Jane Lynch a winner as 'Game Night' host
There's only one TV show that treats audiences to one-liners comparing Jason Alexander's infamous hairpiece to a “poodle belly.”
Or jokes about how Martin Short “is at the sputtering end of a legendary career.”
That's because there's just one game show that has Jane Lynch for a host.
Lynch helms the controlled comedic chaos on NBC's newest game show, “Hollywood Game Night,” which is in the middle of its second season. Like the glory days of “Hollywood Squares” and “The $10,000 Pyramid,” “HGN” pairs celebrities with commoners to hilarious effect, forcing stars and regular folks alike to embarrass themselves in the name of winning. This season will feature a mix of entertainers, including Henry Winkler, Molly Shannon, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Taraji Henson and Don Cheadle.
The show, based on the fabled game nights that actor and “HGN” producer Sean Hayes throws at his house, pits two teams of four against each other in a series of wacky, pop culture-centric party games. Eleven new games were introduced this season, including Show Me the Music, in which one team member must guess the name of a song based on the pantomimes of teammates, and It's the Story of My Life, which challenges players to guess the celebrity based on an excerpt from his or her memoir.
We caught up with Lynch over the phone to talk about the best game show hosts, the most memorable “HGN” contestants and how being the show's ringmaster is kind of like being a traffic cop. Here's an edited transcript of our chat.
Q: Why did you decide to get into the game-show business?
A: Well, Sean Hayes is a really good friend of mine, and I have gone to his game nights before. One night, we were having dinner, and he said, “I want to put these game nights on the air.” I was actually doing a demo for another game show, which is kind of weird, because it's not something I ever wanted to do, but he asked if I would be interested in hosting, and I said that I had this other thing. After I thought about it, I was like, what am I doing? So I called him the next day and said I would love to do his show, and I dumped the other thing.
Q: Tell me about Hayes' game nights.
A: They're like nothing you've ever been to before. He hosts them, and he's created all the games. You start in one room, and you move to another, and then you go back to that other room, and it's set up for the next game. He's got it down.
What's great about Sean's game night is that he has a lot of famous friends and he has a lot of friends that aren't famous, so there were always breath-catchingly famous people and regular folk. By the time you get to the end of the night, you forget who is a famous person and who is a regular person, and it just becomes about playing the games and winning.
Also, there's probably a little more drinking at Sean's than there is on our TV show, although we do serve alcohol.
Q: What is the best part of hosting?
A: I like hosting things rather than being a partygoer. I am not as comfortable being a participant. I have social anxiety, but I love being the host and creating an atmosphere for people to have fun in. Basically, I am the traffic cop. I always wait until the absolute last second to break something up if we are going too far afield, because (comedic) gold happens when people are just having fun and going off the rails.
Q: Did you watch game shows when you were little?
A: I did, yeah. I remember very clearly Bert Convy (host of “Tattletales”) and Gene Rayburn (host of “The Match Game”), and I think John Davidson (host of “Hollywood Squares”) had a show, too. All their shows had celebrity contestants or what seemed to be professional celebrity contestants like Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde. It was almost a stable of actors who were no longer acting but were just doing game shows and having fun.
What I really liked about Convy and Rayburn was that they were bright and personable guys, but they really knew how to make other people shine. That's what I try to do.
Q: When Jason Alexander was on the show, everyone made fun of his hairpiece, including you. Has anyone ever been upset by one of your jokes?
A: I think anyone who is there is game. Jason has been on twice, and the first time he was on, we wanted so badly to say something about his hair, but he didn't say anything to us about it. I had a bunch of jokes that I just kept in my back pocket. At the end of the first half of the show, he made a joke about his hair, so I thought, “OK, now he has made the joke, so I can go ahead.” The second time he was on, he said, “Oh, yeah, my hair is totally up for grabs in terms of jokes.”
Q: Who have been some of the mostmemorable competitors?
A: Anthony Anderson (“Law & Order”) and Yvette Nicole Brown (“Community”) are both champions from the first season, and they played against each other in this group of episodes. They were really into it. They were almost vicious when they were trash-talking each other.
Michael Weatherly is someone who surprised me because he is on a very straight-laced show “NCIS.” When he was on, he was funny and jumping up and down. I was thinking to myself, he is going to get a sitcom for his performance on “Hollywood Game Night.”
Q: It seems like some of the celebs get really serious about winning.
A: Well, we had an incident with Allison Janney where she accidentally said a word from the title of the song that she was supposed to be pantomiming, and we didn't even realize it. The standards guy came down at break and said, “You know, we got to take that point away.” Allison was inconsolable. She was like, “No, no, you can't go back now,” and I said, “Well, looks like we can.” I was just like, man, this woman does not like to lose.
Q: When you see a team faltering, do you have to restrain yourself from jumping in?
A: Yes! It's so hard sometimes. When I do play, I am sort of a shaming game player. I am competitive, and, sometimes, I am a second away from shaming the competitors like, “You've got to be kidding; you don't know the answer to this.”
Q: Some of the game-show hosts you mentioned as favorites hosted more than one game show. Do you think you will take on another game show when “HGN” ends?
A: I can't say I have an aspiration to be a game-show host. But, you know what, I never thought I would be hosting a game night on TV, either. I really rarely say I would love to do this or not want to do that, because, normally, something kind of falls in my lap, and I go, “That sounds like fun.”
I guess what I am saying is that I have no plan or strategy.
Courtney Crowder is a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune.