Yes, tickets for the live version of perennial TV quiz favourite QI were hideously expensive. But I was more than happy to see the show in Melbourne, and not just because Stephen Fry and Alan Davies tripped down under to do it. Here are five other reasons.
The show wasn't simply an extended version of the TV format. Even before it began, trivia factoids were displayed on the screen, and random items of music with a vague connection to intelligence ("Work It Out", the theme from Pinky & The Brain) were played. Fry then took to the stage for an extended monologue discussing his previous experience of Australia, which took up nearly half the show. In its own way, this replicates the usual filming experience, where you'll invariably have a warm-up person firing up the audience before recording begins. The difference is that Fry himself is doing it.
The chance to see some Aussie legends
Fry is a geek legend, and I happily wrote up some of his comments when he visited the Sydney Opera House last year. If anything, this live appearance delivered even more bon mots, reflecting that Fry is funnier when interacting with others than when delivering a monologue (as skilled as he is at the latter).
The odd Australian has appeared on QI for TV (Barry Humphries immediately springs to mind), but this was a proper smorgasbord. Each QI performance in Australia has featured a different set of performers (mostly comedians), which is a clever trick: the QI team can use the same basic script for every show but get different reactions each time.
On Saturday night in Melbourne, we got Colin Lane, Denise Scott and Andrew Denton. Lane seemed to relish being more adult than his recent roles on TV allow, Scott is always hysterical, and Denton's appearance served as a reminder of just how funny (and how quick-witted he is). We haven't really seen him in full comedic mode since his eponymous show left Seven, since Enough Rope emphasised his empathetic side. It was a treat, and a clear challenge for Fry to maintain control once Denton took off on his various flights of fancy.
Things got a lot smuttier than on TV
On stage, you can have QI banter that's much raunchier than would ever be allowed on TV. I'm not going to repeat most of it here -- you don't need to know about triple vaginas on kangaroos and the entire buffet of oral love techniques, and the gags won't sound as good out of context -- but it makes for a more amusing experience, and one you know you wouldn't get outside the stage environment.
Plenty of apologies for the ticket prices
Yes, this was an expensive night out: prices ranged from $99 to $199, and I was in the $149 area. At least everyone on stage knew it. Fry apologised early on after noting that during his first trip to Australia 30 years ago to appear in a comedy revue had top ticket prices of $11: "I'm sorry about that." Colin Lane also argued as soon as he hit the stage that Alan Davies should come on immediately: "They paid 200 bucks for him!"
But let's face it, the prices didn't cripple enthusiasm for the event: every single seat was sold.
Qantas got slagged off
The show was heading to Brisbane after this performance, but since it happened just hours after Qantas chucked a hissy by grounding all its planes, it wasn't clear how Fry and Davies were going to get there. Having been impacted by that myself, I welcomed every sarcastic barb. As Fry put it: "Welcome to our very last performance in Melbourne, or possibly not depending on what Mr Joyce does with Qantas."
Some good technology discussion
Fry admitted that some of the questions used for the stage show came from episodes broadcast in the UK but not Australia, but that this strategy hadn't made allowance for enthusiasts grabbing them illegally via torrents. He also noted that while Wikipedia was a useful resource for researching the show, it was never treated as a key source. "It's not just about going to Wikipedia or Googling something; it's about double-checking and triple-checking."
One of the questions asked what the world's most popular piece of music was, and the answer turned out to be not Khe Sanh, as Denise Scott suggested, but the default Nokia ring tone. Yes, that one. After Alan Davies demonstrated it -- he'd grabbed a $29 cheapie for use while in Australia -- Stephen Fry commented: "That's so sweet, you still have a Nokia." He then added to the night's smut factor by describing the phone as "insertably small".
So all in all, a fun night for everyone. If you've been to one of the other Aussie QI shows, share your experience in the comments.