Comedy Gems: Qi

Hello, and welcome back to Comedy Gems: a series about ‘comedy gems’ (get it) from the UK and Ireland that may not have reached the ole US of A, or you may have just missed them entirely.

Yes, it's a face. Not the most observational people, are you?

Today I’m talking about Qi, the BBC quiz show that you’ll find “Quite Interesting”.

Qi Logo

  • Name: Qi (stands for Quite Interesting)
  • Country of Origin: The UK
  • Airs on: BBC
  • Originally aired:  2003 to present
  • Conceived by: John Lloyd
  • Hosted by: Stephen Fry
  • Panelists: Alan Davies, revolving cast
  • Genre: Comedy Panel show, Quiz




Qi is a comedy panel quiz show (super happy fun-time) that currently airs on BBC2 and is hosted by Stephen “my-bottom-is-a-treasure-house” Fry. It isn’t your average quiz show: the questions asked in the show always have an obvious misleading (red herring) answer that is wrong (for example, the answer to the question “what colour are oranges?” was green) and points are given out for any information that is quite interesting, whether it relates to the topic at hand or not.

Yep. Definitely green

As I stated before, Qi is hosted by Stephen Fry, the masterfully awesome chap who starred as himself in A Bit of Fry and Laurie and as Melchett in Blackadder. His appointment as host was an amazing choice, as he has a very posh accent and the manner of a headmaster (principal), which gives him a sense of authority and our trust of him is bred into us from birth. Which is hilarious as Fry himself is the first to admit that he’s no genius (but that fact is rather debatable at times). An interesting fact for you: Mr.Fry wasn’t the first choice for host. He was only supposed to do the pilot, the intended host being Michael Palin.

He had a prior engagement of ignoring mountains

Stephen Fry isn’t the only constant feature on Qi. Alan Davies, stand-up comedian, has been in every episode of the show (except one, where he was warped away by the TARDIS noise) and plays the role of the comic moron. He often picks the most obvious answer just for the fun of it. It’s unique for quiz shows in that he’s the everyman, joe shlub, Fry from Futurama, if you will.

Not sure if there's too many pictures in this article

What I mean by that is that he provides the same role a character like Fry does in a Sci-Fi show: he is you. He says all the answers you think are right, he is your average plebian off the street. But I may be looking into this too much. If Fry is a headmaster, Alan is the class clown. We all know an Alan. I could show you one of the many (and there are a lot) highlights of Alan giving a wrong answer and Stephen berating him, but I’m going to show you the time Alan (briefly) took over the show in Season 2’s Xmas Special

I obviously can’t speak for America, as the show doesn’t air there, but Qi has ingrained itself in the minds of the populous and has reserved it’s place in popular culture. For example, I had a half-hour long conversation with a friend of mine about a cat which wiped out an entire species of bird, it being the only sole creature  to destroy an entire species (which I later, with my own research, discovered to be false). After I had regaled him in this wonderful tale, he had one response: “you watch Qi as well?” I honestly didn’t know that I had seen it on Qi. I watched it, grabbed it and stored it in the “interesting facts to use later to make myself sound intelligent” bin in my brain. That’s what the show does.

This is my analogy. Yes, my brain is the bin: full of rubbish

One amazing thing about Qi is the mood of the show. As I said previously, the idea of the show is that all of the questions have a really obvious answer that is incorrect. Very easily a show could jeer the person, you know, “neener neener neener you are so stupid! How DIDN’T you know oranges were green???”. But there is a feeling of friendliness in the way the show handles itself, even with the rather jeering klaxon that sounds off when someone gets a question wrong. Now I’m going to show you a clip of David Mitchell (who I’ll probably get to later) repeatedly getting a question wrong, arguing at every turn, but eventually laughs at the situation and himself.

There are a few other things I should talk about, but they don’t really need a huge mention.

  • There are a series of books, starting with “the Book of General Ignorance”, which brings up facts, as in the show, but goes into more detail about it.
  • The team of researchers behind the show are called the Qi Elves
  • The theme music is done by Howard Goodall, who did the intro for Blackadder, among other shows.

The show has a huge following from “part-time boffins”. These are people who watch comedy quiz shows just to look for slight/pedantic errors. There is a great example of this with Dara O’Briain (last week’s feature) where he said that the triple point of water was 0°C. Dara got points, as this is, well, quite interesting! People wrote in to correct him that the triple point of water was 0.01°C, and Dara was docked retrospective points.

Dara was.... not amused

Qi is probably the best show on British tv at the moment. Well, there may be a bit of hyperbole there, but not a lot. Which makes it really sad that it’s unlikely the show will be broadcast anywhere but the UK, nevermind never making it stateside. The reason for this is a rather silly one, but completely understandable. The images in the background in the show, or any clips used, are only licensed for the UK. Which is fine, and relatively cheap for them to use. However if it were to be syndicated (i.e. re-runs/re-broadcasts) on a US network it would be incredibly expensive to re-license the image, so much so it’s not worth it to broadcast the show. A Dutch Qi was attempted, but it was cancelled after one season, so maybe it doesn’t work outside the UK & Ireland.  I’m going to leave with the immortal words of Stephen Fry:

“I don’t watch television, I think it destroys the art of talking about oneself.”



CircleGuy (34 Posts)

Hey! My name's Rob, aka theCircleGuy! I'm a guy who loves the Beatles, so much so that sometimes it seems like I'm crazy. I have more to say, but not now- the owls are listening. I've been told I have to note that I'm from Ireland, which is not in Britain. Shame, shame on you... geography teachers...