John Lloyd is a man of many trades. His work has shaped the way British comedy has developed, both on television and the radio. Lloyd first got into comedy at Cambridge where he joined Footlights. He thought it was ‘a bit girly’ at the time, but happened ‘to be in love with a leading lady.’ John describes how he tried to do serious drama at Cambridge but ‘kept getting laughs. One of my performances reduced the poor director to tears, and it became a bit of a cult hit to see this college disaster. So I quit that and moved to jokes so that I wouldn’t ruin anyone’s life.’ John eventually got sacked from Footlights and moved onto radio. In 1974 he produced the News Quiz for the BBC before getting into television, creating Not the Nine o’ Clock News, Spitting Image and producing Blackadder in the mid-eighties. By the time he was thirty, John had received two Lifetime awards for his work.His latest project, QI, is much more than a television program. John describes QI as a long term project ‘to look at very dull information and make it interesting…It’s amazing how often people say something is “quite interesting”. It’s a catchphrase that most people don’t notice is there.’
The answers to the questions are not as important as the questions themselves. ‘Finding answers is relatively simple’ says John, ‘finding a new question to ask is almost impossible. All we’re interested in is interestingness’. The name QI also appeals to John as the opposite of IQ. It encourages a different sort of intelligence to that which is generally required at schools and universities. ‘The problem is that there is very little original thinking encouraged in the educational system’ John argues. ‘A lot of my original thinking time was done, you know, late at night with a lot to drink, and that was where all the interesting debates came in’. John is keen to promote original thinking in schools. ‘One of my ideas is to create a new school subject called interestingness,’ he says, smiling. ‘On Fridays you would have double “Interestingness” and you’d think “oooh yes!”’.  Another of his ideas is to make a set of companion guides to the national curriculum for students and teachers. ‘It sounds a bit pompous to be interested in education…’ John hesitates mid sentence, ‘but the whole idea is to make education not sound pompous…It’s just that we need to invent different ways of getting people’s attention’. The QI show is very different to most of the television being produced at the moment. John argues that ‘There should be television that is intelligent but is acceptable and warm’. He talks about how comedy has changed over the last twenty years or so: ‘A lot of television at the moment is cruel and dark…the comedy that I grew up with used to make you feel better. QI has that old fashioned feel to it, but it is also a revolutionary program’.John admits that occasionally the show has to be cleaned up. ‘There was a very funny fact that Steven brought up about Alfred Kinsey, who wrote a book about human sexuality and found the appalling statistic that one in six men in Idaho had sex with a chicken during their life. And so the whole panel started doing imitations of having sex with a chicken. It went on for minutes…it was really gross but honestly the funniest thing that I have ever seen on television. But it had to be taken out. QI has a very wide audience’. Though the program is after 10pm John still ‘bleeps the fucks’. ‘They said I could keep them, but I was brought up to take out the fucks. A lot of telly is a bit too grubby. We are often rude and naughty but it’s never nasty rudeness’. Although John does admit that sometimes ‘the recordings are absolutely filthy’. ‘If you get Jonathon Ross and Steven on a roll together its fantastic…but you can’t broadcast it really’. I ask John what he thinks about the recent trend of reality television. He looks a bit sheepish and smiles, ‘I think that a lot of the way television has gone is slightly my fault, because programs that were showing in the 70s and 80s were trying to break the mould’. He goes on, ‘But the general stuff you see on telly now of people you have never heard of…it’s pretty horrible. I think people generally deserve better than they get treated on telly’. John describes how celebrities love coming on the show, ‘Jeremy Clarkson is a regular, he watches it every week whether he’s on it or not, it’s one of the only programs that he actually likes… Rob Brydon brought his dad along the other day who had a great time and stayed the whole evening’. Interestingly, John has recently returned to doing radio shows and is currently hosting The Museum of Curiosity on Radio 4 with Bill Bailey. I asked him what it was like to go back into radio after so long in television. ‘Before the show’ John says laughing, ‘I was beyond scared…I almost had an out of body experience I was so frightened…But actually it’s such fun getting laughs from an audience’. With QI up and running, I ask John whether he will be moving onto any new projects. ‘It’s very difficult to go back, having made QI, to just making jokes for the sake of making jokes. I’d be more interested in getting a serious part in a film as an actor than writing’.
by Freddie Parton