Like to play trivia? Let’s test your street creds.
What’s gaining momentum in the Richmond trivia scene and strengthening family and community ties along the way? Answer: Ball of Fire Entertainment.
Owner Teresa Gigante founded the trivia company in January 2022 as a way to encourage Mike (her husband and trivia host) to put a microphone in his hand.
“I realized this could be an opportunity to utilize the awesome performance talent in Mike and combine that with a model that could really help our friends in the restaurant industry rebound from COVID. We had so many friends in entertainment and service industries who were struggling, and this was one small way we could help the Richmond community.”
What type of performer is Mike and how did he get started in trivia? Keep reading!
Stand-Up Comedy as a Starting Point
Stand-up comedy is something Mike had wanted to do since he was young and began watching comedians on television variety shows.
“Being the youngest in the family, I found that making jokes was a good way of getting noticed, being included, and sometimes kept me from getting my butt kicked,” he says. “After high school, we moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, and I decided to give stand up a try at an open mic night at the local comedy club, since I didn’t know anyone in town and didn’t have to worry about being embarrassed if I went down in flames.”
The problem – he was unprepared and that doesn’t win over audiences. He chalked up the experience as one he wouldn’t do again, but when other comedians encouraged him to try it one more time, he acquiesced.
“I came back the following week with some actual material and did very well. It just became habit forming and the other comedians and the owner were so supportive. I got to be known as the ‘good writer’ of the Charlotte comedy scene and began writing material for some of the touring comedians and gradually my performing caught up to my writing,” Mike says.
By the time he graduated from UNC Charlotte, he was booking gigs at clubs and colleges around the country. During that time, he was also hired to submit daily jokes for Jay Leno’s Tonight Show monologues.
“He used a handful of jokes here and there, and I also wrote material for a lot of national touring big name comedians for a while,” Mike says.
After eight years Mike stepped away from comedy full time and worked in project management for several financial institutions and government agencies.
He met Teresa when she was a student at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. and served on the entertainment programming board as one of her student projects. After talking, the two realized they were both from Charlotte. “We were both going to be in town the following weekend and decided to get together,” says Mike, adding the two married in 1993 and have two adult sons.
The couple moved to Richmond when Teresa, who works in risk management, began working at Capital One in 2013.
Trivia as a Piece of the Puzzle
“I’ve always been a sponge for useless information and one of those ‘You should be on Jeopardy’ people,’” says Mike. “My neighbor Tim is the same way, and we just started hitting a trivia night here and there and doing real well at it.”
Eventually, Mike started hosting trivia nights for a national company as a way to scratch his performing itch.
“Plus I saw a few trivia hosts that were very dry – read the question, read the answer, and move on – and I thought the game could be a lot more fun than just that. So I decided to give it a try,” Mike says.
He has acquired a following that is growing. One of his goals was to optimize the game, fun, and entertainment to work better with the operation of the club or restaurant hosting the event. He was on the way to doing that, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Once everything shut down, Mike started hosting a regular weekly game of trivia on Zoom, which he publicized through friends.
“It was a lot of fun, the games were longer than your standard bar trivia night, but we all looked forward to it every week, as it was a way to hang out with friends at a time when you really couldn’t hang out with friends,” he says.
After a few weeks, some of the players began sharing the link to the game with friends and relatives and from there, it snowballed. “On a given night we would have people playing from Alaska to the United Kingdom. Most were families or groups of friends, so all in all, we’d be more than a hundred people playing the game. The link to the game went low-level viral, and we met a lot of new people as a result.”
Ball of Fire Entertainment as a Family Business
When businesses began opening again, Mike started hosting trivia night at Tang and Biscuit and Garden Grove Brewery. “We added PBR Hanover after about a month and a half. Word of mouth spread, our phone started ringing and by the end of the first year we had nine locations,” Mike says.
Trivia nights hosted by Ball of Fire, twenty-two weekly games now, with more on the way, adhere to the old-school method of trivia, using pen and paper as opposed to submitting answers via an app. “We find it keeps the game live and interactive,” he says. “We sing, we dance, and we notice a lot of the teams have become good friends with other teams as a result. We’ve had people meet at our trivia night and start dating, we have many regular players who have gotten married and had kids… we even have had some proposals and baby announcements at our trivia nights. It really has grown into a nice community of folks.” It’s not uncommon to see multi-generation teams, too, with teens and grandparents joining in for a family dinner and trivia night.
Mike began working full time for Ball of Fire in March 2023. “I’m actually working more now than when I was working in the corporate world,” he says. “But I’m loving it.”
All of the games the company hosts are live, on-site, in-person games. Mike and Teresa also have several music Bingo games in the area where bingo cards are filled with song titles, and they are developing a variety of new games that are scheduled to premiere soon.
In addition, the company holds special event theme games, which have included four sold-out Taylor Swift nights, family nights with themes like Disney, Harry Potter, and Star Wars, plus corporate and private events. They are also starting to book bands and comedians.
Working full time in the family business has allowed Mike to reconnect with his creative side and to realize that many skills are transferrable from industry to industry. “I learned a lot of skills working a career that has served me well in building our own business,” he says.
Teresa admits she never would have guessed years ago that she would start a trivia company. “Being in risk management professionally, I’ve always known I was pretty risk averse. I never thought I would have the courage to take the step to run my own business,” she says. “It has been amazing to see how easily this has all come about.”
The past two years have been challenging, but fun and fruitful. “I have seen so much growth in myself personally with each challenge. It’s been an amazing experience, and I’m extremely happy we are doing this,” she says.
The experience has been good for the entire family. She and Mike have both found talents in each other they had not discovered before. And, they are proud of their sons’ contributions to the business.
“It always brings a smile to my face to hear Mike recognize some of my skills and talents that I knew he wasn’t really aware of (as a wife, you don’t really get to share your mad spreadsheet skills with your spouse),” she says. “I find that this has really brought us closer together with our kids through relying on them a lot for input. They are both amazing men who have great opinions about our community. They are both awesome creative problem solvers, which has been really helpful along the way.”
Running Ball of Fire and working full time at another company has made time management a priority for Teresa, she adds. “I balance the best I can, and I try to be open and honest with the ones closest to me. My higher priority is always family. Mike, Cosmo and Max are absolutely the highest on my list. I find that I value time with my family, our extended family, and all of those that we consider family.”
She sees herself working full time for the company in hopefully the next eight to nine months, depending on this year’s growth.
“I know that if I can free my time up a little more, I could devote more time to selling to new venues, creating team processes to support our hosts, and working on communication to better support our venues, helping them grow their businesses,” she says.
She and Mike love building community with their fans. “I would love to spend time bringing that to the forefront of our brand,” she says. “The best thing in the world is to see a team arrive for a game, sit things down, and go over and catch up with a fellow team they met through Ball of Fire, playing trivia. That’s the coolest thing!”
Find a trivia game in your neck of woods.