John Lloyd – the man behind QI, sometime presenter of Radio 4’s Museum of Curiosities, and self-styled Professor of Ignorance – unsurprisingly has a few stories up his sleeve, and is riveting company throughout this hour-long solo show. Emperor of the Prawns is basically a lecture looking at how little humans really know, with a lot of punchlines along the way.
Broadly speaking Lloyd meanders in and around the subject of knowledge, whilst also weaving in snippets about his good friend Douglas Adams and the only question people ever ask him: “what’s Stephen Fry really like”? Along the way there’s Bertrand Russell, limpets, a bit of maths and some incredibly angry crops.
Although packed with facts – the galaxy is going round the universe at 1.3 million MPH for example – the tone is playful throughout, and there are enough jokes about his own baldness to keep everything grounded. After all, as John Lloyd says, “we don’t really know anything” anyway. I particularly enjoyed him telling the story of his dad trying to explain the facts of life by mumbling about sperm whales.
Still, despite the mischievous misinformation he occasionally deliberately feeds the audience, it is not really stand-up comedy – even if it’s categorised at such. For me, having spent the last few weeks immersed in the Fringe, the pensiveness at the heart of Emperor of the Prawns was refreshing, but may not appeal to all. For example, one of his theories that he’s keen to convey is that “intelligence is limited because we think too much”… which may be getting just a bit too deep for a casual Fringe-goer.
Despite the intellectual bent of the show, though, I found it thoroughly entertaining, and very funny in parts. It also shows that nothing is too high-brow for a gorilla costume to be involved. Lloyd succeeds in making you consider your own insignificance compared with the immense universe that we live in – no mean feat in a one-hour time slot. Basically, it’s thought provoking stuff delivered with a bit of a twinkle, from a man who’d be my ideal dinner party guest.