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John Lloyd – Liff of QI review

Underbelly, Bristo Square

By Ben Williams

Stephen Fry, Mel Smith, Rowan Atkinson… It’s not often that a comic making his Fringe stand-up debut name-drops so many members of British comedy royalty. But then most festival newcomers don’t have decades of experience producing some of the most-loved British comedies on TV and radio.

Of course, Lloyd sits firmly in the ‘comedy elite’ camp too, as the legendary producer and/or writer behind ‘Blackadder’, ‘QI’, ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ and so many other national treasures. This is his first time performing in Edinburgh since 1976, when he was part of a revue show with Douglas Adams and ‘Jonathan Creek’ writer David Renwick. A lot has changed in those 30-odd years, and he’s certainly built up a wealth of stories for his stand-up debut.

We say ‘stand-up’, Lloyd’s slightly wooden style is more like an after-dinner speaker, regaling his tales from behind a lectern. But what enthralling, breezy tales they are. Every behind-the-scenes nugget – from Harry Enfield treading on a stuffed armadillo, to Stephen Fry’s off-the-cuff script writing skills – is told with a knowing charm. Most fascinating of all are the complaints letters received about ‘Spitting Image’ and ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’, and the BBC honchos’ unflinching reactions to them. You can’t image a post-Sachsgate Director General being quite so lenient…

At 61, Lloyd is increasingly awestruck by the world. He mixes his stories with bewildering ‘QI’-esque facts and bon mots from ‘The Meaning of Liff’, the alternative dictionary he co-wrote with Douglas Adams in 1981. (Naturally, a follow-up, ‘Afterliff’, has just been published, and is available now from most good bookshops. Coincidence?)

At the end of the show, when he touches on the big questions – ‘Why are we here? And what do we do while we are here?’ – you feel he could spiral off into another hour of philosophical thoughts. Let’s hope that’s next year’s show (plus some more ‘Blackadder’ anecdotes, please), as we’d love to spend another hour the company of this master raconteur.

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