Updated: May 18
You either know me or you really know me, and if you fall into the latter camp, you’ll already know that I love three things: British humour, a stiff drink, and a good pub quiz. There’s nothing quite better than the weekly ritual of meeting up with your mates to tie one on and best a team of Boomers that thought they had it in the bag. (Yeah, you know the feeling.) Most often, trivia night is the event by which I set my weekly clock, and the battery I use to recharge for the week ahead. My main incentive for pub quiz patronage (besides the companionship and the beer) is the chance to put all that random, seemingly useless knowledge to use week after week. It feels good to get out and stretch the ol’ sea legs and flex some savoir faire, and it feels even better when you’re able to unearth some long-forgotten smarts to dominate in an otherwise foreign category (for me, it’s sports or geography). And even when my team doesn’t win (which happens more often than not), I’m still content knowing that I held my critical thinking skills to the whetstone whilst wetting my whistle. But to whom do I owe this pub quiz pleasure?
Legend has it that pub quizzes originated in the 70’s in the south of England thanks to a company called Burns and Porter. The idea was to get people into the pub on lesser frequented nights of the week, and Sharon Burns and Tom Porter had just the ticket. In 1976, their first year in operation, the pair managed 32 different pub quiz teams that participated in three different leagues. Over time, their management extended to over 10,000 different teams participating in any given league once a week. In a competition sponsored by British Telecom PLC, their company was awarded the most efficient business in southern England in 1986, and by 1988 they were sold to Prism Leisure Corporation PLC. But by that point, pub quizzes were here to stay. While a long-beloved mainstay in Brit culture, pub quizzes migrated over to the U.S. in the past two decades, and have now staked their claim in American bar culture as well. While it can be argued that there are anywhere between six and eight surefire signs of an intelligent civilization, it goes without saying that a good pub quiz has finally cracked that list (or maybe it’s a surefire sign of gentrification?)...
Regardless, pub quizzes have found their way into our hearts, homes, and multiple outlets of televised media. Whether at home on the couch or at the bar on a stool, documented general trivia has been uniting family and friends for over half a century. America’s very own Jeopardy! premiered in 1964, the Canadian board game Trivial Pursuit was published in 1981, and the UK’s Countdown premiered in 1982. These introductions, among countless others, have only bolstered the human desire to compete against anyone and everyone to show off just what we know. But with that desire to showcase knowledge came its sister desire: mastery of wit. Because with great knowledge comes a great dad joke. Thus, the comedic quiz show was born. Now, I’m not saying that Jimmy Carr birthed the original concept for humorous televised quizzes, but I am saying that he’s damn near perfected it.
Jimmy Carr is a British comedian you may or may not be familiar with, but I would love to better introduce you. Born in 1972 in Isleworth, London, England to Irish parents, Jimmy excelled throughout his school career and was on the fast-track to never need to touch silly, old comedy. But in 2000 (at 28 years of age), he left his marketing position at Shell, started doing stand-up, and never looked back. This took place shortly after he had lost his Catholic faith two years prior, so, basically, he just had a lot going on, okay? But stand-up suited him, and it wasn’t long before he was getting television gigs presenting and co-presenting various gameshows. Between 2002 and 2004 he had already been the face of three different programs: E4’s Your Face or Mine?, Channel 4’s Distraction, and BBC One’s Have I Got News for You (as a co-presenter). But the real reason I brought you here today is to tout the wonders and wisdom of Channel 4’s The Big Fat Quiz.
I mentioned a bit earlier that I’m a Big Fat Fan of British humour. My mum raised me on Are You Being Served? and Monty Python, and I’m not ashamed to say my sexuality as a young girl was partially awakened by Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. As I aged, my appreciation for the comedy across the pond grew with the likes of Spaced, Coupling, Look Around You, and countless others. But it wasn’t until around ‘05/’06 when that clip of Old Gregg from The Mighty Boosh started circulating that I began to really sink my claws in. Studying the works of Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt led me further and further down the rabbit hole until I landed at The Big Fat Quiz’s doorstep.
Launched in 2004, The Big Fat Quiz has taken on many forms. Most frequently it is The Big Fat Quiz of the Year filmed at the end of the year, commemorating the events of the past 12 months in quiz format. Hosted by Jimmy, he quizzes three teams of two celebrities each about all manners of news ranging from viral videos to political statements. In the premier episode, the three teams consisted of Simon Pegg and Liza Tarbuck, David Walliams and Rob Brydon, and June Sarpong and Jonathan Ross. They answered questions posed by Jimmy, as well as pre-recorded questions from the likes of Bono (among others), and they even had to identify news stories that were adorably reenacted by schoolchildren who attend Mitchell Brook Primary School. There have been a few additional categories added to the quiz throughout the years, but for the most part, the quiz’s format has remained the same. Every year, the teams answer in varying levels of hilarity, some opting for quiz victory while others choose to answer ridiculously, but everyone has a good time and it’s a right laugh.
Since its inception, The Big Fat Quiz has filmed 31 different episodes. The variations include The Big Fat Quiz of: the 80s, the 90s, the 00s, Everything, and the Decade along with two anniversary specials for when Channel 4 turned 25 and when The Big Fat Quiz celebrated its Big Fat 10th birthday. Some of my favorite guests to have graced the Big Fat stage are the aforementioned Noel Fielding and Rob Brydon, Richard Ayoade, Lily Allen, Alan Carr, and David Mitchell, but the list goes on and on. The various teams occasionally choose quiz team names, and when you witness Noel Fielding and Russell Brand team up as “The Goth Detectives,” you’ll wish you had been there. But what’ll keep you coming back for more, year after year, is Jimmy Carr himself and his infectious laughter.
Now, back in my day, I had to download most of The Big Fat Quiz episodes through LimeWire and run the risk of giving my laptop an STD, but luckily most of the episodes can now be found on YouTube. Watching The Big Fat Quiz at the end of the year is like receiving a Christmas gift directly from Jimmy himself, so imagine my sheer joy when I discovered another quiz a few weeks ago: The Little Tiny Quiz of the Lockdown. Grab your pencils and round up your household, yes, Jimmy Carr has written five weeks of questions for your quarantined pleasure. He’s got a little bit of quiz for everyone, and while it is geared towards a British audience (write what you know and all that), partaking in the Little Tiny Quiz each day has helped guide my routine closer to a sense of normalcy during this period of isolation. Obviously, the historical landmark that is the COVID-19 lockdown will be somberly remembered, but at the very least it helped deepen my appreciation for one Jimmy Carr.
And not only has quizzing with Jimmy each day been an absolute treat, but it’s led me even further past The Big Fat Quiz’s doorstep in that long-forgotten rabbit hole. Upon discovering The Tiny Little Quiz of the Lockdown, I’ve stepped into a plethora of Jimmy Carr’s backlog, including his 2018 Netflix show, The Fix. The premise of the ten-episode run of The Fix is to tackle a global issue each episode, and to come up with two competing solutions that are then voted on by the studio audience. Each episode features four comedians separated into two teams of two (always led by team leaders D.L. Hughley and Katherine Ryan), and the varying issues they attempt to fix include social media, gentrification, and global warming. Believe you me when I tell you this show is a hoot and a half. And what better time to watch a show about a global fix than during a global pandemic when we need one?
Ultimately, the fact of the matter is this: I know that I know nothing (I just came up with that, you can have that). Participating in pub quizzes, public debate, and general discourse is all good and well but only when you’re open to learning. Thanks to Jimmy, I’ve learned A LOT. The most valuable lesson in watching Jimmy’s various programming is realizing that you learn the most when you stop taking yourself so seriously. It’s a prevalent problem in our society that we’re groomed to not admit ignorance. We’re encouraged to know it all, and when we don’t have the answer, we’re made to feel small. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to constantly continue your personal education, but it’s not the end of the world to say, “I don’t know.” Laughter breaks down that fear of not knowing and reminds you that we’re all on the same team, working together towards an answer.
To quote another popular panel comedy, the rules are “made up and the points don’t matter.” Comedians like Jimmy Carr help to break down those self-imposed rules. It’s so important to take care of yourself, and I hope you manage to do so as often as you can...but if you need a little fix, I think I’ve got something for ya. And don’t worry, sooner than we realize, I’ll be seeing you again down at the pub.
I hope you bring your chalkboard, because you’re about to be schooled.
Bernadette graduated from DePauw University in 2011 with a Film Studies degree she’s not currently using. She constantly consumes television, film, and all things pop culture and will never be full. She doesn’t tweet much, but give her a follow @BeaGorman and see if that changes.