Q&A with Death Match master Todd Zuniga

Sarah Harper

A&E had the chance to talk with Todd Zuniga, co-creator of the Literary Death Match enterprise and founding editor of Opium Magazine. On Thursday, the Death Match will hit the West Bank and a full preview of the event will hit the Minnesota Daily presses. For now, here’s a tease of an interview:


How strong is the relationship between humor and literature?

Literature is effectively life, so if you don’t have humor it’s not going to be great. You don’t need too much of it. But in the last few years, people have been like, “Well, can it be funny and literary?” It’s such a dumb question, I think.

It’s obvious that anything can be literary if it’s well-written. David Sedaris is a very literary writer, but he happens to also be funny, in countless ways. I’d say the relationship is very strong, which is part of why our event works. People like laughing, and they like literature, so why separate them?


And what about the relationship between alcohol and literature?

Well I am not an alcoholic, but everybody else that writes is.

No, I’m kidding. I think that’s a really interesting one. Specifically, historically, there’s been a lot of ties between those. I would say the relationship between alcohol and fun tends to be pretty strong – those guys get along. In terms of our event, we think that people having fun and drinking also tend to have this ability to completely pay attention to literature, as long as we hurry it up and we don’t, you know, start too late.


How wasted do people get at these events?

From zero, being they didn’t drink at all, to 100, being hospitalizable, the sweet spot is around 28 percent. There’s always one person in the crowd who gets to 61 percent, and we’ve had a couple 80s over the course of 175 events. Generally, people get between the 28 and 48 percent mark of drunkenness, where a traditional wasted would be 66 percent.


That’s comfortable. Give me a weather report on the overall climate of the literary world.

In the very beginning – let’s say Shakespeare is the marker of the first, we’ll start with greatness there. No, let’s go back to Chaucer. And then the future is, let’s see. Where will the future be? Let’s say the death of Simon Rich. I would say it started out overcast, there was some mild rain, there were some serious thunder storms…

No, actually I’m gonna say this: it’s like [expletive] amazingly sunny. There’s this idea that literature is falling apart, that nobody cares. The fact of the matter is that the whole of our existence in relation to one another is story-telling.

With that in mind, we’re doing great. Everybody is freaking out and everything, but I think books are about to have a pretty significant resurgence, in about four minutes to eight years. And I mean, if we become a TV show, then that’ll just hurry that along. So if anybody out there in L.A. is good-hearted, we can just speed up this process, right?


I hear a lot of hotties show up to Literary Death Matches. Why should college kids in sweatpants clean up and show up?

You’re eventually going to want to punch above your weight in dating. So it’s worth it to do something. Don’t run a comb across your head, we can’t do that – you have to still be hip in some way.


Why should college students who currently don’t really care about literature start caring?

I think it is cool and it is sexy. I think literature is the new smoking. Smoking is stupid and dumb now and it’s bad for your health, and literature is like – if you’re sitting at a dinner or a falafel restaurant, and you’re able talk about a book in an in-depth way, you’re going to kiss infinitely more people in your life.

All the noise and excitement you feel in those first weeks of meeting someone – it can only be sustained by actual thought, and care, and compassion. And literature delivers that in droves.


What’s the last thing you want to read before you die?

I would like to read, based on timing and age, my grandson’s debut novel.