Literary Death Match

by Emma-Louise Hutchinson 

Pushing a TV show in LA, mingling with comedians, actors and musicians, and nights spent hosting events in over 40 cities all over the world – it might not sound like the life of your average writer but it’s all in a day’s work for Literary Death Match creator Todd Zuniga.

After the idea was born over sushi in New York, Zuniga explains, he and his co-creators started the event because they wanted to figure out a way to make reading fun and address the problems they saw at events in New York at the time; lazy writers, those with no concept of time limits, and the odd mix of comedy and literature.

And so Literary Death Match was born. For the unfamiliar, the premise is simple; four writers, three judges, two rounds and one game show style finale. The writers read their own work for seven minutes or less (those going over this are often shot with Nerf guns), are judged on literary merit, performance and intangibles by anyone from comedians to musician Moby, and two are chosen to progress to the Death Match finale.

The premise may be simple but the proceedings are sometimes less so. The Death Matches can be anything from Pin the Mustache on Hemingway to a Literary Spelling Bee and don’t always go to plan. One of the event’s biggest disasters involved a remote control helicopter, a lost rotor and sudden change of task.

“They [the finalists] had to fly the helicopter and try to land it on a book while the other finalist was shooting a Nerf dart gun… to try to shoot down the helicopter, and the person who got it closest to the book was gonna win. But after the first person did it, they got shot down so it crashed the copter and then the tail rotor of the copter just went missing… we had to change the finale to where they had to just shoot my friend in the head from a distance with the Nerf machine gun, which was way sadder and less celebratory, but still pretty funny.”

Zuniga says seamlessly integrating comedy was one of the main challenges his team faced. The finales may seem the obvious place to fit it in, for good reason, but Todd targetted the judges, their commentary and their jokes. “Having the judges in the event, that was a perfect way for us to integrate the comedy because the judges are reacting to the stories themselves,” he said.

On the decision to include judges from outside the literary world, Zuniga explained: “Getting an actor that people know from a TV show or getting a comedian who’s going to really sew it all together or getting a chef who’s going to comment on the work as a recipe as opposed to, you know, a literary person might, I think that just makes it fun and it makes it surprising and I think people leave the house for two reasons. I think they leave the house to be surprised and to make out with someone and so, we try to offer up both opportunities I guess.”

Not content to simply tour all over the world (the event just graced its 40th city and made its first appearances in Scandinavia), Zuniga moved to LA only ten weeks ago and is hoping to turn the event into a TV show. They already have an agent and almost got a TV option so we may see the show on our screens in the near future. For now though, you’ll have to settle for seeing the show when it returns to The Workman’s Club on March 28th. Tickets cost €7 on pre-order and €10 on the door.

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