n a Sunday night in April in the small performing space at the Park Slope bar/venue Union Hall, teams of music hipsters sat in chairs with pieces of paper and something to write with in hand. They’re here to compete in Name That Tune, a contest held every other Sunday at the Hall that tests people’s knowledge of pop music trivia.
Brooklyn comedian Sara Schaefer, Name That Tune’s host and creator, sat on a stool behind a mike onstage. With her iPod connected to the p.a. system, Schaefer played a snippet of a song—the teams had to correctly guess the name of the song and the artist, and then write down their answers on the questionnaires. Some of the snippets she played were Steely Dan’s “Peg,” DeBarge’s “Rhythm of the Night,” and R.E.M.’s “Nightswimming.”
But playing a few seconds of the music was just one part of the contest. There’s also guessing the album cover that’s displayed on a screen with the name of the artist and title excised out, including one by Faith No More. The other part was recognizing song lyrics as Schaefer read them in a spoken word format with no music. Afterwards, the comedian collected the questionnaires to determine the winning teams based on their correct responses.
That event was followed by the ultimate Name That Tune Tournament of Champions and Achievers!, which took place about a month later on May 20. Twelve teams of four people from each competed on a night that also included live music by the band the Defibulators, which played three songs for the teams to guess: Hall and Oates’ “Maneater,” Billy Ocean’s “Caribbean Queen,” and the Jurassic Park theme. The grand prize for the first-place team were a gift certificate to Union Hall and tickets to Schaefer’s solo show in June; the second-place team got a bubble fan, a beach towel, and a Thumb Wars game; and the third-place team won items from Schaefer’s Wall Street day job such as a journal and a coffee mug that has her company’s logo.
Schaefer described the championship as a great time a few days later. “Everyone was super charged for the competition,” she recalled, “and it was all I could do to keep people calm during the game—lots of fun banter between me and the audience. One guy, whenever he got excited, just screamed the word "CHAMPIONSHIP!
“There was almost a riot” she said later, “when I accidentally thought that the song "Cry Me a River" was by ‘N Sync, not Justin Timberlake solo. I always mix up that song with the song "Gone". But I corrected it and all was settled.”
As host of Name That Tune, Schaefer keeps the night lively for the teams, which averages about 10, with her witty humor. “My favorite moments have been when we go over the answers,” said Schaefer, 29. “When I play [the songs] back and I let it play through, people get that rewarding moment of, ‘Oh, that’s the song!’ That happened [one] night with the DuckTales theme…the entire audience was singing that.”
Schaefer, a huge music fan, started the game in February 2007 at Union Hall, which is known for holding bocce games. “It’s been building a following and we have a great time,” she said. “It’s the most fun and relaxing [thing] I do other than lying around and watching TV.” The game is part of a tradition stemming from her upbringing in a Richmond, Va. suburb. “My family is all about songs, games and entertaining ourselves when we we’re on vacation,” Schaefer said. “It usually ended up in a huge fight. Every time my family plays a game, someone ends up crying because it gets too competitive.”
The challenge for her when preparing for Name That Tune is deciding what questions to include and for what skill level, as she learned from the beginning. “I thought, ‘Oh I’m going to Union Hall, it’s all these hipsters that everybody knows this indie rock.’ It turned out that was not the case. There’s a very general variety of people who frequent Union Hall and I had to learn over time what I thought was easy was actually much harder.”
The Brooklyn resident’ career in comedy began in middle school when she was told how funny she was. Years later she realized that her comedic gifts were probably inherited from her mother, who passed away last summer. “I sort of learned things about her I didn’t know before,” Schaefer said, “about how when she was younger in her 20s, she was putting on show—[it] sounds like she was exactly like me.”
As someone who has done sketch, standup, and improvisational humor (her own show, Sara Schaefer Is Obsessed With You, was previously staged), Schaefer explained about her style: “I’m not a character [from] Saturday Night Live. I’m more myself and kind of self-deprecating. I have a fake love of myself.”
Schaefer moved to New York in 2001 after spending time in New Orleans, and now lives in Windsor Terrace, where she enjoys the relaxed vibe. “I feel very much that Windsor Terrace in particular is a little bit slower, just by a notch,” she said. “There’s less of a ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ feel in this neighborhood. There’s a lot of people in the neighborhood that has been here much longer than I, and have much to teach me.”
In addition to performing on stage, Schaefer also makes humorous online videos. Some of her works her lip-synching to pop songs such as Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” and Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out.” She is also having an upcoming show titled Sara Schaefer’s One Sara Show at Ars Nova on June 17.
The next installment of Name That Tune will take place in June—dates to be announced on Schaefer’s web site. “I’m performing and I’m being jokey,” she explained about her role as host, “but none of it is planned other than what the songs are. I’m not up there trying to be a comedian. I’m just up there trying to be funny and entertaining as we play this game, and have fun.”
For more information about Name That Tune and Sara Schaefer, visit saraschaefer.com. Sara Schaefer’s One Sara Show will take place on June 17, 8 p.m., at Ars Nova, 511 W. 54th St. (bet. 10th and 11th avenues), Manhattan. For ticket information, visit arsnovanyc.com