There’s No Such Thing as a Fish… At CERN

Guest post by James Gillies

Left to right: James Harkin, Anna Ptaszynski, Dan Schreiber and Andrew Hunter Murray, collectively the QI Elves, pose for selfies at CMS. Their guide, CMS physicist Dave Barney, is on the far left.


On Friday 31 May, some of the writing team behind the cult UK TV panel show, QI, visited CERN to find inspiration before a live show in Geneva that night.

As soon as QI made its debut on UK television in 2003, it was an instant hit. A comedy panel game in which being Quite Interesting is more important than being right, it’s fact-based comedy that examines the most esoteric recesses of human knowledge. Behind the scenes are the QI Elves, including James Harkin, Andrew Hunter Murray, Anna Ptaszynski and Dan Schreiber, whose job is to unearth the facts behind each show. In 2014, the quartet launched the podcast, “No Such Thing as a Fish”, based on one of the more unlikely facts they’d come across (see Wikipedia for details).

Taking time out from a European tour, they spent a day visiting CERN, with the highlight being a visit underground to see CMS. “Our job is to find the incredible research that is happening around the world, add a few silly jokes, and hopefully help it to stick into people’s minds - and what word is more synonymous with the most ground-breaking research in the world than CERN?”, said Harkin. It’s no surprise, then, that CERN makes frequent appearances in QI. “For a fact to work with an audience, it needs to have a certain amount of familiarity”, explained Harkin.  “The fact that CERN is so ingrained in the psyche makes it a perfect way-in to talk about science.”

As with most visitors to the CMS cavern, the elves were left open-mouthed in awe at the detector – visually stunning and one of the pinnacles of scientific endeavour. “CERN was the absolute highlight of a tour that not only took in 10 European cities but had us playing in front of 10,000 people”, said Harkin. Indeed, the number of facts and figures accumulated during their CMS visit rivalled their own research, and some featured in their Geneva show later that day.

No Such Thing as a Fish is a weekly podcast that can be found on all major Podcast providers. The new series of QI will air on the BBC in the Autumn and will be all about things beginning with the letter ‘Q’ – Quantum Physics is sure to make an appearance...

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