How to Explain Your Unique Interests

If you have to explain a joke, your time would be better spent writing a different joke. That said:

QI is an excellent show on the BBC where the host, Stephen Fry, and an ever-changing panel of guests, always including Alan Davies, discuss interesting trivia from science and history. It sounds dry, but it’s the most consistently funny show I’ve ever seen. The show is tremendously successful, but it does not air in America, and I don’t know of any plans for an American version (though I think John Hodgman would make a great host). I'm not going to link to it for fear of causing someone legal problems, but if you search YouTube for "QI," you can usually find some samples.

The Prisoner was a British TV series about a man kept in a nonsensical prison and tormented by a different jailer each week. One of the tools used against the Prisoner was a lethal automaton called Rover.

Basic Instructions is a self-indulgent, wordy web comic made by a man who has watched far too much TV, and who is grateful to you for using his Amazon Affiliate links (USUKCanada).


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Reader Comments (77)

I think Stephen Fry would appreciate the comparison.

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRedshift

Gosh! You never cease to amaze me. QI is a bit obscure even here in the UK where it's still being shown, but comparing it to the Prisoner is definitely unique. That was a series made in the late 60s which I don't think I've seen since the 70s. I've tried hard to see the connection between them and failed utterly, but thank you for making me think about it. That was quite interesting.

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIan

Hulu's been importing a lot of British stuff. Lobby them!

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJerodast

WTF? how do you know about the Prisoner?! hope its not from listening to too much Iron Maiden.... : )

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterben

I hate to think what an American producer would make of QI, actually.

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTom

So I suppose it's time for someone to point out the date in the bottom left.

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Come to Australia, Scott. We get QI....and the weather is far superior to anything British.

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMick from Melbourne

QI is awesome; I have loved it for years. Can I join your revolution?

Actually, I read once that the reason they don't air it over here has to do with the difficulty and expense of gaining the rights to show all of the images which pop up on the screens behind the panelists. But it usually looks like stock photos to me, so I'm not sure that's correct.

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterl

Not 5 minutes ago I was lamenting the fact that I'm working in northern Canada for the next few weeks and have no way of downloading QI like I usually do; and wished that it was available on Canadian television.


January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterH. Torbinsen

QI actually sounds awesome! I love science and history trivia. Too bad TV shows are mostly those "talent seeker" types that always end up as "singing competition".

Can't imagine The Prisoner, though. For a second, I thought you're talking about Prison Escape (is it the right title?), y'know, the architect with the whole freaking prison's floor plans tattoed on him?

Was it Prison Break? Never saw it, at any rate. AMC actually aired a so-so miniseries reboot of The Prisoner in 2009, so it must still have some following. ~Missy

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRaestloz

After seeing how the American versions of Kitchen Nightmares and Life on Mars turned out, I'm really, really hoping they don't try to do the same to this show.

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCdub

I think "so-so" is a rather excessively polite description of AMC's reboot of the Prisoner, Missy!

Scott, if you haven't seen it and somehow can, I heartily recommend "Monkey!", the British dubbed version (also known as "Monkey Magic"). It makes even less sense than the Prisoner, plus ridiculous kung-fu!

I try to aim for excessively polite whenever possible. :) Although I will say that I find that Jim Caviezel fellow creeeeepy. ~Missy

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRavenBlack

I posted this to Twitter, to Steven Fry's attention. Will update with any comments from him.

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTheKFV

did you guys see that new show called "Copper"? it is on BBC and set in NYC in 1864, totally awesome.

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdeimos

How is it that Jenkins comes out of this sounding like the reasonable one?

I have to admit this intrigues me, though. I've never seen QI, but I love listening to Stephen Fry talk, so I have a feeling I'd enjoy it.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick

Lo, a petition, right up your alley

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKevin A Kunreuther

QI sounds wonderful, but I share the hope of previous commentors that there will never be an American version. It would be too depressing to find out that the American version consisted of pop-culture-obsessed idiots discussing trivia about Honey Boo Boo and the TWILIGHT series.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnne

You can't get QI in North America?!

You poor sods! America must be even less civilised than I feared (I bet you don't even make your tea in a pot, or put doilies under your biscuits . . .)

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaddy

Tom - not sure if you are new or savagely sarcastic. If the latter, nice one!
If the former, there is a whole sub-culture built around copyright dates and the people who comment on them on this site.
As I understand it, in legal terms, the copyright date MUST be the date the copy/cartoon was created. As they are drawn some time (often several weeks) in advance, there is always an overlap of copyright date and new year. It'll sort itself in a couple of weeks or so. No need to panic - it is not a delayed Mayan Apocalypse signalling the end of civilisation as we know it.

Relax, enjoy, await the corrected copyright.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaddy

QI is probably the best show in the UK and one of only a few I watch.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Smith

I don't know of a legal way to watch QI here in the states, but I was just re-watching the Prisoner on Crackle. I'm not sure how long they will retain the rights to stream it, so I did a marathon over the long weekend. And now that it's back in my head I'm seeing it everywhere. Even here. It has become inescapable.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterwumpus

Since no-one else has done so, I thought I would include the link to the wikipedia article on The Prisoner:

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Jester

I happened to be watching QI on Australia's ABC just as I saw this comic. Poor, Fry-deprived Americans!

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkljas

Who would be the US Alan Davies? Not you Scott!?

Note from Scott: I picture Jonathan Coulton playing Alan to Hodgeman's Fry.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike Geordie Brown

Torrents, people. Delivered fresh every day. And with a free Torrent client like Vuze or uTorrent, that can read RSS-feeds, almost every show worth watching is on your PC the day after it has aired. It's how I watch The Daily Show, Colbert, etc, but QI can be had too.
(No link in this post, just knowledge.)

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMartijn

I love QI. I would totally buy the show if it came out on DVD / Blu-ray. Also, Spitting Image. I want that show on the DVD / Blu-ray.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterC.S.Strowbridge

For those unfamiliar with QI please direct yourself to the "Parthenon", "Osmonds" or "Licence" clips. Oh and "Phill Jupitus hates QI". Also "Wife Beating". Allow yourself for a good hour or two because you will end up just clicking links.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterblekkja

The complete "Prisoner" is available on DVD (I mean the original series, not the AMC "reboot" alluded to above, which I really hadn't heard of). I have the set, wouldn't think knowing about it is that unusual. It aired in the US as well as Britain a long time ago. Some of the plots veered a bit far into sheer silliness, but it was fun. Also check out Patrick McGoohan's earlier work in "Danger Man".

Never heard of Q1, but everything shows up on DVD or streaming these days eventually.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarco

The fact that QI goes unseen in the States, while BBC America packs its schedule with reruns of "Kitchen Nightmares" and "ST:TNG" (because, I guess, Patrick Stewart is British?), is a crime against culture. Not to mention their constant reruns of "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" (because, I guess, Kevin Costner plays an Englishman).

In fact, I think BBC America shoots itself in the foot with this kind of short-term thinking -- going for the quick pop instead of building a loyal audience by showcasing some of the good stuff produced by the Beeb.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Walters

I believe that now we need an instruction on being excessively polite, starring Missy. I'm sure Scott will have to be there too ... as the reason.

BTW- have you considered a BI on how to deal with auto correct on smart phones or their other typing issues? I'm amazed at what my normally well behaved phone tries to say to people when I type as little as I did above.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHotHam

No explanation needed here! And it makes me giggle to think of Stephen Fry as being similar to a lethal weather balloon.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSara J.

There's a Norwegian QI as well. Same format. Recurring guest and three others and the recurring guest is given the short stick with humorous consequences!

I don't know that it'd do well in the USA not because you're dumb but because you don't have a channel without adverts.

Occasionally US TV will get a show where the author hasn't assumed the audience is dumber than a sack of stunned goldfish. Inception and Babylon 5 are two examples.

But they're much happier with going for the stunned goldfish market.

Illustrating this is the Mission Impossible movies.

In the first one, you don't find out who the bad guy is until three quaters through the movie. Apparently they had complaints about how it was "too confusing" and so in the second movie, you find out the bad guy before the opening title.

IMO those complaining were just trying to find something to say negative rather than risk going all "gushing luvvie" and there really wasn't anything wrong with the first movie, so had to grab at straws.

But marketing "know" that everyone apart from them is dumber than a sack of spanners. So MI2 became a movie-length episode of Columbo with Jon Woo effects...

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWow

QI is a great show, definitely one of the best we get. Stephen Fry is considered a national treasure over here.
Also if you want to look up older obscure stuff, check out the shows he did with Hugh Laurie (Dr House from House). Particularly Jeeves and Wooster (where Hugh's character is about as far removed from the House character as is possible)

Note from Scott: WHO DO YOU THINK YOU"RE TALKING TO?! To me, Fry and Laurie will always be Lord Melchett and Ludwig the Indestructible!

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpasserby

I can't imagine that a show which is so pro-science & anti-irrational non-sense would be popular for long in the US :-/

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPanzerbjørn

One show I think that got a good U.S. version is Top Gear. My wife and I are in no way close to being car people, but we are regular watchers of both versions of the show. It is usually the tv show each week that causes both of us to laugh the hardest. My favorite British episode is when they had to make an "RV" and the one built a 2.5 story condo on the back of a fiat.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTop Gear

Ian, if you consider QI to be a bit obscure in the UK, I'd hate to think what you'd consider mainstream.

The huge following of that show - plus the number of books etc the series has released under it's name - shows that it's anything but obscure.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

Go on YouTube and search for the "BalmafulaLanando" channel
you'll find most of QI (some of the Hs is missing). That's how I watch it from Italy. And I got the first two books too....


January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGiP

Every country should have a QI on TV. It captures the universal pleasure of flicking through Wikipedia and finding some weird fact.

Incidentally, did you know that ducks have spiral penises? Or that there are seven colours of the rainbow just because Newton thought seven was a cool number?

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTomic

Every single episode of QI ends up on bit torrent. I've always ignored it, but with your endorsement, I might check it out...

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDrowlord

We can get it on youtube, user-> quite1nteresting

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterelmcd
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