Humourology Podcast

Part of the Humourology series

Season 3, Episode 53

John Lloyd CBE – Producing the Laughs – Part One

by | Feb 21, 2022

Award-Winning legendary producer John Lloyd CBE joins The Humourology Podcast to discuss his career of crafting comedy. When it comes to producing and presenting comedic content, John Lloyd is unmatched. From his work on Blackadder to his role as the head honcho on QI, John Lloyd knows how to get audiences interested and entertained. Join us as he pulls from a career of creativity to discuss how captivating comedy is born from cheerfulness.

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John Lloyd PIC

Kicking off Season Three in style, with the first of a two part podcast, Paul Boross is joined by Legendary multi–BAFTA Award winning producer John Lloyd CBE. The comedic, creative, and curious talent is best known for his work on Blackadder, QI, Spitting Image, and as a presenter for BBC Radio 4’s The Museum of Curiosity. Lloyd has crafted a career that puts cheerfulness, kindness and creativity at the centre. 

“In any field; business, entertainment, or in general, Humour is a terrifically good tool for solving all sorts of problems.”

Join us this week as we learn what it takes to produce a programme packed with punchlines Learn how cheerfulness and kindness go hand in hand with business and creativity.

Find out more about what’s happening in the world of QI by visiting the website: https://qi.com

 

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Sometimes we prefer to read rather than listen, so here is a full transcript of the podcast for you to enjoy.
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John Lloyd:
In any field, in business, in any kind of entertainment in general conversation, humour is a terrifically good tool for solving all sorts of problems.
Paul Boross :
Welcome to the Humourology podcast with me, Paul Boross andmy glittering line up of guests from the world’s of business sport and entertainment who are going to share their wisdom and their use of humour with you. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business and your life. Humourology puts the fun into business fundamentals. Increases the value of your laughing stock. And puts a punch line back into your bottom line. Please remember to like subscribe and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts.
Paul Boross :
My guest on this edition of the Humourology podcast is the multi-award winning producer behind such humorous hits as Blackadder, QI Spitting Image, and Not The Nine O’clock News when he’s not acting as the creative force behind high quality comedy packed programmes. You can hear him as the presenter of BBC radio 4’s, The Museum of Curiosity. Throughout his career, he has earned a plethora of BAFTA’s for comedy plus a Grammy and an Emmy. In 2011, he was appointed Commander of the British Empire for his legendary work producing television and radio. He politely professes to be the Professor of Ignorance, but he sure knows plenty about producing a punchline and creating comedy gold. John Lloyd, welcome to the Humourology podcast.
John Lloyd:
Hello, Paul,
Paul Boross :
Lovely to see you. Thank you so much for doing this. I want start at the beginning, really the Jesuit say, give me a child of seven and I will give you the man what’s the seven year old John Lloyd humorous?
John Lloyd:
Well, I do remember my early childhood being extremely funny. I remember the whole family would be in hysterics quite often. My dad was Anglo Irish and we used to every year go to County Wexford and County Waterford and Tippperary and visit all the, mad ‘rellies’. And we would go to church -Church of Ireland – we’re ‘Prods’ in my cousin and my godmother’s pony and trap. And the horse would always fart as we were sitting there in our little Sunday best and the horse would fart. So we would be laughing when we went into the, church and the vicar was incredibly shortsighted and used to read the Bible like this, literally with his nose on the page. And we would just be hooting and, you know, gurgling all the way through. So I remember that my dad was funny and I was good at…I have always been good at voices, you know, so I was one of those kids who would, you know, get laughs by impersonating teachers and all that kind of thing.
John Lloyd:
So yeah, I think it starts, it starts young. It’s a bit like a curiosity, you know, that I’ve always been very curious because, because my dad was in the Navy, we were often on troop ships and on long, long car journeys in what we used to call a station waggon. And so I was often not at school. Didn’t really go to school properly until I was nine and a half. We always, you know, being pulled out of a school and then travelling for a while and finding another one. And my mum used to teach us in the car on board, these troop ships by giving us quizzes. Okay, so kids, you know give us three trees beginning with E you know, and so I think I’m hardwired for that. And actually it was a bit of a shock, you know, going to school, having to sit down, shut up and sit in rows and do what you’re told.
John Lloyd:
So I’ve always had a kind of anti authoritarian kinda streak, really. I don’t like to be told, I like to be told to get on with it really, which is the way I was trained at the BBC. A guy came into the writer room and said, you would you like to be a producer? And I said, not really, sir. They all seem very old to me and tweedy. What do they do? And he said, well, it is quite easy. Really. You just make stuff you like. What that I like? Yeah, yeah that’s, that’s the idea. Cause, if you don’t like it, how, how can you guarantee anyone else will? So that’s the way I was trained. And uh, I did, I made a hundred radio programmes in my first year. I really, I got completely… I was a very lazy school child and very slack student. And I found my vocation at 22 and just live by this thing and just make stuff that I like. And, and that’s what I’ve always done.
Paul Boross :
So it’s gut instinct a lot of the time, but humour is at the core of that. You, you kind of passed over and went from school straight into work but I’m interested because you were sent away to public school and you talk about a period of that being like a prison sentence, was humour important to the survival mechanism whilst you were there?
John Lloyd:
Yeah, I think so. Prep school was very tough, but you know, 10 year old boys are pretty tough, you know, a lot of rugby, a lot of being, you know, freezing cold, not much food, lots of fighting, and all that. But actually it was great, you know, little boys don’t mind a scrap, you know, you have a punch up with your best friend and then you’re friends again. And, you know, adventures in the woods and collecting fir cones and iron bars and, you know, playing war games and all that, that was, that was great actually, it was really, I remember us being really good, fun public school was difficult because it was the middle of the sixties and at Kings Canterbury, we were all dressed like little Neville Chamberlains, with wing collars and boaters.
John Lloyd:
And all we wanted to do was go and listen to rock music and the sort of, you know, the cafes and all that, and that wasn’t allowed. And then you got jeered at, by the townies and all that kind of stuff. And it was, it’s kind of ridiculous when you’re 15 being told to change into your pyjamas and being given six by your housemaster for something that you hadn’t actually even done. I found that very difficult that you weren’t treated, you were treated like an object. Really. My wife said you should tell Paul the story of when you did a, I’ve never seen Star Wars. Did you ever hear that programme?
Paul Boross :
Yes, I remember it
John Lloyd:
It’s really good fun. You undertake to do five things you’ve never done before with Marcus Brigstocke is the host
Paul Boross :
He’s brilliant Marcus.
John Lloyd:
He’s a lovely man, isn’t he? And anyway, you undertake to do five things you’ve never done. And I agreed to, watch, The Wire, which I’d never seen, read. The curious Instance of the Dog in the Nighttime, which I’d never read; milk a goat, which obviously I’d never done, do five minutes of standup, which I’d never done either. They were astonished to think that I’d never actually technically done standup – the most terrifying experience of my entire life – And the last thing was go back to school, which I had built up this idea that I’d hated school. It was 40 years to the year that I went back to the school and I suddenly realised I didn’t hate it at all. I hated some of it, but a lot of it was great and really entertaining and fun. I had great friends and put on plays and all that. That’s a funny thing in life, you know, that you get lifted, this weight of what you see as of your formative years, being awful was not true. And it really let lightness into my heart after 40 years of being resentful about it, it’s extraordinary. The stories we tell ourselves about who we are that aren’t actually true.
Paul Boross :
Well, that’s right, psychologically we, we reinvent our past, don’t we? In our heads… I’m interested when you talk about that you’ve suddenly learned that teaching could be another thing because both on QI and The Museum of Curiosity, there’s like an inherent feeling that you are with the best teacher you ever had because you make everything fascinating. And I think that’s by using enthusiasm and humour to bring it to life. Do you think humour helps people retain knowledge and that’s the way things should be taught
John Lloyd:
Who doesn’t like the teacher who was funny? You know, I mean, it’s, the humour is one of the great weapons in life and I would say the other one is interestingness. I mean, I passionately believe that, you know, QI, isn’t just a silly panel game and, and it’s sister programme Museum of Curiosity, but they, that interestingness is a panacea, it’s the solution to everything. Because if you are interested in someone, you can’t murder them, you know, it’s the way that the really bad things wars and, you know, genocide, those kind of things happen because the other side, the victims are demonised and treated as less than human. The minute you are interested in someone suddenly you find a bond. And it’s said to be the case that if somebody ever tries to mug you, the first thing to do is, not run away or stand up to them, just say, how’s your mum?
John Lloyd:
And it completely destabilises the guy. And he goes, uh, well, she’s fine. And, and then suddenly you are, you’re two human beings again. But aside from interestingness, I mean, definitely humour is in, in, in any field, in, in business, you know, in any kind of entertainment in, general conversation, humour is a terrifically good tool for solving all sorts of problems. I was just thinking this morning that there’s a, uh, an ethnic group called the Mbuti in the Congo or the Bambuti. And they used to be called the pygmies. We don’t call them that now, but they’re very short ethnically, and they don’t have any hierarchies at all. They have no Kings and presidents and rulers, and all disputes are solved by humour. They all sit down and, you know, supposing there’s an argument about, you know, who’s got the banana or whatever it is, or, you know, where’s the goat.
John Lloyd:
I don’t know how they live, but if there’s some sort of dispute, they sit on the ground and they solve it by humour. They get people to laugh and everything is better again. And similarly, you know, I do occasionally do public speaking and there is nothing like, you know, jokes, in any context, you know, in a conference or any sort of business proposition. And I was a commercials director for about 12 years in the days when British comedy advertising was the best in the world. In the late eighties and early nineties, there were not many of us, but the, the traction that we used to get because if you can put a proposition with humour, it goes in deep and people remember it, you know it’s a very, very effective, effective thing. I mean, that’s not why I do it.
John Lloyd:
I mean, I do it because I love to laugh and it’s great fun. And I love the fact that it cheers people up principally. That’s what I’ve got it down to. Is that, that that’s a good thing to do. I was kind of ashamed when I left Cambridge and my friends all went off to become bankers and doctors and, you know, serious things. And I was larking around making silly jokes on the radio. And I sort of, this is slightly embarrassing, it’s just a kind of hobby that I’m paid to do. But over the years, I’ve thought short of being a doctor or some kind of healer or carer, they’re not really a better way of spending your life then making people more cheerful than they were before they listened to, or watch the programme. It’s great. It’s a harmless thing. And, you know I was supposed to be a lawyer. That’s what I read at Cambridge, but I was very quickly aware I was gonna be a lousy lawyer. Apart from anything else, I couldn’t bear the idea of what if I lost a case I should have won. What if I won a case that I should have lost? I would’ve possibly ruined somebody’s life. Whereas if a joke doesn’t land well, you know, it’s not the end of the world, you know, it’s sadly embarrassing, but it’s not worse than that.
Paul Boross :
Well, I’m really, really intereste that you talked about bonding and I think that’s the, the quickest way that people bond is when, when you laugh together, it it’s the ultimate bond. And I think that, I mean, the whole Humourology project is predicated around the fact of that, it’s not just about laughing. It’s about good humour. It’s bringing, bringing niceness and kindness back into the world.
John Lloyd:
So true.
Paul Boross :
You talk a lot about, uh, that you learned that it was more important to be kind than important. Can you talk about that?
John Lloyd:
Yeah, well, you know, I had a kind of ridiculous first 15 years of my working life. When I was lucky enough to work with some extraordinary, talented people. And I worked very, very hard. I missed everybody’s weddings and, you know, worked all the weekends and did five different jobs at once. And, and then I ran outta road when I was 42, ironically, and I woke up one morning, I couldn’t see the point of anything. And so I had to reset all the dials. It was very difficult. The first three years particularly were pretty miserable. And I couldn’t understand what had happened because it was ridiculous. BecauseI had everything, you know, I had kids, I had lovely flat and a car and, and just my room in those days had awards everywhere.
John Lloyd:
I won a lot of awards in advertising and in television and that’s how I defined myself, with things. I achieved these things and I just thought, is this all, I am a hundred pieces of cardboard in glass frames, you know, is that me? And I remember during that crisis, suddenly thinking cheerfulness, that’s a thing that would be a good thing to be rather than what I used to value was intelligence. You know, I like to win arguments or do well at quizzes or, you know, determination and that kind of suffer. No, no, just being cheerful. That’s a great thing to do. And then off that comes kind, you know, and, and gentleness, that kind of thing rather, and these were revelations to me, it had never occurred to me that cheerfulness was an actively good thing to do because I was used to be known as Mr. Grumpy, you know, Terry Tension I was sometimes known as cuz I was always like focused on, we’ve gotta get this right. We’ve gotta get the job done and now I think no it’s much more important to be cheerful and kind. That’s what makes the world tick along nicely.
Paul Boross :
Well, I think that’s really interesting. And from a psychological standpoint, I think that’s… there’s a saying in psychology, which is that if you want anybody to go into any state, you have to go into that state first. So actually you can change other people’s lives by being cheerful and kind, because that’s what they’ll do. And you talked about, you know, being Mr. Grumpy and everything, well guess what, actually then you are leading other people in into that way. And so I think it’s very important for leaders to understand something that you came to, that actually, if you are going to lead and you want an organisation to really flourish, kindness and cheerfulness are probably paramount
John Lloyd:
And respect, I think it was John Locke, the philosopher who said, he who would have his son respect him, must have a great deal of respect for his son. And we were pretty lousy parents at the beginning because we were both very, my wife was a very successful publisher and we thought, you know, the thing to do is tell people what to do and they do it. You know, the children don’t think like that. I don’t want to, I wanna bounce on the bed. No, no, you, you are not allowed to, well, I’m going to, well, no you, so, and now that we’ve, we run Quite Interesting Limited, our company, which makes QI and everything together. And I often say, I wish that I’d learned how to run a company properly before I was a parent, because the way the company is run is when they, when the people arrive, they’re told, you know, first of all, they’re all very keen to do the job because they’ve seen the programme.
John Lloyd:
It’s been their dream to be a QI Elf as we say, and I give them a little hours induction talk where I say the first thing is we, you want to know what you think. Like when I was told as a radio producer, this, you know, don’t try and guess what I find interesting. Do what you find interesting. We are interested in you. Always feel you can speak out about anything. We want to know what everybody thinks. And it’s sometimes quite difficult to get people to be brave, to stand up to the boss, you know, but that’s the way we work. And you know, the office is like a really cosy, it’s a bit like this room here, it’s got, you know, nice rugs and sofas and people encourage, they can lie on the sofa and read if that’s how they want to do their research.
John Lloyd:
So, it’s like being at home really. And it’s very… there is no hierarchy. It’s a very flat hierarchy. Everybody is respected. You’re told you are here because we think you’re brilliant. And we like you? So, just be yourself. And t is quite extraordinary how with that – I would call it love and encouragement – how people blossom. They become the people that we could all become, which, you know, they’re easy in their skin. They are modest. They’re hardworking. They’re very engaged in what they do. It’s really miraculous, you know, whereas as a parent, it’s all you think it’s all about control and it’s not everything about parenting. is a business of getting outta the way. The children are fine. Make sure they’ve got enough food and they don’t hurt themselves. And otherwise just encourage them. That’s all you have to do instead of getting angry and frightened and resentful and all the things people do and telling them what to do.
John Lloyd:
Children learn by example, that’s the only way they ever learn. And so the interesting thing about parenting, it is the parents who need to grow up and that if you’re any good at it, we’re are a pretty happy family these days. And it’s all about because the parents have finally tried to be grown up and treat children… I often say children are not stupider than you. They know less things and they’re shorter, but otherwise they’re in many ways, brighter, you know, children ask all the right question. They, and we, we beat that outta them at school, you know, because questioning what is true is, is not generally encouraged in schools and you know, people who do well in life often, don’t do very well at school because they say, well, why, why that’s a silly way of doing it.
John Lloyd:
I’d rather do this. No, no, you’re not allowed to do that. The great philosophy ideas are incredibly simple, but they’re often counterintuitive. Like that idea is in a family with children, the children are fine. The parents need to behave like adults finally. And you know, it’s like everybody shouts at their children or most people that I’ve ever met at some point. And the thing is, if you shout at your children, they will not get good at what you are shouting at them about. They will only become skilled at shouting. And that’s what happens. So you get caught in this sort of hamster wheel of all the things, and you catch yourself as a parent speaking like your dad, you know, how dare you speak to me like that, go to your room. What I did, I say that I even had my father’s voice for a moment.
Paul Boross :
People sometimes say to me when I’m lecturing at conferences – and I’m sure you’ve had this as well – Isn’t a lot of what you are saying just Common sense. And I always say, no, it’s uncommon sense. Yes. People only know it when you point it out to them. And I think what you are saying, I know you are, uh, fond of what Plato said. The early education should be a form of
John Lloyd:
a form a play
John Lloyd:
That’s why you be, you’ll be better able to discover the child’s natural bent. And if there was a QI school, which has always been the dream within the company to start a school is that’s what you would do the first two years you would just watch everybody and think, okay, she’s a mathematician, no doubt about that. He’s gonna be a drummer. And you know she’s very good at organising things. She’s probably gonna be some sort of manager or producer. And then what you would do is you would only examine the children on the subjects that they were passionate about. So, you would decide I’m a mathematician and that’s what I do. You would fast track them. They’d still have to go to history and geography and English, but that wouldn’t be tested.
John Lloyd:
It would just be fun. And what I think would happen is that because the mathematicians aren’t interested in history, they’re interested in numbers, you skew the history to people in history or mathematicians. You tell ’em stories. And after a while the historians start thinking that maths thing, I think I’d like to have a go at that. Rather than telling everybody, everybody must do 10 GCSC and everybody’s supposed to get an a in all of them. And that’s not the way life works. We all have preferences. You know, we’re better at some things than others. And why should people have to do subjects? I was terrible at maths, but I only got interested in maths in my forties when, because of this midlife crisis, I thought, okay, there’s something wrong here. Something badly wrong. I’ve got everything and I’m not happy. And I don’t know why. So I started reading philosophy for the first time and physics and I want to work how the world actually physically works. And what’s the best way of navigating it. You know, how do you live an optimal life?
Paul Boross :
I’m very interested because you were talking about children and how they learn best and everything and I wonder if this can be crossed over into company culture and creativity, because I think one of the biggest problems in cultures in big companies is they lose that ability to be creative. And I’m wondering if you think that attitude and humour has an impact on allowing people to, fulfil their creative potential? I suppose.
John Lloyd:
Well, because we are a company that essentially does comic things, you know, podcasting, theatre, television, radio books, you know, our job is to make people laugh as well as make them interested. So it’s not surprising that in, you know, there’s a company Zoom going on today and people will be laughing a lot, you know, because they’ll be talking about interesting, funny things and so forth. So that’s, that’s a good base, perhaps more difficult if you’re making electrical fitments or in more difficult…. But you know, here’s the thing, Paul, you know, because I mentioned my dad was in the Navy, so we travelled all my childhood. And the last thing I wanted to do with my gap, you was go travelling. I wanted to earn some money. So I got a job as a tea boy for a local Essex builder called Mac. And that’s what I did for a year.
John Lloyd:
And you know, eventually they used to let me drive the minivan and pick up the cement. And then you taught me how to do plastering and tiling and all that rub down doors. And it was the best job honestly I’ve ever had. It’s very satisfying that sort of craft work ’cause you look back at the end of the day at the roof you’ve just built or the wall you’ve painted and you think we did that. And then you go to the pub and the guys they were all much older than me. I was only 18 or something and they were so funny these guys, they were A, very good at their jobs. They were sort of, I guess you’d call them working class Torys probably, but they’re all very good people. They were all, nearly all of them were volunteer firemen in their spare time.
John Lloyd:
They were all extremely bright and funny. We laughed all the time, you know, and they course, they teased me rotten cause I was a long haired lefty, but we all became very good friends. And that’s one of the things I think makes me a reasonably good producer is I like my audience when I have to think those are the people, those working class, people who didn’t do well at school cause they weren’t taught properly. But the native intelligence. I often say, you watch an electrician and a plumber, you know, trying to rewire a house, the intelligence there, the problem solving gift is extraordinary. And I lost every argument I had with these guys over lunch. You know, we’d argue about politics and I lost all the time because these were very clever people. And that’s the thing why I’m Professor of Ignorance is everybody’s ignorant. But very few people are actually stupid unless you’re brain damaged. It’s the ignorance. That’s the problem.
Paul Boross :
Do you think that over time – and now we’re getting into political realms – my father, God rest his soul. He used to say it was a Hungarian refugee. He used to say, and we used to talk about a lot that we want to keep the public ignorant because it’s easier to control an ignorant public. Do you think that’s a basic problem with society is that they don’t want people to be educated because it’s easier to control them?
John Lloyd:
Well, I know, and I’m not going to name him, but a very senior figure in broadcasting is a friend of mine says the education system is, is exactly that because if people were properly educated, be furious about the way the country is run. It is. And why I’m so keen and passionate on education is that I think, I mean, you know, I think some executives think that QI like for professors. Professors are the last people who like QI because they go, you know, it’s not really the ninth century very much more the eighth century, I think you’ll find the Vikings really flourished and you said ninth century and that’s not right. You know, they, they will be fussy about it. The people who love QI are cab drivers and your brickies who struggled at school because nobody’s understood, they thought in a different way to the standard way.
John Lloyd:
And they just soak up information. I mean, I love black cab drivers particularly cause you know, probably that they’ve got a bit of their brain, because The Knowledge is so hard to do. They’ve got a bigger, I think it’s the hypothalamus or something like that in the back of their brain, that’s bigger than other people’s and they’re very, very bright guys and very determined people. It’s a high calling and it’s such a shame that we waste people’s natural abilities, particularly because we’re still teaching people as if we have an empire, you know, and you want to divide your cattle essentially into two kinds. The people who can process vast amounts of very dull information carefully and accurately so they can become Imperial civil servants or bankers or corporate lawyers. Those are the people who get all the straight A’s, and the other people who can mend things and who can drive trucks and push wheelbarrows around and who are not required to think other than just do that.
John Lloyd:
And it’s kind of crazy. What we really need is more guitarists and more novelists and more creative people, more comedians because that’s one of the things that Britain is very good at. We are very… for reasons we don’t really understand , a very creative country. After finance, our second biggest export is not tractors or, you know, manganese nodules, it is IP, you know, it’s movies, it’s actors, it’s books, it’s formats, music, you know, in Britain, Britain’s got about 1% of the world’s population, but we deliver something like 10% of the world’s music. I mean, that is astonishing, isn’t it?
Paul Boross :
Oh, it is astonishing. And, and talking of music, your son, Harry, has this act, this band called Waiting For Smith which is fantastic music. Can you tell me a little bit more because I know that you’ve, you’ve taken over the role of manager at well.
John Lloyd:
That’s right. I’m Brian Ego. Brian Ego’s the name. Lovely boys. Very talented. Did I mention the rider? It’s the M&M’s. No green ones. Alright? Cause if you put green ones in they’ll walk off. So, I kind of take that persona and quite carry it off at festivals sometimes just for fun. But Brian Ego’s the name. Lovely. Yeah, so Harry is well it all fits together. So Harry’s a classic thing of what I’m talking about. I have two daughters who are… all my kids are, are wonderful. My daughters are neat and tidy and diligent and they base, they’re happy to sit down and do the work properly and carefully. And they’re very, very bright and all that. Both got very good degrees and Harry’s like me, he can’t go to work if he doesn’t believe in it. You know, I couldn’t do maths and I just, just clocked off. But if I’m committed to something I give it 150% and Harry’s the same. So, when he discovered rugby, the first rugby match, he was in, he scored five tries and was the man of the match.
John Lloyd:
And nobody had spotted him before. And then he did that for ages. And then he discovered acting, you know, again, all these things are not, you’d think that they’re extracurricular, aren’t they? Those aren’t things, you have a career on, but of course you can be an international rugby player or a very successful actor, make a lot of money and give a lot of people pleasure. Why these things are considered not proper education is completely beyond me. So for example Haz, he’s extremely dyslexic, but he’s very bright. And so it was, he was nearly 17 before they sent him into an educational psychologist to find out why he was mucking around all the time and what it was… distraction. Because he didn’t wanna be forced to read, cause he’d make a mess of it. He would muck around and be sent out of the class.
John Lloyd:
So he, we were astonished when he got three A levels. They weren’t great grades. French he got a C in and he didn’t want to go to university. Not even slightly interested but he loved skiing. So he went off to Argentina and did his British qualifications one summer. And then for two years trained in Val d’isere and various places and really, really punishing high end top level skiing and became a French ski instructor in his late teens. Which is the proudest moment of my life. It’s what I always wanted to do. And had the red jacket, which he’s always wanted since he was a little boy and his C in French obviously wasn’t a lot of help, but after five months he came back after his first season speaking, more or less perfect French.
John Lloyd:
My wife was an Au pair, so she speaks very good French. We were astonished. How has he done that? So the next year he taught a lot of Russians cause he was working in Courchevel and he said to the ski school, I’d like to learn Russian because you know, I teach a lot of kids and it’s hopeless with a five year old, doesn’t speak any English and I’m left with them all day. So he took himself off to St. Petersburg. They recommended a school. He got a flat, andcame back 10 weeks later, speaking Russian. And now he speaks bits, get this of 18 languages. He speaks bits of Bulgarian and Japanese, Croatian. You know, all the obvious ones, Greek, Italian, Spanish, not to all the same level. His French is excellent. His Russian’s pretty good. But he gets by in most languages. He’s the kind of person that after two weeks, he’ll be able to have a conversation with a water ski instructor in their own language.
John Lloyd:
Now what’s happened there that a guy that smart, a natural linguist that nobody spotted that because he couldn’t read. And he used to, when he was trying to be an actor, he failed all the additions because in most schools they give you a piece to read and Harry wasn’t very good at reading. When he discovered a teacher who said, no don’t worry about reading Harry, just muck around. Pretend you’re that. And he was a natural actor. Anyway, so he did that for about five years and then one horrible experience, he broke his back in a horrible skiing accident and actually was technically dead for a few minutes on the operating table. It was really horrible. And so he started all over again and he’d always… he taught himself to play the piano as a teenager to muck around.
John Lloyd:
And so for a year he lay mainly in bed and a guy came round from the local village and taught him the guitar. And so we started and eventually came up with this name, Waiting For Smith. The first drummer that we found that we liked was called Smith – James Smith – and he was always late for every single gig and rehearsal. And we always used to say why are we just hanging around waiting for Smith. Oh, that’s a good, that’s a good title. James is now a rather successful record executive in New York. And he loves the idea that the band’s named after him. Anyway. So yeah, Waiting For Smith, Harry is again, I often say, you know, obviously I cannot forget the day. I first saw Rowan Atkinson. Who’s been a big part of my life. And I went to see the Oxford review at the Edinburgh festival that had originally had eight people in it.
John Lloyd:
And Rowan had decided that six of them weren’t funny. And it would basically just be him and Richard Curtis. And it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen in my life to that point. I just thought this guy’s – forget Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. And you know, this guy’s the funniest thing I’ve literally ever seen. And I feel like that about Harry’s music. It’s like, I’m not doing it out of pity. I want to say to the man from The Times I’m doing it out of greed because I think Harry’s gonna get really successful because his music – thank you for saying that. – I love it. You know, I can’t get it outta my head. And he’s basically working out of time because if he’d been working 1972, he would be famous by now because very few people can write melodies like that. And it’s not the prevailing wind, you know, Grime and Rap and all that sort of stuff that doesn’t particularly interest Harry is the thing that everybody seems to want. And it’s a very difficult process because I don’t, if you know this Paul, but every day, guess how many songs are uploaded to Spotify new songs? Oh, I
Paul Boross :
Hate to think it’s got to be in the thousands. Hasn’t it?
John Lloyd:
Yeah. 80,000 a day.
Paul Boross :
Oh my goodness
Paul Boross :
80,000 a day.
John Lloyd:
What’s the chances of getting noticed? It’s very small.
Paul Boross :
Well let’s, I think he’s got a great chance of getting noticed and just let’s have a quick listen to one of my absolute favourites, So Much Love,
Waiting For Smith *singing*:
I went down like the domino, I’ve seen things you don’t wanna know, and I’ve heard of people who never grow. Hide my pain. It is a gift I felt upon from the offering and I’m ready for death when it comes for me. So can’t you see so much love, so much love feel it in my arms and legs and toes. For you, this is so much love, so much love. So why won’t you let me through,
Paul Boross :
I just love that song, John. I can see a, so much love coming from you for your son, for Harry, for Waiting For Smith, but I can also see so much love coming from the public because that’s a great, great song.
John Lloyd:
Yeah, it’s very, it’s very catchy and it’s very warm and you know, Harry’s mission is he doesn’t want to be famous because he wants to be rich and admired. He wants to… it’s because he wants to spread joy. That is his stated ambition. He wants to like, I am very happy that I cheer people up when I do. And Harry wants to do that in the same way. He wants both to make people tap their feet and, and enjoy the music. But also to understand that he also has pain has had difficulties in his life and we all do. And that’s, that’s what great pop songs are. Aren’t they they’re wonderfully uplifting tunes about something very sad and serious. It’s a strange paradox that.
Paul Boross :
It’s a wonderfully evocative as well. What makes you laugh, John?
John Lloyd:
Well, it’s, that’s a hard question because of course a lot of humour is that it’s unpredictable. It’s the surprise, you know, like you’ve just threw that at me. And I was surprised and I laughed, you know, but I think I do like dad jokes. My wife is often says, oh dear, I think I’m losing my hearing. And I go, ‘pardon? ‘ And it always catches her out. Or one of my favourite pathetic jokes is to enter a crowded lift and then say, “now I expect, you’re wondering why I called you all here this afternoon”.
John Lloyd:
Which really breaks the tension. You know, not everybody laughs, but half of them do laugh.
Paul Boross :
It’s situational because laughter is like registering a shock. And then the release after that, isn’t it?because people in a lift or an elevator for our American listers are going to be in a state and you are shocking and breaking the state to allow them to have a release. Well, we’ve reached the point in the show, where we’re going to do Quickfire Questions, John.
Musical sting:
Quick fire questions.
Paul Boross :
Who’s the funniest business person that you’ve met.
John Lloyd:
Well, I can think of two actually proper businessmen that I think are very funny. One is Howard Stringer? Who’s a friend from… our kids were at the same prep school together. And he is the first… he’s Welsh by provenance. The first non-Japanese ever to run the entire Sony corporation. So he’s a big deal. Ran CBS before that. He’s very funny. And the other one is a much newer friend called Alan Scott which is his pen name because he’s a writer and he’s written everything from Don’t Look Now probably one of the greatest films ever made Nicolas Roeg with Julie Christie Donald Sutherland, and more recently The Queens Gambit which is this huge Netflix hit. He’s still going.
Paul Boross :
Yeah, I’ve watched it. It’s great. But for many, many years, his day job was chairman of McAllen whiskey. And he’s also delightfully funny
Paul Boross :
What book makes you laugh? John. You’re surrounded by books. So I’m hoping that some of them make you laugh.
John Lloyd:
I don’t tend to read funny books really. I mean, I’m so busy doing QI research. I read serious things. I read dictionaries and encyclopaedia and you know, science and nonfiction on the whole,
Paul Boross :
What film makes you laugh?
John Lloyd:
This is not a funny film really, but I’d like the John Carpenter, the director and Assault On Precinct 13 is a very, very scary police drama, a very dark indeed, but there were some, unbelievably good jokes in it. And that’s another thing that humour being part, I don’t just sort of don’t think anything counts unless it’s got some humour in it. If it’s not got any humour in it, there’s something awry. It seems to be part of life to me, including religious stuff. You know, I think the very occasional, funny vicar or funny Catholic priest, I think that’s an amazing thing when they get it right. Especially at funerals. You know, if people can tell jokes, which is another thing where you, isn’t it interesting about humour and death is that, you know, obviously funerals are awful in so many ways, but the wake, when people let go and suddenly they’re honest and they’re making amends and they’re forgiving each other and they’re laughing. It’s the most peculiar thing that people laugh, a great deal at funerals. I would say more than they do at weddings where people are mainly sort of showing off their new hat and they’re all young and in their prime, but at, at funerals, everyone’s beret and suddenly they’re more human and they laugh.
Paul Boross :
Yeah. That’s really interesting because that takes us on to the next question. You talked about funerals can be funny is what do you think is not funny?
John Lloyd:
I thought you were gonna ask me what word makes me laugh.
Paul Boross :
Well, I will ask you that in a bit.
John Lloyd:
Well this is a question that comes up a lot and I don’t think there’s any subject that you can’t be funny about if it’s done right. I mean, there are lots of things in life that are not even slightly funny, but finding a funny response to anything is possible.
Paul Boross :
What word makes you laugh?
John Lloyd:
Well, I don’t think you can go wrong with wobble bottom, butI dunno why I always find wobble bottom very funny. We did a sketch in Not The Nine O’Clock News called Stout Life. And it was a parody of a programme on London Weekend Television called Gay Life. And stout life was about people who were just slightly overweight and how badly treated they were by everybody and wobble bottom was used in there and Mel Smith would do this thing. He said, you know what I mean is the kind of – it’s very ahead of its time. Very offence taking, you know, woke-ish sort of character. He said, you know, that’s the sort of thing that stout people is unfairly treated. I mean, for example, I heard a joke the other day, Orson Wells gets on a speak your weight machine and the machine says, no coach parties, please.
John Lloyd:
But I was gonna share with you this thing, you probably never even seen this. We did this book Richard Curtis, and I put this together for Comic Relief the definitive Blackadder books and it’s got all the scripts in there, but I did the bits in the middle, which are the, um, little extra bits and talking about silly words. This is the Prince Regent, you know, he’s bit of a fop. Hugh Laurie’s Prince Regent. His laundry list, Turtle and Son – Gentlemen’s Launderers and Sprucers, 3 Bun Lane Clerkenwell. And it’s gonna all these. So you’ve got Sporans – none. Kimonos – informal -3. Kimonos – foul weather, Shoulderettes – 3. Canties – 44, Folder Rolls – 2. Skimpies – 9, Underskimpies Under skimpy – 9. Over Skimpies 4 four. Arbroath Smokies smokies. Halter neck swagger flopsies, Whoopsdaisies, Bosom hearties, Log warmers, Boleros, Bobbynickers, Varsity roasters, Rap Rascals, Bunny Lariettes, Toggerelos, jellos billows, bufflers Bungnasties, Ossops, Ottertops, Hair shirts – nil, Sarongs – 4, Squeamishes – 9. Under squeamishes – 8, Squirters, Dinner Dirndls, Night panties, Club Dorises, Slip Goslings – fur, Slip Goslings – Tweed, Blouses – 52, Chemises, Chive clamps, Hug bunters, Dressnancies, NAS Swallow-breasted Port Scathoes, Skugs – 50, Scroatles -10, Nipple Loops – 2. Anyway, it just goes on. That makes me laugh. It’s just kinda pathetic,
Paul Boross :
superb. Absolutely superb. Oh God, that is hilarious. What sound makes you laugh?
John Lloyd:
What sound?
Paul Boross :
Yeah.
John Lloyd:
Well I thinking when I was very small, when I said first went to prep school and I was sort of, you know, um, quite, quite shy, I suppose. And, uh, I had to read out something in geography, which contained the expression wood pulp. It was about logging in Canada or something. And I mispronounced it as wood plup and I just completely lost it. I couldn’t stop laughing for the whole of the rest of the lesson. I dunno why that by the sound of plup makes me laugh
Paul Boross :
The Sound of Plup, which is a lovely album and the name of Waiting For Smith’s new album. The Sound of Plup. Two grown men, giggling. You went to Cambridge, would you rather be considered clever or funny?
John Lloyd:
I don’t think either. You may think this is a bit of a weird thing to say, but I try to do what I know to be right. Or what I believe to be right. And not care what other people think and I’m quite good at that. And, and I don’t feel – again, it’s, I think it’s, it’s very important to do the right thing. So I’d rather be considered kind. If people thought I was a kind person, I’d be happy with that because here the thing Paul, you can’t take credit for being clever or really being funny. These are gifts that you are either born with, or they come to you because of your upbringing
John Lloyd:
Being kind, particularly somebody who doesn’t deserve it, that takes effort. And so that’s something I… And I think that’s the only thing a person can take credit for, which is making an effort doing it when you don’t want to doing. And it’s difficult being kind to people who don’t deserve it, forgiving people who don’t deserve it. That’s a high calling, but clever. And you know, it’s like, you can’t take credit for being tall. That’s what you are, you know, and that’s something that happened to me in my midlife crisis. I used to think it was important to be clever, to be right, you know, to win, to come top those things. I don’t think those are important at all now, but being nice and generous and fair and helping people. That’s what I like to do. I, I know it sounds pious, but it works for me. You know,
Paul Boross :
I don’t think it sounds pious to at all. I think it’s beautiful. And finally, John… Desert Island Gags, if you could only take one joke with you to a desert island, what would it be?
John Lloyd:
Well, so I would say the bear joke, which is my wife’s favourite but it’s far too rude to tell on. Uh, no, no, it is no, no into, I can’t, I can’t, I’d be too embarrassed. And, and, and it’s probably not even politically correct anymore. I dunno, there’s a few, but since there’s desert island gags, I’m gonna tell you a desert island joke that I thinks very good. And it’s one of my favourites. So a guy’s got shipwrecked on one of those little desert islands, you know, few Palm trees and forests and a waterfall back there and so on. And, uh, he’s there for a long time and he’s lonely, you know, but he builds a little shed and a heart and he learns to grow some simple vegetables and catches his own fish. And he’s you know, but he’s alone.
John Lloyd:
And one day he’s on the beach and there’s a human body washed up on the, on the beach, on the sand and it’s a woman and he turns her over and she’s just breathing. So he gives her CPR and mouth to mouth resuscitation and gets her, she gets conscious and he takes her to a little hut and tucks her up in a simple bamboo blanket that he’s woven himself. And then eventually after a long sleep, she wakes up my goodness. He looks at it, it’s Michelle Pfeiffer, Michelle Pfeiffer. My God, he’s always admired her. And so she’s so grateful that he saved her life and, um, anyway, they they’re alone together and they obviously become friends and eventually lovers. And they’re passionately passionately in love. She’s the big love of his life and vice versa.
John Lloyd:
And they’re very, very close and one day, they’re sitting happy as anything by the little log fire in the evening. And this guy says, Michelle darling. And she says, yes, darling. He said, um, I wonder if … there’s this slightly strange thing I’m going to ask, but would you mind? She says, no, no, honestly, I love you, whatever you want. There’s no need to be ashamed. Ask me whatever you want. He said, well, it is rather odd. And she says, no, no, go on. So he said, he pulls out a bit of charcoal from the fire. And he says, would you mind Michelle, if I drew a little moustache on your top lip and called you Dave? And she goes, uh, uh, okay. Yeah, no, that’s fine, darling. Yes, of course. Okay. Yes, go ahead. Let’s do it. So he draws a little moustache on her top lip and she, and he says, Dave, and she says, yes. He says, Dave, you’ll never guess who I’m sleeping with at the moment. Of course, it’s really, you’ll never guess who I’m f*cking at the moment.
Paul Boross :
Yeah, no. Oh, no. It’s a brilliant gag. It’s a wonderful way to end the interview. Thank you, John so much for being wonderfully cheerful and so kind. We really appreciate you taking the time.
John Lloyd:
Thank you, Paul. It’s been lovely. It’s been lovely talking to you. Thanks for having me.
Paul Boross :
The Humourology podcast was hosted by Paul Boross and produced by Simon Banks, music by Steve Haworth, creative direction by Les Hughes and additional research by Helen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe, like and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a Big Sky production.