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).


« How to Discuss Something You Like, and the Other Person Loves | How to Remember Information by Using a Mnemonic Device »

Reader Comments (77)

The Prisoner has a loyal cult following. I've only seen a few episodes but I've heard a lot about it. Enough to get references.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSheherazahde

Here in Britain we don't like to admit it, but America is pretty good at making television. Another thing we don't like to admit is that when Americans think they don't want something that's come from Britain, they're often right. In many cases, it's something that they have already anyway.

But maybe you'll enjoy a BBC radio programme of highbrow anarchy called "The Unbelievable Truth", which similarly trades in remarkable facts, in this case hidden in professional comedians' essays that are ninety per cent nonsense. Most of the players have been on "QI", including chairman David Mitchell and everyone else in the first programme - an unspoken bond. Although David Mitchell then was taken to task on "QI" because of something that was said about hedgehogs.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Carnegie

I want QI on BBC America as well. Pair it with the Graham Norton Show on Saturday nights. Should do very well.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCraig W.

Hey Scott - it's 2013, not 2012! What's with the copyright date?

*happy sigh* what a great way to start a new year!

Thanks again for a great year of laughs Scott - and for extending it just a little longer :P. All the best in 2013 - whenever it starts...

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrent Kobayashi

Honestly, I think BBCA must be run by feral monkeys, or worse. Seventy percent of the programming week is reruns of the same few shows (now with more Top Gear nostalgia!). I still can't fathom how Sherlock ended up on PBS.

I just realized, BBCA is essentially TLC with funny accents (with a wad of AMC and Syfy thrown in for good measure).

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSavannah

Interestingly, I was imagining this the whole way through the comic as some sort of spy show. (Not sure why--maybe because of "Q") I think a BBC spy/thriller with Stephen Fry would be beyond amazing.

Oh, and I remember watching the Prisoner on PBS when I was very small (and utterly confused, but I remember my mother liked it a lot).

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnne

I agree that QI is a fantastic show. Almost all QI shows from most of the series are available on youtube, at least here in Sweden. I'm not sure if they are legal to watch, but it seems as the bbc has left them there. They have been there a long time and I can't imagine that the bbc is unaware. It also seems as they have given up selling the dvds.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErik

The BBC keep talking about launching their "iPlayer" service in the US, including the ability to watch "back catalogue" shows. Given that repeats of QI air every night on "Dave" (yes, there is a TV channel here called "Dave", and yes, frequently two episodes a night) I would be very surprised if they don't make it happen in the next few months...

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSimon C

When they launched QI they make each series about one letter of the alphabet (we are up to "J" at the moment). That's right, not a different letter per episode - a different one per series!
Way to go to plan to run 26 serieses!

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Smith

I LOVE QI! I rarely find anyone here in the states who has ever seen it. I made my Mom watch several episodes with me over Christmas. How can you not love a show where the winner has negative points? Ha!

It's near impossible to watch QI here. Why?? I'm going to play my "Nobody Knows" joker...... and hope that we find a cure!

I also really like "Spooks." You can actually watch that on Netflix. (It's re-named "MI-5," as "spooks" is apparently an out-dated derogatory term...)

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJen

I watched The Prisoner's original US run when I was a kid, mostly because I had a crush on Patrick McGoohan. I now have the full series on DVD, and I can see how much went over my head back then, and how much was just silliness anyway, And i still have a crush on Patrick McGoohan.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterManifesta

To be fair to Alan, he's not as special as QI makes it seem. He pointed out in an interview once that after being in Jonathan Creek everyone assumed he was a genius, but after QI started everyone assumed he was an idiot.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPhil

Ha ha! No need to explain the virtues of QI to this expat Brit (also in Seattle). I would gladly pay the BBC license fee to be able to watch BBC telly in the US, but the media industry, in its wisdom, makes this impossible. Which is why I do not harbor too much guilt about the slightly less-than-legal way that I do get to watch QI...

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterthomaid

Oh, happy new year to me! _great_ BI today. I've heard many good things about QI, and I used to watch The Prisoner on US public TV back in the '70s. This is one well done comic!

In re the stunned goldfish etc., istm that part of the issue is "Hollywood" isn't just marketing to the US market, but to the whole world -- so stories have to be easily understandable in Peoria, Peru, and Peking for the studios to maximize profits. So while there are still good movies made for/by Americans, Chinese, et al. they're being driven into the margins by mass-market mediocrity.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRob


I'm a QI Elf, and we'd also like nothing more than to have QI broadcast in America, but negotiations have been bogged down in even more tricky landscapes than you mention here! We all live in hope...

Please do visit our website at where we have lots of pleasing goodies to stimulate your cranium and humerus.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher Gray

Who is Number 1?

I find it quite interesting that a person as smart as Stephen Fry cannot even spell IQ!

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJawfin

Oh God, QI. The many, many nights I've spent watching that show on Youtube are both horrendous, enlightening and amazing at the same time.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoris

I feel you bro. I think i've seen every single QI episode (i'm english so that's not difficult for me) but over the years i have been hugely annoyed by the time delay it takes American Series to get broadcast over here. thank got for internet piracy.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMr Matthew Simon Jewell

Brent Kobayashi said: "Hey Scott - it's 2013, not 2012! What's with the copyright date?"

Oh Brent...

-- KLAXON --
-- KLAXON --

-10 points for you.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBDC

OMG, BDC. You just filled my soul with joy.

January 2, 2013 | Registered CommenterMissy !

Never heard of QI before yesterday, now I've watched several episodes and I love it! They're on Youtube, so you can watch them online, or if you have a Roku or similar device, it's easy to put them on a regular TV.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMitsurati

Half the time? The Prisoner barely made sense 5/7 of the time. And I watched the whole series (on AMC online, while they were showing the re-make of The Prisoner on the air) in the course of a few weeks. Maybe BBC America can pick up QI.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterphaser

You do realize, don't you, that you just compared Stephen Fry with a malevolent balloon...?

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMad Dan Eccles

If you search YouTube for "QI XL" you can watch the extended episodes. I believe every single QI XL episode is on YouTube.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdejkirkby

Hmm. You like the Prisoner, you like Stephen Fry. This just might blow your mind (if you don't know about it already).

In the eighties, on British TV there was a live early evening music show called "The Tube", hosted by boogie-woogie pianist from the band Squeeze, Jools Holland.

In the final episode of the show, Holland "resigned", and found himself transported to a mysterious prison/village overseen by a stentorian "Number Two", played by... Stephen Fry. I can hear it in my mind as if it were yesterday, Holland's squeaky voice intoning "I'm not a number, I'm a television personality."

If you've not seen it, track down a copy somewhere, it's brilliant.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Blake

Actually, yes, the thing about licensing rights to the image is true, the BBC have stated that. Seems a shame that greed over copyright gets in the way of everyone seeing the show. QI as The Prisoner makes a lot of sense, particularly because even if occasionally Alan wins, he's still back there the following week being completely baffled, but I think it's more likely that the klaxon is the Rover, and Stephen Fry is Number 2.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSpag Hoops

Prisoner reference. <3

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPonyToast

Every year or so I do a "British comedy night" at my place where I introduce friends to the best new Britcoms they've never heard of (I've always been a huge fan of comedy imports, and thanks to Usenet I can keep up with what's new).

Anyway, 3 years ago I introduced a crowd of about a dozen people to QI and 4 or 5 other British shows. Far and away, the crowd favorite was QI! You'd never expect a trivia show to inspire the sort of devotion that fans have for QI, but that's just the way it is. QI def has the "X factor" that turns a show that seems fairly average on paper into a huge hit.

Maybe it's the Fry/Davies relationship, although a crowd of people who only saw 2 episodes wouldn't have had enough to really appreciate that aspect of the show, so it must come down to the truly interesting trivia and the wit of the panelists.

All I know is I hope they make it all the way to "Z" and then release the ultimate DVD box set, which will naturally resemble an encyclopedia set. So what do we have, another 15 years or so before that happens?

Get your pre-orders in now!

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMojo

Don't bring it to America, they'd just make it a Shatner vehicle.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRaketemensch

Just a quick note about the chap above who described himself as a QI elf and commented that there were horrendous legal problems showing QI in America.

A "QI elf" isn't just slang for a big fan of QI as you may have supposed, but a nick name for the back room team who do all the research and come up with the questions. So that sounds to me as if it was straight from the horses mouth.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterStevie Hair

Apparently the reason that the UK episodes of QI aren't shown in the US is that the company they licence a load of their clips and images from only have rights for UK broadcast.

Not sure why no US studio has acquired the rights though. There are some intelligent highbrow comedians in the US no matter how hard the studios try to keep them away.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLuckykaa

I love anything with Fry on it, I even went to see that Sherlock Holmes movie just to see him play Mycroft. He didn't have enough screen time thou...

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmarquez

Yes, QI is great! It's also completely unavailable where I live too.

January 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterQI is amazeballs

Not to be that guy, but if Alan Davies is always on the panel, is he really a "guest"?

January 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJustRuss

Holy crap. I literally screamed out loud when I read the first panel. I have been watching QI, through less kosher means, religiously for about FOUR YEARS.


January 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEmmu

Stephen Fry is a huge Americophile. I am sure he and his producer John lloyd would be happy to reprise the show in the US

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert King

Clever is funny and funny is clever, and QI isn't so much obscure knowledge - although it's good to honour knowledge - as some very witty people having fun with it.

William James said, "Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing." If his brother Henry had said it, it would have been longer.

January 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Carnegie
Editor Permission Required
You must have editing permission for this entry in order to post comments.