The team behind No Such Thing As a Fish on creating Britain’s best trivial chase
Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci made marzipan sculptures and that he was upset when people ate them? That the first photos taken on the moon were sent by fax? Or that an elephant’s trunk can drop five pints in less than a second and inhale air at 330 miles an hour?
If you did, you’ve probably listened to No Such Thing as a Fish, a podcast from IQ researchers (or “elves”) that has been downloaded over 350 million times since its launch in 2014 and is coming to the London Palladium for a live recording tomorrow night.
“People think QI is just a light entertainment show on BBC Two,” says Andrew Hunter Murray, elf and podcaster of QI. But the QI team also runs a slew of “weird spinoffs” – various books, this podcast, a Radio 2 show with Zoe Ball – which are, deadly Murray, all “designed for the complete improvement of humanity on a total level “through the dissemination of fanciful facts.
Co-host James Harkin – a former accountant who joined the team after being kicked out of an IQ fan forum – has lower ambitions. For him, the ideal fact is “something that says little about the world but is just fun enough”. For example, after learning that “Nadine” is a potato variety, Harkin did some research and found that everyone in Girls Aloud shares her name with a species of potato except Cheryl. .
Harkin and Murray are half of the “four-headed monster” hosting the podcast, alongside Anna Ptasynski and Dan Schreiber. Talking to them on Zoom is a bit like listening to an episode of the show. Whenever an elf mentions a good fact, another will instantly meddle with a related nugget, prompting yet another in return. It’s like an elite tennis rally, if Federer and Nadal were obsessed with politeness. After Murray serves the aforementioned elephant treat, Ptasynski says, “Elephants have a specific call to warn against bees.”
When Schreiber tells me that Goodfellas star Joe Pesci was in the same band as Jimi Hendrix (but not at the same time; it was a band called Joey Dee and the Starliters), Harkin mentions another unlikely pair of comrades. “In the 1990s, there was a band called Whizzy, and it had two frontmen,” he says. “One was Peter Dinklage, who went on to star in Game of Thrones, and the other was a guy called F Bowman Hastie III, who went on to write a biography of the world’s most famous paint dog. careers ! “
“We all have specific niche interests,” says Murray. “Anna is an anthropologist at heart; she loves to discover the different customs around the world. James is a scientist and specializes in sorting out unbelievably large amounts of information to get a brilliant fact. Dan loves the crypto world [cryptozoology], and will tell us about yetis or time travel. And I especially like WWII and the animals in parachutes. So, when I discovered a fact about the parachuting of dogs during the Normandy landings, it was my best day on IQ. The very first British fighters ashore on D-Day were German Shepherds.
No Such Thing was one of the first waves of podcasting success, but like many, it found a host of new fans during the lockdown.
In March, the quartet hosted an 8-hour show for Comic Relief, with guests from around the world – including Michael Palin, Richard Curtis and Carey Mulligan. “I was so zoned,” Harkin says. “People keep saying ‘I watched what you did with Eddie Izzard, she was amazing’… and I don’t remember any of that.”
This grueling effort raised around £ 175,000 for charity: maybe “the complete improvement of humanity” by anecdotes isn’t such a silly idea after all.
No Such Thing as a Fish is at the London Palladium tomorrow and on tour through January 24. Details: nosuchthingasafish.com