This article was originally published in 2020 and has been updated with 2021’s BFQ offerings.
Americans, it is time for you to adopt a new Christmas tradition: watching a pirated version of Channel 4’s Big Fat Quiz. If you’re not familiar with the annual quiz show, you’re in for an hour and a half–long parade of current-event jokes, references you don’t entirely understand, and Jimmy Carr’s weird laugh.
Every year at Christmastime, three teams of British celebs ostensibly compete to see who remembers the most about the year that was. But they’re really competing to see who can make fun of host Jimmy Carr in the most inventive way. Most mocked are his teeth, his robotic demeanor, his previously mentioned weird laugh, and his 2012 tax-evasion whoopsie. The BFQs have the energy of an old Friars Club Roast — not the Comedy Central version, the really old ones with Dean Martin and Foster Brooks. Almost everyone onstage is an old pro, with a very identifiable personal brand that verges on self-parody. The quiz is a bare Douglas fir, and jokes about David Mitchell being an uptight scold who would probably combust if he saw the “WAP” video are the festive tinsel. The tapings drag on for hours, and contestants have typically lost their whole-ass minds by the final question. A Big Fat Quiz usually devolves into a food fight, a psychosexual drama, or at least a good old-fashioned screaming match.
The Big Fat Quiz is just one beautiful beast in a vibrant ecosystem of U.K. light entertainment. Comedians across the pond will supplement their tour or limited-series auteur-comedy-show income by guesting on all these shiny-floor TV shows. Many returning quizzers star on other panel shows like Countdown, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Mock the Week, Hypothetical, Taskmaster, 8 out of 10 Cats, and Would I Lie to You? As a result, there is a teeming community of medium-tier stars. It’s a much better system than what we have in America. How is a rising comedian supposed to get noticed here, insurance commercials? A 15-minute Netflix special? Dating Kaia Gerber? Gimme a break.
The BFQs are also hugely comforting. Through Brexit, recession, and the war on terror, the jokes keep coming. It says something about the indomitability of the human spirit that even our darkest times have plenty of room for dick jokes. 2021’s Big Fat Quiz aired on Boxing Day, and 2022’s Big Fat Quiz of Everything is expected to run January 7, barring an Omicron derailment. To prep, we’ve ranked every Big Fat Quiz of the Year, Big Fat Quiz of the Decade, Big Fat Anniversary Quiz, and Big Fat Quiz of Everything.
(I’ve given each quiz a nickname with its most identifying characteristic, à la Friends episode titling. Otherwise, this would be an impenetrable list of numbers. A panel-show fan might not remember what happened in the Big Fat Quiz of 2014, but they sure as hell remember the one with Mel B.)
34. 2008 (The One Without Jonathan Ross)
This quiz is remarkable in part for the absence of veteran talk-show host Jonathan Ross, who is a panelist on most episodes and usually gets an executive-producer credit for his trouble. Ross had been banned from the BBC for three months after he and fellow Big Fat Quizzer Russell Brand prank called an esteemed British actor and told him about all the weird sex stuff his granddaughter did with Brand. (Even though Ross wasn’t banned from Channel 4, he thought appearing on a different network while in BBC jail would be tacky.) Brand and Ross returned to the quiz the following year as part of a general apology tour.
Big Fat Quizzes are known for their raunchy, sometimes tasteless jokes, and it’s up to everyone to decide where their limit lies. Early quizzes, especially, suffer from the aughts’ particular brand of edgelordy brain worms. It was a different time, and different things will be the breaking point for different people. For me, it’s James Corden and Sean Lock demanding points and receiving an applause break for calling trans man Thomas Beatie’s pregnancy “an abomination.” There’s some fun stuff about how regular panelist Claudia Winkleman wants to have sex with Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow in an alley behind the trash cans, but otherwise this affair is charmless and doesn’t demand rewatching in our more sensitive times. Nobody is canceled, but life is short, and there are so many other quizzes to watch.
33. 2004 (The First One)
The first Big Fat Quiz of the Year does not feel like the show we’ve come to know and love. The teams tell fewer jokes, nobody throws things, and none of the teams takes on the role of dumb team. In wrestling terms, the show hadn’t figured out its angles yet. Big Fat Quizzes work best when each team takes on a role. There’s a Brainy Team, which mostly provides accurate answers and can give knowledgeable commentary on the events of the year. There’s a Smart-ass Team that’s just there to make jokes. And there’s a Difficult Team, whose job is to undermine Jimmy’s authority as quizmaster and willfully write the dumbest answers imaginable. Since this is the first iteration, these roles are yet to be defined, and people mostly go for real answers. What’s more, special guests come on to give answers to the rounds, and their lifeless cue-card reading drains what little energy the show has every time.
32. 2014 (The One With Mel B)
Mel B’s Big Fat Quiz is infamous in the fandom for the contentious relationship she has with literally every other contestant, as well as Jimmy himself. She starts out the night by making fun of Kevin Bridges’s Scottish accent, then says Richard Ayoade is weird for having a banana. Everyone manages to give as good as they get from Scary Spice, however. Mel seems genuinely terrified of Ayoade after he rants about all the energy he’s getting to quiz from his bananas. And the end of the show is just a deluge of Spice Girls lyric puns. You get the sense that her publicist had asked the panel beforehand not to mention the Spice Girls, and that after hours of sour energy, they finally tell her what they want. What they really, really want.
Beyond Mel B’s antics, this is the first quiz where Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow does his little dance. From its inception, The Big Fat Quiz has gotten a genuine News Gentleman to read a fake story summarizing the lyrics to a big song of that year. Usually it’s Jon Snow, whom many of the female panelists seem to have residual crushes on from childhood. But this is the first year where they cut back to Jon in the studio, dancing to “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor. It’s a terrible year, and a terrible song, but Jon Snow makes everything better.
31. Big Fat Quiz of the ’80s: 2013 (The One With Sarah Greene)
Less well-known but still uncomfortable, ’80s British TV icon Sarah Greene seems adrift throughout this ’80s trivia competition. You’d think her personal experience with the time period would help, but Greene acts confused and standoffish for most of the program. After not getting the applause she wanted for being at the first London marathon, she just gets progressively stroppier. Her cute (???) anecdote about killing a tortoise on children’s program Blue Peter doesn’t get the laugh she seems to have been seeking, and the show’s mystery-guest round is almost derailed by a genuine argument between her and Carr. Jimmy offers a joke, “I’m not being patronizing; I’m being condescending.” They cut away from her reaction, but her eyes are on fire for the rest of the quiz. On the comedy end, Jack Dee’s dour bit stops the quiz multiple times. Deadpan doesn’t play on The Big Fat Quiz. Even Richard Ayoade shouts on these.
30. Big Fat Quiz of the ’80s: 2012 (The One With All Olds)
And this one just lacks pizzazz. Maybe ’80s nostalgia just isn’t fun in Britain. Thanks a lot, Thatcher! Jokes about miners’ strikes aren’t the stuff comedy dreams are made of. Nobody is doing a bad job, but nobody is really on their top game either. Micky Flanagan dominates the conversation, basically making the whole quiz a two-man innuendo-off with Carr. Original Countdown host Carol Vorderman has a nice moment when she needs the concept of “fingering” to be explained to her. But too many of the panelists are quip-shy. I completely forget Stephen Mangan is on the quiz, which is insane for someone who pirated Green Wing back in the day.
29. 2005 (The Second One)
This one is still very rough around the edges. Rounds go by month rather than subject, which makes the quiz feel very disjointed. They still have celebs reading answers and draining the room of its energy. But Sharon Osbourne’s enthusiasm pushes this thing to the middle of the heap. Just cackling like a mad witch and blurting out answers. She doesn’t seem to understand how the quiz works, or even where she is at some points, but she and Jonathan Ross show the proper disregard for authority a Difficult Team needs. The edgelordy jokes are kept to a minimum — mostly some weird Islamophobic stuff about an Arabic translation of Homer Simpson. One is thrust right back into Iraq War discourse with these early episodes.
28. Channel 4 Anniversary Special (The One That Makes No Sense to Americans)
This quiz celebrates Channel 4, literally the fourth British TV station. It lauds staples of British TV like Countdown: a show where people do math but call it maths and it makes no sense. Channel 4 also gave us Big Brother and, of course, the backbone of all TV the world round, Friends reruns. David Mitchell and Richard Ayoade are teamed in this one, which is a bit too dry-on-dry. It’s like if you put a slice of toast between two other pieces of toast. Their best running gag is using the surname “Devilleneuve” repeatedly in their guesses, assuming that someone at some point in history had that name. But in the intros, Frank Skinner gets one of the best insults of Jimmy Carr’s appearance ever on the show: He said Carr looks like someone who’s just taken off their glasses. It’s true. The similarity between Jimmy Carr and Milhouse petting the horseshoe crab is uncanny.
27. 2021 (The One with Chantal)
The second Big Fat Quiz of the COVID Year is weirdly joyless. Even Chantal, the big doll from Squid Game, can’t save it. And she’s hard to book! Sarah Millican, who is usually a giggle monster in these, seems angry about getting the gig. Everyone seemed a little subdued — even Jonathan Ross’ spontaneously generated character, Tommy Petrol. This outing also suffered from not having a true Brainy Team. Either trauma fog has affected all of our long-term memories, or this panel just suffered from a lack of news junkies.
26. 2010 (The First Ayoade/Fielding Team-Up)
Richard Ayoade and Noel Fielding have become the perennial bad boys (or silly boys, at least) of The Big Fat Quiz. Fielding was originally paired with Russell Brand, but he got too famous for the show after Get Him to the Greek. Fielding and Ayoade were already friends and collaborators, having worked together on The Mighty Boosh and The IT Crowd. This is their first quiz together, and the magic of their pairing has yet to fully emerge. Like the quiz itself, the Ayoade/Fielding double act needed an episode or two to figure out the kayfabe. Ayoade calls their team-up “The Niche Corner,” but they aren’t the Rude Niche Corner yet.
Highlights of the quiz include an interpretive dance by Louie Spence depicting the Chilean miner story, Jonathan Ross with a truly horrendous goatee, and a woman who saved a cat. It’s a pleasant enough outing, but it can’t help but be disappointing if you know the glory of what’s to come.
25. 2018 (The One With Michelle Wolf)
Americans are hit or miss on this show. Michelle Wolf has expressed her love for British panel shows, but the quiz format holds her back somewhat. As a panelist, you have to decide to either know all the answers or hold the quiz in disdain. But Wolf is almost tentative. She seems aware she’s on other people’s turf, which does her brash brand a disservice. This is also a weirdly low-scoring year. Nobody seems to know the answers and everyone seems mad about it. Noel Fielding especially has a “let’s get this over with” energy rather than the more playful persona he usually brings. Even a fake Hulk wrecking the set at the end feels somewhat joyless.
24. 2016 (The One With Rob Delaney)
On the opposite end of the American guest spectrum, we have Rob Delaney. Delaney had been in the U.K. ever since Catastrophe started, so he was up-to-date on the news and wanted everyone to know. The problem with that, however, was that he had been paired with arch silliness impresario Richard Ayoade. The two had great quiz styles that tasted bad together. This was also the first Hell Year quiz, before we as a people were inured to the pain current events bring. Brexit was still sore, Trump’s dumb inauguration was yet to be, and we were all down because we thought the worst had already happened. Golly gee, were we wrong.
23. BFQE 2021 Special (The one with two Robs)
After BFQ ran out of decades to quiz, it started running Big Fat Quizzes of Everything. These quizzes lack the political edge of their yearly counterparts, but they often feature magnificent dumbass Joey Essex. It’s a fair trade. Rob Beckett loses points for this episode by recycling the team name he’d previously used with Aisling Bea (Tits and Teeth) with Roisin Conaty. However, the pair’s combined “i ain’t bothered” energy more than makes up for this joke reuse faux pas. The recurring bit of Roisin and Rob speaking to each other through the COVID-mandated plexiglass is the second best use of COVID security theater in a Big Fat Quiz (for the best, see entry #11). Token Ingenue Oti Mabuse is sweetness personified, which is probably how she’s able to negotiate half a point out of the usually point-stingy Jimmy Carr. Maybe she also gets that half point because these questions are weirdly hard? At least for an American. If you watch a BFQ to feel smugly superior, look elsewhere.
22. 2019 (The One With Tequila Pineapples)
The best part of this quiz are all the Prince Andrew jokes. From what I can gather from the quiz, Prince Andrew said he couldn’t have been a part of Epstein’s pedo ring because he (1) had pizza one time and (2) is too brave to sweat? Someday we will get one heckuva Crown season. And 70-year-old Jamie Bell is going to crush.
This episode suffers from too many stunt foods. The grand tradition of bringing weird foods kicked off in earnest in 2012, when Jack Whitehall and James Corden ordered pizza. Things have escalated so in the intervening seven years that 2019 has multiple wicker hampers and a drinks run. Everyone gets tequila pineapple drinks that just sit on their desks for more than half the quiz. But at the end of the day, Jon Snow kind of twerks in this one. Nothing can take that away from us.
21. Big Fat Quiz of the ’90s: 2013 (The One With Gunge)
Did you know brits call Nickelodeon-style slime “gunge,” and that said gunge was used on a Saturday night comedy show? I did not! Bob Mortimer is a hoot and a half in this episode, bringing his particular brand of surreal filth. If you haven’t seen his season of Taskmaster, you need to. His stop-motion film about a banana is a thing to behold. A highlight is when he explains cock-a-lottie: a game where you get your dick and balls out close to important historical artifacts. Mortimer has successfully cock-a-lottied next to Napoleon’s bed, the Treaty of Versailles, and the Bayeux Tapestry. Watch Richard Ayoade while Bob explains the game. He backs him up all the way, with an expression like, Yeah, I knew what he was going to say and I’m fine with it. We’ve both exposed ourselves to the Magna Carta. What are you gonna do about it?
20. 2009 (The One With Charlie Brooker)
Monsieur auteur of Black Mirror is on this dick-joke quiz show and I, for one, love that for him. Brooker is partnered with David Mitchell, the resident crank of The Big Fat Quiz. You know you’re a little too smart for a quiz when you name your team after C-list characters from A Christmas Carol. Mitchell is in peak “old man yells at cloud” form this year, creating the best running gag of the ep by refusing to dance. By the end of the show, he’s ready to take over as the mayor of that town from Footloose. Big Fat Quiz works best when someone is in the high-status-buffoon role. Usually it’s Carr, but David Mitchell and Charlie Brooker work it perfectly. Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross appear on their apology tour, demonstrating that they’ve learned nothing from their TV exile. Brand had co-starred in Forgetting Sarah Marshall by this point, and everyone gets a few good potshots in at ol’ Hollywood Brand. But most interestingly of all, Brand explains the way he chooses parts: If the character has a different haircut than him, he won’t do it.
19. BFQE 2018 Special (The One With Vic and Bob)
For the most part, the BFQE’s blend together. It’s hard to remember which is the one with the question about da Vinci and which is the one where three models have fully exposed wangs in an art question. This one is memorable for reuniting comedy duo Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. Double acts are still a big thing in the U.K., and many BFQ regulars are half of a duo: David Mitchell from Mitchell and Webb; Mel Giedroyc from Mel and Sue; and Noel Fielding from the Mighty Boosh; among others. But it’s pretty rare for a double act to be together on the show. Vic and Bob get to be supremely silly on this quiz, either telling a wealth of fun stories about interacting with celebs or inventing bizarre stories of interacting with celebs on the spot. Either way, I’m laughing.
18. BFQE Miniseries No. 2 (The One With Tits and Teeth)
It’s a lovely spread of teams this episode. Aisling Bea and Rob Beckett debut on the quiz as Tits and Teeth, bringing the youth vote. On the opposite end, we have the Ancient Fucks: Adam Buxton and Jonathan Ross. In the middle we have the old standbys of Ayoade and Fielding. Bea stands out, talking mad smack while she and her teammate lose horribly. They throw candy at each other, candy that belongs to Richard Ayoade. The best moment comes after this candy stealing and other torments, when Ayoade absolutely loses it at Beckett, channeling all the rage he felt at his years as a bullied teen and. Bea tries to bury the hatchet by hugging Ayoade, but clearly he hates human touch.
17. BFQE 2019 Special (The One With Sandi Toksvig)
This is the first quiz with Joe Lycett, God’s perfect bicon (bisexual icon). Lycett’s Channel 4 show, Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, is a combination of Punk’d and that segment at the end of the news where they tell you about scamming car washes. On that show, Lycett commits to the bit. He legally changed his name to Hugo Boss to prove that enforcing copyright on the word “boss” is stupid. And it worked! I now hate Hugo Boss more than I already did for the whole Nazi thing. Lycett commits on this quiz as well, dancing behind legitimate genius Sandi Toksvig after being served a Long Island iced tea during one round. Each team brings a fun flavor. We have the queer solidarity front of Toksvig and Lycett, as well as the actual double act of Frank Skinner and David Baddiel. The less established double act of Big Narstie and Katherine Ryan is there, too, bringing the pain. At one point, Big Narstie falls asleep and blames it on everyone making “proper white people jokes.” This is why he got his own show.
16. BFQE 2017 Special (The One With Foreign Twerkers)
This BFQE was one of the first quizzes with two female panel-show regulars on the same team. Foreign Twerkers consisted of Katherine Ryan and Aisling Bea, both of whom are ardent feminists with dick jokes for days. U.K. panel shows have long been under criticism for their overwhelmingly straight, white male casts. Ryan herself stopped going on Mock the Week because she felt like she was depriving other women of the one spot women get on a panel, if that. Often on previous quizzes, there would only be one Token Girl. The Token Girl typically wouldn’t be a comic, instead perhaps a presenter or a reality star or a Mel B. Usually, either Jonathan Ross or Dara O’Briain is paired with her as the Ingénue Minder, there to make all the team’s jokes. The only joke a Token Girl usually gets is to be objectified by Jimmy Carr, or maybe confuse Gordon Brown with the Gorton’s Fisherman or something. Katherine Ryan and Aisling Bea are panel-show monsters, in the “Nicki Minaj verse on the Kanye song” sense. They also brought doggies! It’s fun to track who is petting Megan, the tiniest dog on the planet, throughout the episode.
15. BFQE Miniseries No. 3 (The One With Dara O’Briain’s Mum)
This is the one with three male models hanging brain at the end. Romesh Ranganathan gets the episode off to a lively start by implying that he’s fucked Dara O’Briain’s mum on multiple occasions. The more juvenile the humor gets on these shows, the better. There’s something so pure about “your mom” jokes. They’re entirely untethered from anyone’s actual mother. Rather, it’s more about how one can twist language, though no one can twist as much as your mom did last night. That woman is bendy. If your mom jokes go on for too long, they take on an absurd edge. Who is this ugly, sexually voracious woman who sits around the house? What is her secret to living so well?
This episode is so jokey that Noel Fielding has to assume the nerd persona and keep the quiz moving. The joke answers:real answers ratio is really skewed. Nobody is going to be the Brainy Team. Ranganathan made it clear what he and Alan Carr are going to be, and even known history buff Eddie Izzard gives a lot of space to Fielding’s more abstract answers. And Chelsea Peretti’s apparent disdain for everything going on around her is delightful to watch. Since no one is actually trying to win the quiz, the real competition becomes who can make as many answers “Dara’s mum.” It’s not the first time she’s made it easy to score, after all.
14. 2020 (The First COVID One)
Almost the opposite of 2021’s BFQ, the first COVID quiz is exuberant. Nobody’s been out of the house all year, so the panelists get rowdy. James Acaster’s smearing of ice cream on the COVID dividers is almost good enough to get in the top 10. James Acaster, in general, is a great add to the madness of a BFQ. It’s the way his face doesn’t move, no matter what madness is coming out of his mouth. It’s unpredictable, you never know what he’s going to do. Joe Lycett’s prop work also bears mentioning. He brought curtains, bless him! Combined with Jonathan Ross’ bit about how horny Olympic athletes must be after years of training, and it’s a hit.
13. BFQE Miniseries No. 1 (The One With the Weird High Fives)
Kristen Schaal is a brilliant American guest on The Big Fat Quiz. She doesn’t entirely understand what’s going on, but she throws herself into it with enthusiasm. Schaal is paired with Great British Baking Show’s Mel Giedroyc for Big Fun Aunt Energy. Nobody throws Baileys like Mel Giedroyc. Schaal and Giedroyc come up with a special “handshake,” which is just a high five where you touch elbows first. This prompts David Mitchell to admit he’s terrible at high-fiving, which is lamentably on-brand for him. This is also the episode where the entire audience gets Champagne. In all, it’s a wine mom’s favorite quiz.
12. 2011 (The Lowest-Scoring One)
This is the first quiz where a team truly commits to being dumb, and boy does it pay off. Miranda Hart and David Walliams are the first team in BFQ history to not reach double digits by the end of the quiz. When they score their first point —halfway through the show! — they do a victory lap through the audience. It’s a refreshing change of tactic for Walliams, who until this point had been doing an “the only sane man” shtick that was getting old. Every team has fun in this episode. Eddie Izzard steals some answers off Jimmy Carr’s podium, Jamie Oliver gives great banter, and Animal from the Muppets asks a question. This is the first quiz where chaos reigns.
11. Big Fat Quiz of the 2010s (The One With Grindrs & Mincers)
This quiz gets off to a raucous start when Joe Lycett hits Jimmy Carr. Lycett is paired with Alan Carr, as the Grindrs and Mincers, the pithiest idiots to ever live. Alan and Joe brought wigs and fake glasses so they could age as the famously hours-long taping progressed. But then they saw Jonathan Ross looking a little worse for wear, so they decided against it. Didn’t want to be bullies. Lycett is wonderfully physical throughout the quiz. He hits Jimmy, he’s chased by Pikachu, and he does the whole Gangnam Style dance. He even does a spot-on Theresa May dancing impression while wearing a spot-on Theresa May wig.
This quiz also has the loudest team ever: Claudia Winkleman and Nish Kumar. Winkleman had been on quizzes since 2008, and she always shouts “Oh, yes!” whenever her teammate knows an answer. Like, every time. For 11 years. But Nish Kumar is almost as loud. Kumar goes for the most jokes of any quizzer, insisting that four people on Game of Thrones died from dragon, big dragon, boobs, and natural causes. It’s a humdinger of a quiz, starting with a slap and ending with Geordie Shore’s Charlotte Crosby on a wrecking ball. If you like TV to make sense, this might not be the quiz for you.
10. 2012 (The Tuxedo Pizza Party)
This is one of my most rewatched episodes of Big Fat Quiz. It’s a great combination of pre-Brexit/Trump “everything’s fine!” news, stunts, and silliness. Normally I don’t think hot people should be allowed to do comedy, but Russell Howard is an exception. He pulls off an amazing trick of both knowing the answers to most questions and also having jokes to go along with them. Dude prepared for the test. Jack Whitehall and James Corden show up in tuxedos and have pizza delivered to their seats, starting an ever-escalating food-stunt war on these shows. The tuxedo boys give tremendously stupid answers. The only low point is sports presenter Gabby Logan, whom they obviously hired for her Olympics expertise. She seems desperate to stay smart, even giving one answer in French sans raison. C’est incroyable! She and Ayoade eventually split their answer pad down the middle, so she can give a right answer and he can write nonsense, like that Usain Bolt celebrated his Olympic win by weaving a tapestry.
9. 2007 (The One With Banana Battlements, Banattlements)
This is the second quiz with the Goth Detectives. Russell Brand and Noel Fielding’s childish contempt for the quiz is what made this show great. If a BFQ doesn’t have a little bit of anarchy, it falls flat. Brand and Fielding bring a lot of anarchy to 2007. They make defensive battlements out of their mid-quiz snack, Brand throws a shoe, Fielding defends his choice of attire (a big ol’ Dracula cape). At one point Brand appeals to the audience to demand points, not because they knew answers, but because the audience loves them. David Mitchell calls it out as some Nuremberg shit. This quiz has everything. Lily Allen is a delightful loose cannon, minded by Jonathan Ross but still managing to insult Radiohead. And after four long years, perennial guest Rob Brydon wins a quiz. It’s a Cinderella story, if Cinderella was about a guy who does impressions.
8. 2015 (The One With Bad Dong)
This is the best episode to fall asleep to. The chillwave edition of the quiz. The highest-energy moment comes when Rob Brydon and David Mitchell have a pedant off about Jeremy Clarkson’s firing. Though a close second is when Rob Brydon finds out about “the dress” live on TV. 2015 has the calmest popular uprising in Big Fat Quiz history, when all the panelists agree that saying David Cameron put his penis in that dead pig due to “peer pressure” is technically correct, yet Jimmy Carr refuses to give the point. Brydon uses that moment to leverage himself into running the quiz, until after one commercial break, Brydon is hosting. The show’s chill vibe is anchored by Greg Davies, host of the other best panel show of all time, Taskmaster. Davies has a big, bearlike presence. Very little fazes him. Very little, that is, besides the word dong. It’s a childish throwback word, dong. And once it’s been let loose, it takes over the quiz.
7. BFQE Special 2016 (The One With the Bake Off Food Fight)
This Big Fat Quiz of Everything soars above its brethren because it has a phenomenal and volatile lineup of guests. Chelsea Peretti, the confused-yet-indifferent interloper, is paired with old pro Jonathan Ross. Jack Whitehall and Mel Giedroyc have the energy of a hyper nephew hanging out with the aunt who’s desperate to claim the title of “fun aunt.” The moment where Whitehall convinces Giedroyc that her pen is voice activated is devastating in its generation gap. And Fielding and Ayoade are there to snark and provide surrealist answers. Each team has at least one member known for shenanigans. So when Giedroyc breaks out a shit ton of cakes, it should come as no surprise that a food fight ensues. Only Peretti and Ayoade refuse to participate. But even when pastry isn’t flying through the air, this quiz is anarchic. At one point, everyone talks in Stallone/Elephant Man impressions. It’s a full minute of completely unintelligible mouth sounds. You really get the sense that civilization is a thin veneer on the true animal nature of man, but you also get a lot of dick jokes. If you’re looking for a fun version of Lord of the Flies, this is the quiz for you.
6. 2013 (The One With Leftovers)
If throwing cakes doesn’t do it for you, what about flying chunks of turkey? Jonathan Ross brings his Christmas leftovers to make sandwiches for his fellow panelists. Of course Jack Whitehall winds up flinging meat across the stage. Whitehall is in peak “annoying little brother” mode this year. Apparently he’d gotten in trouble for some of the things he’d said in 2012, so Ross provided him with family-appropriate pun jokes to read mirthlessly throughout the quiz. The team of Kristen Schaal and Dara O’Briain brings a lot of joy to the quiz. They’re much peppier than the Bad Boys on either side of them. And when Ross and Schaal pretend to be Kim and Kanye in the “Bound 2” video, O’Briain does excellent mime work as the motorcycle.
5. 2017 (The One Introducing Big Narstie)
Big Narstie manages to bring Jimmy Carr the same amount of consternation as Jonathan Ross, Jack Whitehall, and Russell Brand put together. Narstie got his own talk show based on this and other panel-show appearances, and you can see why. Nobody is as simultaneously confident and confused as Big Narstie. He doesn’t know who any of his co-panelists are and he gets two very strange catchphrases immediately: “Bong!” imitating Big Ben and “Mo Farah Sign,” doing what he thinks is the Mobot but is actually just a heart. Each thing drives the ultrapolished Jimmy Carr up the wall. It is delicious to watch.
4. Big Fat Anniversary Quiz 2015 (The One With the Cheating Scandal)
Russell Brand returned for this special commemorating ten years of The Big Fat Quiz. He and Noel Fielding are in peak form. Fielding brought a mask to complete his conceptual artist Nick Cave–esque bejeweled gown. Brand weighs in on every politician and whether or not they’ll make it out alive, come the revolution. And let’s not forget when Fielding demands “a blowie off the puppet [Carr]” if they win. The Goth Detectives come close to winning, but at what cost to the integrity of the quiz? They run through the audience asking for answers, actually bringing an audience member onstage. But then, Brand exchanges numbers with someone in the audience who crowdsources answers for the Goth Detectives. It takes Jack Whitehall several rounds to convince Carr that the GD’s are cheating, and none of their points are revoked after their cover is blown. It just goes to show: There’s no point in playing by anyone else’s rules. Charisma wins over correctness every time. A dark moral to draw from the last pre-Brexit/Trump quiz, but there it is.
3. Big Fat Quiz of the 90s: 2012 (The One With Mr. Blobby)
Mr. Blobby is going to take some explaining. Mr. Blobby was a parody of children’s characters on Noel’s House Party, a.k.a. the show with the gunge. He runs around and says “blobby” and falls down, sort of a combination of Tinky Winky the Teletubby and Mr. Bean. In 1993 he had the Christmas No. 1 single, like Bill Nighy in Love Actually. Early in this ’90s quiz, Jack Whitehall expresses a deep abiding fear of Mr. Blobby. Little does he know that the Blobster himself will be presenting the last question of the night. The look of genuine fear on Whitehall’s face is priceless, but then Mr. Blobby turns out to be a gifted mime performer in his own right. Blobby should be on every quiz. An American viewer goes from not knowing what a Mr. Blobby even is to completely understanding how he got that No. 1 single. Mr. Blobby slaps!
Beyond the Blobby content, this quiz is blessed with Dara O’Briain’s considerable mime talents. In the BFQ of 2013, he played a motorcycle. In this one, he’s a sexy single in your area who is trapped in a box, going down an elevator, and trying to shake a fart out of her butt. Between him and Blobby, it’s the quiz with the best space work bar none.
2. Big Fat Quiz of the Noughties (The One With Your Mum)
This quiz starts as all Big Fat Quizzes of the Decade do, with panelists describing what they were doing in the decade in question.This somewhat rote segment pays off big time in The Big Fat Quiz of the Noughties. The way Sarah Millican singsongily says, “I was in the middle of a loveless marriage, but I didn’t know,” rings through my head all the time. It’s so dark, yet in her Geordie accent it sounds like the beginning of a children’s book. The wind whispers it to me on cold nights. It’s fucking perfect. Then Richard Ayoade tops it by saying he was at home for the entire decade, taping Friends.
But further along in the quiz comes the best bit, where Noel Fielding and Ayoade reach their final form: kids bullying the substitute teacher. The way they berate Carr, insisting the answer to “Who managed to set a new world record, after spending 71 days crying in the B&Q?” is “Your mum.” Absolutely slays me. Ayoade looks so smug. Fielding can’t stop laughing. Jimmy Carr does a good job of pretending to be offended. This is what The Big Fat Quiz is all about: mom jokes and IRL cyberbullying.
1. 2006 (The Debut of the Goth Detectives)
The Platonic ideal of quizzing. Not only does this episode introduce the churlish hipster fucks we know and love, it’s damn exciting. For almost all of the quiz, it’s a tight race for first place between Rob & Dave (Rob Brydon and David Walliams) and the Conventionally Attractive Team (Jonathan Ross and Cat Deeley). As the first team to really go for jokes over points, Brand and Fielding are at the bottom of the bottom. Jimmy is so confident the Goth Detectives know nothing that he offers 22 points to the boys if they answer one question correctly. When they get it, the studio audience pressures Carr to honor his promise, and it puts the GDs back in the running for first. David Walliams goes full Frank Grimes, incandescent with rage that these dum-dums have a chance at winning. From then on, each team actually tries for the first time all quiz. It gets tense, almost like watching sports. The Goth Detectives win, and it’s the most stunning upset since the White Sox threw the 1919 World Series. This is the first quiz where everyone figured out how to inhabit their roles, and it remains the best of the lot.