’ Ah, that’s more like it. (He answered ‘heroin’ without blinking.) And ‘If you spotted your mate’s girlfriend necking (necking, really?) someone else, would you say something?’ and ‘Would you rather lick someone’s armpit or have yours licked?’

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The dodgy finally started to come out. And as the piece de resistance: ‘If you were faced with a monkey and you HAD to either kill it with your bare hands or have sex with it, which would you do?’ At last! After two hours my faith in human nature was restored. Want to know the answer to that last question? I’m sorry but we seem to have run out of time.


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