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Edinburgh Fringe 2015 Review: John Lloyd: Emperor of the Prawns

The creator of QI steps up for stand-up, and reveals a huge amount of his knowledge to great effect. Liam Mullally reviews

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John Lloyd Press Image

Venue: Assembly Checkpoint

John Lloyd's performance pulls together both the interesting and hilarious. This is no surprise coming from the man who has worked on the likes of Not the Nine O'clock News, Spitting Image and Blackadder, as well as creating QI, whose ethos that 'anything is interesting if looked at hard enough' is woven through the set. Lloyd casually drops brilliant facts as he proceeds, some of which include: when threatened a limpet will flee at two inches an hour; biologists cannot tell the difference between a live and a dead hamster; gorillas and potatoes both have 48 chromosomes, humans have only 46. At all times Lloyd's knowledge is shown to be brilliant and incessant, seeking out the most interesting peculiarities of life.

A good portion of the show takes the form of a kind of eulogy to his father and to Douglas Adams, his friend and author of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, both of whom died in 2001. In a moment of brilliant humour and tragedy he recalls a friend shortly before Adams' unexpected death hearing from Adams himself that the writer had discovered the true answer to life, the universe and everything (beyond just 42). To which the friend had cut in, 'brilliant, and how's Jane?' in order to avoid a lengthy conversation. As a result, whatever Adams had discovered is lost to time. Lloyd also describes a similar moment between himself and his father shortly before his death. After a time building up the courage to talk to his father who had been a hero in the navy, Lloyd asked whether he had ever been scared, to which his father had replied: 'No. Now how are your balls, ok? [Lloyd then mumbles points and pretends to walk off]'. With expert use of bathos he draws in an earlier anecdote about his father's attempt to talk to him about sex and paints a brilliant caricature of an embarrassed, slightly distant father, while also capturing the tragedy of his death.

Oddly, while Lloyds meandering discussion of facts was at all times entertaining, it was the more constructed elements which seemed to fall slightly short. A rather long impression of a tory peer ended: 'that's not a painting of Bill Bailey, that's my wife!' The build-up for the joke did not pay off, ultimately ending in a cliched response. Later, after pretending to return to the stage in a gorilla suit (it was obvious that it was not Lloyd on stage), Lloyd predictably chased the imposter away. While a slightly more convincing performance may have sold the skit better, I suspect it would still have felt lacking against the rest of the set, which was refreshing in its unique approach to both entertaining and informing in the way that the two elements complemented each other. At times, Lloyd's comic brilliance feels slightly misplaced as a performer when compared with his writing performances of the past, or even his more casual (and hence less performative) appearances, such as those on the QI podcast, No Such Thing as a Fish.

Despite these occasional lapses, Lloyd was almost always exceptional in his ability to marry the bizarre and the fascinating, to bring out humour in the factual. He dismisses the assumption that knowledge and entertainment must come separately, and proves just how well they can complement each other.


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