Vintage High Holiday
An Interview with the Quiz Daddy Scott Rogowsky
By Casey J. Adler
The first thing I noticed when I entered Quiz Daddy’s Closet off Main Street in Santa Monica, was the distinct smell of vintage clothes. It is a room dominated by iconic sports clothing lines from the 70s/80s/90s with a seemingly random sampling of Taylor Swift t-shirts from the mid-aughts hung like trophies from a truly bygone era. The second thing I noticed was that Scott Rogowsky, the owner of Quiz Daddy’s Closet and the very proud Jewish host of the massively popular HQ Trivia app from 2017-2019, was wearing a 1995 Pope John Paul II T-Shirt. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a fellow Jew wear the leader of the Catholic faith on their chest with such pride. At 38 years old, he has the aura of a dad from the early 70s, who just got home from work and will play catch with the little guy after he cracks open a cold one.
We sat down–well, we didn’t sit down, we walked around the racks of jerseys, sweatshirts, and tees. Between a plethora of quips and musings, I interviewed him about his Jewish upbringing, his unending love for all things vintage, and his foray into comedy.
JLiving: I love that for a Jewish magazine interview, you came in a Pope John Paul II T-shirt.
Quiz Daddy: This was a conscious decision. He was my pope growing up. Just like the queen in the UK. Not that I am Catholic. But it’s just you’d see the Pope on the news. The Pope was a big deal. Probably a bigger deal back then. So it was just one of these global figures like the Dalai Lama or Desmond Tutu or Mandela. If you grew up in the 90s you just saw these people on TV and heard about them. Or they were parodied in Naked Gun movies. It’s just funny to me, it’s ironic. This is the leader of one of the largest brands in the world. I still wear Pope Benedict shirts, which is probably an even funnier Pope shirt. This guy was the only Pope who decided to abdicate the throne. He was just like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna step down. I don’t like this Pope thing anymore.’ There were two Popes! We had two Popes until he just died. He was also what– his dad was a Nazi or something?
JL: He was in the Nazi Youth. He said he regrets it, though. Anyways, where did your love of all things vintage come from?
QD: I guess the love of vintage started with the discovery of my dad’s old shirts. He used to work at the Energy Department and had this great Energy Department tee from 1977. I think he was one of the first employees of the Energy Department. They started in the 70s. and he had really cool old shirts that I found. And they’re so much better than the crap they were selling at Abercrombie. I started wearing those to school, and then I learned about thrift shops and the fact that you can buy old clothes for $1 or $2, which just appealed to me on many levels. So, I started thrifting in high school, and I would go down with my buddy Dave Weisberger. We would go to the Salvation Army at the bottom of our hill. We went to school on top of this hill, in the Bronx. And then down at the bottom was the end of the subway line. But there would be McDonald’s and bodegas and Chinese restaurants and also a Salvation Army. It was probably an old movie theater that they converted to a thrift store. It was cavernous! And it was so cheap. We just scooped up all the stuff we could find. Looking back, I wish I had grabbed more. I was probably leaving things that my taste hadn’t quite developed into yet. There was an element of vintage in the early 2000s. Beastie Boys would be rockin’ old 80s T-shirts. It was a trend–throwing it back to vintage 20 years prior.
Then it was strange when companies started making vintage ‘looking’ clothes to sell in their stores that were actually new. There’s a trove of shirts that look old, but they’re not. It really bothered me because I just saw it as capitalism destroying another fun thing.
JL: We know you love vintage, but your first passion was comedy. Do you remember the time you wanted to be a comedian? Was there a moment that triggered–
QD: The answer is going to surprise you because it wasn’t a famous comedian, it was my friend Mark Friedman. He did a stand-up comedy class. We were 16 and he got on stage at the Comic Strip Live and did his jokes. And I’m like, ‘If Mark can do this. I can do this. I’m just as funny as Mark, if not funnier.’ That sort of planted the seeds.
JL: Are there any well-known celebrity comedians that have inspired your style?
QD: I was a huge Seinfeld fan. I used to watch his DVDs back in college when I was doing my own stand-up. How does he act on the mic? Where does he put his hands? I wasn’t sure where to put my hands. That was a big thing for me. I was very scared. You step up on stage with the microphone. Do I take the mic out of the stand? Or do I leave it in the stands?
So I would watch other comics to sort of see how they did it.
JL: Seinfeld or Lenny Bruce?
QD: Seinfeld was current. I didn’t get exposed to a lot of Lenny Bruce.
Lenny got so wrapped up in his own persecution. Then his later sets were more about just ranting. Reading court transcripts. I’m also not a rebel. I’m not a transgressive spirit. Lenny Bruce is almost too dangerous for me. I respect it. But it doesn’t fit my style. He was also fighting in a very repressive time, which makes sense. I guess I was coddled and privileged to be growing up in a time where I wouldn’t be arrested for saying ‘shit’ on stage.
JL: Do you remember one of your first jokes?
QD: Remember? I still tell them. I had some pretty immature ones that probably aren’t fit to publish.
I had a good joke about vintage actually, which ties into what I’m doing. I would say in 2005, ‘I wonder if there were vintage trends in other eras of our history. Because we’re throwing things back to the 80s. But were there young colonials, teenage colonials walking around in the 1770s wearing pilgrim outfits? ‘Check it out, it’s a John Winthrop throwback blouse. Do you like my hat? It’s got a buckle on it.’’
That’s one of my earliest jokes.
JL: You’ve only lived in Los Angeles for two-and-a-half years. What do you miss about New York?
QD: Everyone’s always like, ‘New York!’ or ‘LA!’ But it’s all the same now. Everything in New York is in LA.
Emmy Squared is a great pizzeria in Brooklyn. They just opened up at the Santa Monica Brew Works. And it’s phenomenal.
So now it’s like, I don’t miss it. Because I have it here. There’s a globalization and nationalization of these chains.
JL: A homogenized culture?
QD: The whole culture has been homogenized, which means great burgers are here. There’s nothing to be missing anymore.
The one thing is that restaurants close early here. That is the preeminent complaint. Sometimes you want that late-night bite. And it’s harder to find here. But you probably shouldn’t be eating a heavy meal at two in the morning anyway.
JL: So, the High Holidays (Scott prefers Holidays to Holy Days) are coming up. Are you a faster?
QD: I am a faster.
JL: How do you get through it?
QD: It’s not a funny answer. But what I do is, I just wake up that morning. And go to services. If I’m ever feeling hungry, or if I’m ever having trouble with it, you just think to yourself, there’s so many people who are truly starving every day. And if I can go one day, out of the whole year, one day–in a ceremonial way to, you know, humble myself before God or whatever it is–I’m going to. There’s a part of me that’s just in solidarity with all those who are going hungry. So it’s a very real thing to me.
It makes you grateful for what you have. I’m hungry right now.
JL: Your grandfather founded the Westchester Conservative Jewish Community Center.
QD: Yeah. And I don’t really speak Hebrew, which is a sore subject because my dad was the son of one of the founders of the synagogue and then also the president of the JCC for many years, on and off. He was like, ‘how can you go through 10 years of schooling without learning Hebrew!’
That just goes to show how little I paid attention or how poor the education actually was. But it’s probably more of the former. I was a goofball. And I really did not enjoy being there.
JL: What did you not enjoy about Hebrew school?
QD: The school part. I was already in school and then I had to go to more school! What the hell? I just wanted to be a kid and enjoy myself. I was a total nuisance. I was in the principal’s office every week. And definitely allowed my class clown tendencies to flourish because I didn’t really do a lot of that in proper school.
We had this music teacher. We made fun of this guy mercilessly. Straight up, like being rude. I do look back on it with some regrets. But again, I was a kid.
JL: What would your advice be to a Jewish teacher today? Dealing with a kid like yourself?
QD: Just don’t even try. Empathize and be like, ‘Look, I get it. I was a young Jewish kid, too. You don’t want to be here. No one wants to be here. No one elects to go to Hebrew school. You’re stuck inside this synagogue, this community center. That’s brutal.’ But you say, ‘It is going to subconsciously imprint on you. You will grow up knowing the prayers, the songs, and you’ll know what a sufganiyot is. You’ll want one every Hanukkah. It will subconsciously creep in.’
JL: You grew up Kosher and you were not really interested in Hebrew school, yet, today, you still fast and keep Passover.
QD: I do it as a reminder. I do love the traditions. I do love the idea of the Book of Life being opened and closed and being inscribed in it. And maybe it’s just because it’s important to my mom, so it’s important to me, but it’s also a nice sentiment. It’s just a nice way to reflect on your year. To reflect on those who you’ve harmed or those you’ve mistreated and ask for their forgiveness, which I’ve done.
MANY years ago, I was dating someone and I slipped up in our relationship and I basically told her during that period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur I was unfaithful. I hoped she could forgive me. She didn’t, she broke up with me. That’s part of what you have to deal with. It was a powerful lesson for me. I guess Catholics can go to confession every week. We get it once a year. We pack it all in, in one week. I don’t observe Shabbat, which I’m starting to feel a little guilty about.
JL: So, you’ve had some high points and low points as a Jew.
QD: There’s one Yom Kippur where I was watching an eBay auction. It happened to be ending during services. I was stepping outside with my phone bidding on this Roger Maris signed card. I got it. I got the card.
QD: That’s probably my low point as a Jew.
Quiz Daddys Closet is located at 2525 Main St #103, Santa Monica, CA 90405 and online at quizdaddys.com.