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    Amy Schneider Talks About Her New Show, Podcast, Jeopardy! Strategy, Cats, Karaoke, and More

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    Oakland resident Amy Schneider made history with her 40-game winning streak on Jeopardy! that began in November 2021. She now has two projects, Jeopardy! Masters, a show that will have her competing with other Jeopardy! champions, and Amy Always Wins, a podcast, starting July 6, where she will square off with celebrities in trivia games and other challenges.

    I caught up with Schneider for the San Francisco Bay Times to talk about her new projects, her trans activism, and her top karaoke songs.

    Gary M. Kramer: I was certainly gratified by the trans visibility your run on Jeopardy! created and that you generated a huge fan base. You will next be seen in a spin-off of the show, the forthcoming Jeopardy! Masters. What can fans expect from you going head-to-head with other champions? Surely you know each other’s skills, weaknesses, and strategies by now.

    Amy Schneider: That’s exactly the point. With almost every game of Jeopardy!, if you lose, you’re done. This is a different scenario, like a season of a sports league. You keep playing. If you lose you pick up and take it to the next game. That’s going to be interesting. How do you adjust over the course of a season? How do you change your game play when you are up against James Holzhauer, versus Matt Amodio or Sam Buttrey? Does that change how you play the game? That is something Jeopardy! hasn’t had a chance to explore before.

    Gary M. Kramer: Do you continue to study for specific categories, such as the latest popular culture? History doesn’t change. What can you reveal about your approach to the game? 

    Amy Schneider: History doesn’t change. I have said popular music is my weakest category partly because there’s so much of it. I’m not into opera, particularly, but you can learn everything you need to know about opera for Jeopardy! There are like 15 operas they will ask about. Popular music is a massive field that is fair game for Jeopardy! questions. The difference is since being on Jeopardy! and now realizing I will be back on it, my wife and I are always listening to the radio and I’m like, “This one is Harry Styles. This is The Weekend.” I’m actually trying to pay attention to artists and titles more, whereas in the past, I would have just been, “Oh, that’s a song,” and just moved on with my life.

    Gary M. Kramer: You are also starting a new podcast, where you get to play against celebrities in Amy Always Wins. Can you talk about that and the format and content of the show?

    Amy Schneider: The concept is that Rob Corddry is the host, and he is bringing in his friends to compete against me in somewhat silly trivia games. He brings in two, so there is some level of fairness to it. Some of them are genuine trivia; some are ridiculous and fun. One example, and I’m not sure if we’ll use it in the show, but Rob’s 80-year-old dad explains a movie based on how he remembers it and you have to figure out what movie he was talking about. He may be giving completely inaccurate facts about it. That was a lot of fun. One we did in one of our rehearsals was called “Bad News Bears.” It was just trivia questions related to Bears, but the twist was you had to deliver the answer like it was bad news. Such a dumb thing, but I really enjoyed it.

    My brother recently said to me, “I’m loving all this happening for you, and all these interviews and seeing you being so gracious, and relatable. And none of these people know what a snarky bitch you are.” This podcast is an opportunity to find out what a snarky bitch I am. [Laughs.]

    Gary M. Kramer: You made a political stand by testifying in Ohio’s General Assembly against an anti-trans bill. Do you feel a pressure or responsibility because of your “celebrity”? Can you talk about your activism?

    Amy Schneider: A lot of it comes out of being trans; if you are an out transperson you’re doing activism every day in your daily life. It’s activism just to appear on Jeopardy! as a transperson with your true gender and true name. By the nature of that, I have one foot in the door. I do feel a certain responsibility, and one I have felt for a while. I grew up in Ohio, in a fairly conservative environment, but I came out as trans in the Bay Area back in 2017. There was almost this feeling of guilt; it was really easy [to come out as trans] in the Bay Area because people understand transpeople are people, and they are totally fine with it. I know how hard it is for people back home in Ohio and all over the country who don’t have the things that I take for granted. When this whole Jeopardy! thing happened, I knew I would have to find some kind of way, rather than existing, or being a relatable transperson on Jeopardy!, which had a big impact by itself, but I knew I had to do more. I don’t want to become a partisan political divisive figure. I want to talk to Republicans, because many of the people I know and love are on that side of things, and I want to be able to communicate with them. But I came to the conclusion that as long as I am talking from my point of view, and describing my experience and what I know, then it will all be all right. Since that testimony in Ohio, I’ve been trying to build my ability to really be speaking out.

    Gary M. Kramer: Do you still experience moments of transphobia, and how do you handle them now?

    Amy Schneider: I don’t blame anyone for being transphobic, or thinking that transpeople are weird or frightening, because I used to feel that way. That’s how I was raised. I used to think transpeople were dangerous outliers. Everyone did in society. I’m not upset by anybody who feels that way. I just want to explain to them what it is that I learned that took me away from that position.

    Gary M. Kramer: Has your fame helped you make a difference to the local LGBTQ community?

    Amy Schneider: I think the main fact that I’ve been fortunate enough is that I’ve heard from so many people, transpeople and otherwise, talking about their older relatives after seeing me on Jeopardy! and“got it,” and started gendering transpeople appropriately, and realizing that transpeople are just people. For people who are transphobic, it’s brittle; they’ve never been challenged on it. Talking before about feeling that guilt, I have so much respect and admiration for people who were being out in society in the ‘50s and ‘60s and all throughout history. I think to myself, “Would I have been willing to come out at that time, or would I have lived my life in the closet”

    There [were] people who kept fighting and pushing. When you are trying to get a big rock moving, the first effort you feel [is that] you are not getting anywhere, and then slowly, slowly, slowly, the momentum starts to build, and the things start barreling along. All those people from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s did all that hard, unrewarding work, and then the momentum started gathering, and in the last 10 years, we’ve come farther than I ever imagined. The understanding [is] that there were just as many transpeople at any historical moment as there are now. We were always there. I try to educate people about Weimar Berlin and the emergence of transpeople there. If it wasn’t for the Nazi’s burning it all down, we could have been 80 years advanced. The idea that this is some new thing just isn’t true. 

    Gary M. Kramer: What can you say about living in Oakland with your wife and your cat, Meep? Do you feel you can maintain a pretty regular life—and I assume that includes watching and playing along with Jeopardy! every weeknight?

    Amy Schneider: We have another cat, Rue, now. When we are home and having a regular night it’s a regular night. I’ll get recognized in Oakland and I’ll get asked for a selfie, but people let me live my life and do karaoke or whatever I’m doing. But I do spend much more of my time flying around the country and doing things that are not like my own life. But when that is not going on, we hang out and watch Netflix. We are four episodes away from finishing our Jane the Virgin rewatch.

    Gary M. Kramer: I have to know—what are your karaoke songs?

    Amy Schneider: I have three songs. Radiohead’s “Creep,” which is my most impressive one. I can hit that last note. “Peaches” by The Presidents of the United States of America, which is a lot of fun. People don’t see it coming, but they always enjoy it. And “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. There were all these controversies when I was a kid about Disney and gay stuff and Catholic people boycotting it. And I watched it and “Part of Your World” is absolutely about being a queer child. 100% what it is. Maybe they were right to boycott it, honestly.

    Gary M. Kramer: A lot of people may wonder about how you spent the $1.4–1.6 million dollars you won on Jeopardy! and Tournament of Champions. I’m far more curious how you were able to maintain the silence for 40 days and 40 nights during your streak. Surely, people were suspicious!

    Amy Schneider: It helped that it was still Covid-y at the time, so I wasn’t going into the office. People might not have known. It also helped that I was completely checked out from my job so not hearing from me for a couple of days was not unusual. [Laughs] It was really challenging, I kind of told more people than I was technically supposed to tell. But it was one of the strangest periods of my life. I knew I had done something that was lifechanging. And to most of the people in my life, we were hanging out and tried to come up with small talk that had nothing to do with the biggest thing in my life.

    Gary M. Kramer: I know on Jeopardy! they always ask questions about the contestants’ lives after the first commercial break. You’ve talked about your Ozma of Oz tattoo, among other things. What is something folks might not know about you that you can share?

    Amy Schneider: I’ve had a more complex and interesting life than necessarily fits into all-audience 20-second anecdotes. Like many transpeople, when you realize your trans, you realize you’ve been following a bunch of arbitrary rules all your life, so you question all the rules of life, whether around sex and drugs but all norms of behavior. I have had an interesting life with many killer anecdotes that I could not tell on Jeopardy! because they were not all-audience appropriate.

    Gary M. Kramer: I know you weren’t quite the first; there were other trans contestants on Jeopardy! before you. But you are the first woman to have the longest winning streak. What advice do you give to contestants?

    Amy Schneider: I was just giving advice to a transwoman who will be taping her episode soon. The number one piece of advice I always give is to practice putting every distraction out of your mind and letting go of the outcome. The odds are 2-in-3 you will play one episode and lose and that will be it. Go there determined not to worry about that, how you look, or the cameras. Experience it; live in the moment. All that matters is the next question. There are not many opportunities you get in life where that amount of focus is called for.

    Gary M. Kramer: What advice do you have for those auditioning? 

    Amy Schneider: I was auditioning for 13 years before I finally got the call. That is just how it is. They have 400 slots a year. The fact that you are not getting called back isn’t that you aren’t good enough. Keep trying!

    © 2023 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer

    Published on May 4, 2023