QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Sandi Toksvig. Copyright: TalkbackThames


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2022
  • 279 episodes (19 series)

Panel game that contains lots of difficult questions and a large amount of quite interesting facts. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

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Series R, Episode 6 - Ridiculous

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Holly Walsh, Sandi Toksvig, Maisie Adam, David Mitchell
Sandi Toksvig takes the quiz in a "ridiculous" direction this evening. With Alan Davies, Maisie Adam, David Mitchell and Holly Walsh. This episode was recorded just as lockdown struck and thus there is no audience.

Preview clips

Further details


- This episode was recorded in March 2020, during the coronavirus outbreak. As a result, there is no studio audience.


- The funny thing about not having an audience is the use of canned laughter. While it is never used on QI, laugh tracks for TV shows date back to 1950. US sound engineer Charlie Douglass created a "laff box" that contained different laughs you could use. Reportedly, you could recognise the laughs as they were used repeatedly. While some do not like it, the research shows that in principle it works. The UCL's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience exposed people to a list of deliberately bad jokes, running them with no laugh at all, then they ran the jokes with a recording of people being told to laugh, and then they ran of people genuinely laughing at the jokes. The recordings with real laughter were considered the funniest, and those with the fake laughs were considered funnier than those with no laughter at all. Sandi tests out the idea using the same joke the UCL used: "What do you call a sleeping dinosaur? A dino-snore." They also test it on a joke David tells at radio recordings: "What's a ghost's favourite country? Fra-a-a-ance." However, when testing it with the laughter, the laughter is played before the punch line is said.

- Tangent: David says that the crew of around 10 people would still be a good audience for an Edinburgh Fringe show. The smallest audience Sandi performed to was a gig where her mother-in-law was the only person who turned up. Maisie's smallest gig was an Edinburgh preview show where her university flatmate, Hazel, turned up. The only other people were two guys who were exit-flyering Maisie's show. Thus Hazel went home with about 40 flyers.

- Tangent: Alan once had a radio show in the late 1990s, and he and the other people in it were considered so funny that the people at BBC Comedy said: "We can use those laughs on nearly every other programme we make." Alan says that it was the best compliment he ever had in his whole career, but Alan says he thinks most of the laughs were for Kevin Eldon.

- XL Tangent: QI got a complaint from the previous series, with a viewer claiming that the show used canned laughter. They investigated the confusion, and it turned out that this viewer did not like the sound of Jimmy Carr's laugh.

- XL Tangent: In Argentina, there are professional laughers who are employed to go to TV recordings and laugh. Alan says this is an old theatrical tradition, where someone called a "claque" would sit in the audience, and several of these people would deliberately give the correct reaction to whatever was happening in the play or opera at the time, because often the audience did not know whether a part of the performance was funny or sad. Alan says he does this on ferries. The last time he was on the ferry, Alan was queuing for 45 minutes with a tray for the worst meal he has ever had, and he claims if someone had been pretending to panic because the ferry was too close to a tanker, things would have moved much quicker.

- XL Tangent: Maisie wonders if some of the people in her Edinburgh shows who were quite were actually moved by her. She talks about Fringe shows that are funny for 40 minutes, but then there is a really hard-hitting moment, which Sandi hates. Maisie went to see one and everyone around her was crying, and now Maisie wonders if they were plants. David comments this would be rare for British audiences, especially TV and radio recordings which are free to attend and people have turned to laugh.

- XL Tangent: The world's leading expert on laughter, Robert Provine, has discovered that people are 30 times more likely to laugh when people are in the company of others rather than on their own. Alan argues that the inverse is true and that you are 30 times more likely to cry on your own than you are in company. Holly claims she made herself laugh so hard the other day because she did a fart that sounded like someone else was calling out her name as if they were dying. Alan says he once did a poo that made him cry. David claims her doesn't find his own farts funny, while Sandi says she doesn't find her farts funny because she doesn't fart at all.

- A classic riddle: why is a raven like a writing desk? This riddle is told by the Mad Hatter in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and it was not originally meant to have an answer. In later editions however, Lewis Carroll added the following note: "I may as well put on record here what seems to me to be a fairly appropriate answer, because it can produce a few notes, though they are very flat, and it is nevar put with the wrong end front." This was an internal joke as "nevar" was how Carroll spelled the word "never", with "nevar" being "raven" backwards. However, Carroll's publishers incorrectly corrected Carroll's spelling of "nevar" to "never", so the joke was completely missed. The error went unnoticed until 1976.

- XL Tangent: Alan says he gets mixed up between Lewis Carroll, C. S. Lewis and Lewis Collins from "The Professionals". Alan says that if he was to self-isolate for three months, their work would not be a bad start.

- Tangent: Another popular riddle with no real answer was this from the 1890s: "When is a mouse, if it spins?" The answer is: "Because the higher it gets, the fewer."

- XL Tangent: In one episode of "The Professionals", Lewis Collins and Martin Shaw were on a stakeout in a hotel room, and you could hear the show's theme tune being played very slowly on a heavy brass instrument, like a tuba. Then Shaw went to the window to look out, and Alan says that if there had been a man there with a tuba playing that music, it would have been the funniest thing that had ever happened on his TV. In the show, they never even cut to outside, so we never knew if there was someone with a tuba playing, and judging by Shaw's reaction Alan believes there wasn't. Alan said it would have been even better if Collins had said: "I hate the tuba." It obviously wouldn't have fitted the tone of the show. Earlier on in the same episode, Collins had been in a Capri, on a date with a young woman, and then he got a call about a terrorist incident, and Collins just dropped the date off at a bus stop. Holly says that for Alan's next birthday the panel should club together and film Alan playing the tuba, and cut it him into the footage.

- Tangent: The most famous riddle is the Riddle of the Sphinx from Oedipus Rex: "What has four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening." The answer is a human, as early on in their life they walk on all fours, then they walk on two legs during the prime of their life, and then in old age they walk with the support of a walking stick. Richard Osman however suggest the alternative answer: "a poorly organised darts match." According to the story, the Sphinx would strangle and eat anybody who could not answer the riddle.

- Tangent: Maisie comments that many riddles have more than one answer. She gives the example: "I'm tall when young and I'm short when I'm old. What am I?" The answer is a candle, but Maisie claims it could be her Auntie Sue.

- The people doing the best stand-up 500 years ago were German priests. Germany was chaotic at the time due to various wars between the various Protestant and Catholic states. However, at the time there was a thing called "Risus paschalis", aka the Easter laugh. The idea was to add jokes into Easter sermons. It reflected the idea that the resurrection was a practical joke played on the devil. Among the jokes included a preacher eating pancakes while doing cuckoo impressions; another preacher who laid in cow dung and pretended to give birth to a calf while hissing like a goose; and a priest getting a layman to dress in a hood and convinced the layman he was a priest. There were also lots of lewd jokes about nuns and bad language. Many serious-minded churchmen at the time disapproved of this, with Erasmus denouncing them says they are: "So full of obscenities that a decent man could not tell them at a dinner party without shame." The practice was eventually banned. (Forfeit: David Mitchell; Ken Dodd)

- Tangent: Sandi once sat next to [pKen Dodd] at a really glorious dinner. They were together for about four hours and he did not stop telling jokes. He had just done a show and he just carried on telling gags. She says it was one of the best evenings of her live. Maisie saw Dodd perform two months before his death and the show finished three hours later than advertised, at about 1am. Maisie asks Sandi if she found Dodd endearing or irritating. Sandi says he was terribly endearing, partly because the other person she was sitting next to was Julian Fellows.

- Tangent: Alan asks what was Christ's view about obscenities. The Elves give Sandi a quote from Matthew 5:34: "But I tell you not to swear at all."

- XL Tangent: Peculiar Anglican / Church of England priests include Rev. Robert Hawker, a Cornishman who liked to moonlight as a mermaid. For several months he dressed in nothing except a waterproof cloth for a tail and a seaweed wig and sat every evening on a rock in Bude Harbour singing songs. One local farmer was so irritated by this he threatened Hawker with a shotgun, so Hawker finished with a rousing rendition of "God Save The King" and swam home. At his church, his congregation mostly consisted of his ten cats, and when he saw one of them catching a mouse on a Sunday he excommunicated the cat. Another priest, Rev. Edward Drax Free, rector at Sutton in Bedfordshire, impregnated a succession of housemaids, was constantly drunk, stole the lead off his own church roof, and kept the church locked because he didn't want anybody to try and attend a service. In 1830, a party was sent by the local bishop to remove him and they found he had barricaded himself into the rectory, together with his favourite serving girl and two pistols. They tried to lay siege on him, and the vicar held out for two weeks until his claret ran out. The vicar died penniless in 1843 when he was run over by a varnish maker's cart.

- The thing that is improved by extra rhubarb is plays and films. "Rhubarb" is actors' jargon for the chat that extras do in the background. It is mainly done to show people's mouths moving. Extras are not highly paid, but if you have a large crowd then it is expensive to make, so in order to save costs many film makers instead use blow-up dolls. These were used in the films Seabiscuit and The King's Speech.

- Tangent: After WWII, when Japanese prisoner of war films were shot in the UK, anyone who looked remotely Asian was cast as extras. As these extras came from all sorts of countries and most, often none of them, spoke Japanese, they got the extras to say; "I tie your shoe, you tie my shoe." Alan knew a comic from Dublin who taught him to do a Northern Irish accent, which is to say: "Bor defore de war." Holly says that if you want to say: "Spice Girls", in Glaswegian is to say: "Space ghetto", in an American accent.

- Short people will save the world by consuming less. "Reventropy" is the theory that humans should be shorter. Thomas Samaras who a book in 1994 called The Truth About Your Height, in which he argued that people were getting taller because they ate more protein, which in turn lead to a greater consumption of everything, meaning more land was needed for farming, and more waste and pollution was being produced. Samaras claimed that in order to control resources, you need to control the size of human beings. Being shorter slows down ageing and allows for longer life-spans.

- XL Tangent: People got shorter when people started to farm. People were taller when they were hunter-gatherers, and when people started to civilise, farm and form cities, the population expanded but the level of nutrition went down and thus people became shorter. However, nutrition has improved, people have got taller again.

- Tangent: Maisie is 5'11" and her boyfriend is six foot. She admits that him being taller is part of the reason she went with him.

- Tangent: Another person who campaigned against something the rest of us take for granted was Roger Babson, an American stock market guru who was previously mentioned in Series Q. He was the man who believed so strongly that fresh air was good for you that he made his secretaries work outside on typewriters, but because their hands were cold he made a series of tiny hammers so the secretaries could type while wearing mittens. Another strange thing about Babson was that he campaigned against gravity. His sister and later his grandson died from drowning, and he blamed this on gravity. He thus invested a large amount of his fortune fighting against the evil "Old Man Gravity", arguing it killed millions of people every year. He paid three investigators to sit permanently in the US Patent Office, scanning incoming applications for anti-gravity inventions that could be used to insulate people from gravity. Babson hoped that one day he could eliminate aeroplane accidents.

- XL Tangent: Babson created the Gravity Research Foundation, which gives out university grants for anti-gravity research. However, as most people couldn't think of any such ideas, the money didn't get used. Tufts University used the grant to set up their Institute of Cosmology, and acknowledge this grant every year in a ceremony in which the doctorate graduates have an apple dropped on their head in front of a monument to Babson, the apple referencing Isaac Newton. Babson more positive contributions include setting up the very first women's business school in the USA.

- XL Tangent: Other odd US campaigns include SINA, the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals. Founded in 1959 with the slogan: "A nude horse is a rude horse", it campaigned for clothing of any animal that stands higher than four inches or is longer than six inches. The campaign ran for four years, until Time Magazine discovered it was a hoax from a comedian called Alan Abel. David says that the penises of horses and dogs are very prominent in society and that you see them more than the penises of humans.

- A robot can work out how to tick a box marked: "I'm not a robot". What counts is how you have behaved before you ticked the box. Most of the details are secret for obvious reasons, but broadly speaking once you tick the box it prompts the website to check your browsing history. Ticking the box even allows the site to analyse how you moved your mouse across the screen. If the site is unsure, that is when you are directed to click on pictures to show you are not a robot. This might happen if you regularly clear your browsing history or browse in incognito mode.

- Tangent: The Elves quoted a letters page from Viz: "Surely robots can figure out how to tick a box on a website saying, 'I'm not a robot.' I've seen Terminator 2, and that one could fly a fucking helicopter."

- XL Tangent: These checks are an example of CAPTCHA, which stands for: "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart". These can be useful. For example, distorted letter CAPTCHA codes help to digitise old books. If you have an old or torn piece of paper and you are not entirely sure what the word is, the CAPTCHA will give you two words to solve, one after the other. One test establishes whether you are human, and the other looks for your opinion on what the word is. Thus, if 1,000 people say identify something as a particular word, the chances are that they are right.

- The thing you can say about Mr. Irrelevant, 1991, was that he was Wanke. Larry Wanke was Mr. Irrelevant in that year, which is the title given to the last pick of the annual draft of the NFL. The draft is when professional teams pick new players from that year's college leavers. The last-placed team from the previous year gets the first choice, in order to even out the prospects for all the teams. The honour is dubious, but they do get a prize. They are flown out for "Irrelevant Week" in California.

- Tangent: Other last-place honours include the Lanterne Rouge, given out since 1920 to the person who comes last in the Tour de France. Whoever gets it ends up with lots of publicity, so people want to be the Lanterne Rouge, if they know they are not going to win. People even hide in barns to make sure they come last. Elsewhere, a slated anchovy is given to the loser of the Siena Palio horse race, and a wooden spoon used to be given at Cambridge if you got the worst honours degree in the maths Tripos. The last wooden spoon award was given to Cuthbert Lempriere Holthouse, who later became an Anglican vicar. He was also part of Cambridge's rowing team and blamed coming last on his rowing, so they made his spoon out of a rowing oar.

General Ignorance

- The panel are shown the entire question on the screen, but the text is travelling at 1,500 words per minute. They are asked to pick out any part of the question, and are then asked what you would call someone who can read at that speed. While speed reading was something that used to be thought that you could be taught, today we know that while you could read that quickly you fail to take in all the detail. The idea has since been debunked. One proponent, Utah educator Evelyn Wood, made a fortune from reading dynamic workshops. She claimed you could increase the speed of reading three times, possibly even ten times. She had hundreds of outlets across the USA in the 1950s and 1960s. This was partly because John F. Kennedy has a reputation for being able to read 1,200 words per minute. This idea was endorsed by both Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. One technique involves reading down the middle of the page, and another is to eliminate sub-vocalisations in your head (i.e. don't read aloud). The words that were on the screen were everything Sandi just told the panel.

- The person who made the most expensive and best-sounding violins ever was Bartolomeo Guarneri. He was the grandson of an apprentice to Stradivarious. In 2010, one of Guarneri's violins sold for over $18million. This violin is on loan to violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, and a recording of her performing on it is played. (Forfeit: Stradivarius)

- Tangent: A test was done to see if people wanted liked antique or modern violins more. 21 professional violinists played in a dimly lit room wearing goggles, and only 38% (8 out of 21) preferred the antique violins.

- Tangent: In 2016, a violin made from a cigar box belonging to Winston Churchill sold for £6,500. The violin had no strings.

- XL: The first name of the famous English writer who coined the phrase, "What the Dickens" was William. It appears in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, when Mrs Page refers to Falstaff. She is on the cusp of stuffing him in a laundry basket and Ford says: "Where had you this pretty weathercock?" Page replies: "I cannot tell what the Dickens his name is." "Dickens" is a diminutive of Dick, a euphemism for the devil. There was a tradition in medieval plays that if you spoke the devil's name then he would appear, hence the expression: "Speak of the devil".

- XL Tangent: The question is illustrated with a photo of David as Shakespeare in the stage version of Upstart Crow, which had its run postponed due to the virus.

- XL Tangent: "The Merry Wives of Windsor" contains the first appearances of the phrases "hot-blooded" and "the world is my oyster".


- Holly Walsh: 1 point
- David Mitchell: -3 points
- Alan Davies: -6 points
- Maisie Adam: -7 points

Broadcast details

Thursday 2nd July 2020
30 minutes


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Saturday 10th October 2020 9:00pm
45 minute version
Tuesday 13th April 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Wednesday 14th April 2021 2:25am
50 minute version
Friday 20th August 2021 10:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 9th November 2021 6:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 8th March 2022 9:00pm
60 minute version

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
David Mitchell Guest
Holly Walsh Guest
Maisie Adam Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
Mat Coward Question Writer
Production team
Diccon Ramsay Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer
Justin Pollard Associate Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Nick Collier Lighting Designer
Howard Goodall Composer
Pritesh Ladva Graphics
Will Bowen Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Researcher
Ed Brooke-Hitching Researcher
Mandy Fenton Researcher
Mike Turner Researcher
Jack Chambers Researcher
Emily Jupitus Researcher
James Rawson Researcher
Ethan Ruparelia Researcher
Sarah Clay Commissioning Editor


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Featuring: Sandi Toksvig & Alan Davies.

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