You could save all your arcane bits of knowledge for post-pandemic times — or you could hire District Trivia for a private virtual event. “It’s competition. It’s sport. It’s the ability to compete in a virtual space the same way you did before,” says Nick Groves, CEO of City Trivia, which includes Bridgetown Trivia, District Trivia and Old Line Trivia. Before the pandemic, District Trivia hosted about 200 private events per year; that number jumped to more than 400 in the virtual era. During an event, a host will join a group on any platform, like Zoom or Google Hangouts, and conduct three rounds of questions and two bonus rounds, which takes about an hour. Hosts are trained to be as lively and quick-witted online as they were in person.
Groups are broken into smaller teams that get their own online chat rooms to strategize. “Whereas you used to be able to put your heads together and quietly whisper to each other across the table, now you have your own private breakout room to talk to each other, debate answers and get into arguments,” Groves says. “Then you can return to the main room to hear what the answers are, make fun of the other teams and laugh or joke or go back and forth like you would in a normal room.” Rates for private events start at $300. district-trivia.com.
Hire a musician.
At the beginning of the pandemic, when Zoom parties were uncharted territory — like the Wild West of meetups — some of Celeste Vee’s clients hired her for the simplest of reasons: to show off to their friends. “Like, ‘Hey, look, I got this person to play for my happy hour,’ ” she says. “Or, ‘I’ve got this meeting with clients, and we’re all over the world, and I really want to do something special.’ ”
Lots of local musicians are available for virtual performances, including DJs, mariachi bands, jazz artists and choirs. Vee is a vocalist and electric violinist, and throughout the pandemic, she’s performed — from afar — for events like family gatherings, fundraisers and business meetings. She brainstorms with clients ahead of time to figure out exactly what they want: “It’s a lot of ’80s,” she says. “I’ve done ’90s and disco, and everything from Irish jigs to straight hip-hop and R&B covers.” She takes requests ahead of time and is happy to don a costume based on the event’s theme. Rates start at $200. celestevee.com.
Make it a variety show.
Eric Knaus, better known as the Great Zucchini, used to perform at 900 kids’ shows a year — at theaters, birthday parties, libraries and all the other spots around the D.C. area where families once gathered. Now, he’s gone virtual, and he’s still stunned at how well his show translates online, especially considering he had no idea what Zoom was a year ago.
The Great Zucchini’s performances are “like an interactive comedy show with a lot of slapstick, silliness and high jinx,” ideal for children ages 2 to 7, he says. Shows are typically $225. “There’s magic and visual tricks. I like to call it a 30-minute belly laugh,” Knaus says. Though he initially worried about how he was being received by the kids on the other side of the screen, plenty of parents have reported that their children were cracking up the whole time, even rolling around in laughter.
Add a comedian to the mix.
Okay, so you’ve got that one co-worker who thinks he’s really funny. Give him a night off by bringing in a pro, like Winston Hodges. He moved to the District last year, after driving up from Charlottesville on weekends to perform at comedy clubs. In the early days of the pandemic, Hodges had no idea what Zoom was — but he downloaded it, started doing virtual open-mics and realized he could make a nice business out of online performances. “If you have somebody who, it’s their birthday, and you want to do a roast of that person, I could do that,” he says.
In addition to stand-up, “I offer a comedy game show where I book other comedians, and I’ve done crowd work shows — which is if you have a group of people and don’t want to hear just material; you want me to talk and ask questions and just make fun of everybody and make fun of myself,” he says. An hour tends to be the sweet spot for virtual gatherings, Hodges says, and rates start at $50. “I try to make it interactive and fun for everybody,” he says. “Like, ‘Hey, we’re hanging out,’ because I know that just watching isn’t the same as watching a show.” To find additional Washington-area comedians who can liven up your virtual events, check sites like Gig Salad or Thumbtack. winstonhodges.com.
Invite a really cute goat, or one of her buddies.
Jelly Bean the goat is a dream Zoom attendee: She’s cute. She’s funny. And she won’t skip a bleat — er, beat. “She kind of wanders around occasionally,” says Miranda Gilbert, education manager at the Leesburg Animal Park, where Jelly Bean resides. “Or she’ll put her hoofs up on my leg. I just follow her around while she walks.”
The petting zoo offers CritterCam Calls for events like office meetings and birthday parties. For 20 minutes, you can have an audience with Jelly Bean or a hedgehog, tortoise, llama or variety of other animals. Hedgehogs are “usually pretty shy, but ours is adventurous,” Gilbert says; in previous appearances, the park’s hedgehog entertained guests by sneaking under and playing with his blanket. Prices start at $75 for domestic animals and $95 for exotic creatures. leesburganimalpark.com.