Saturday, 10 November 2007

Deep Fry-d

Stephen Fry is a certified British national treasure. The Cambridge University-educated actor/writer/TV presenter is so wonderful that it's a pleasure to see him make a mistake, as he did today in his weekly Guardian technology column, Dork Talk. When speaking of the lashings of press Apple receives whenever it releases a new product, Fry wrote: "Whoopy-doo, as Americans like to say."

Cor-flimey, I've never met an American who liked to say that, or disliked it for that matter, that is, who ever said it. "Whoop-di-doo," perhaps, or, current favorite, "Big whup." But never "whoopy-doo." (We do "make whoopy"--or did in the 1920s--although actually I think that's spelled "whoopie.")

We don't really have people like Fry in America: someone who can be intellectual AND funny. American audiences probably know him best through "Jeeves & Wooster," the TV adaptation of the P.G. Wodehouse stories. But he's a fixture on television here and currently hosts an amazing program called "Q.I." The British have a lot of comedy quiz shows that require the celebrity contestants to actually have two brain cells and a synapse between them. "Q.I."--it means "quite interesting" and has evolved into a mini-empire-- is the cream of the crop. Fry is master of ceremonies as two two-person celebrity teams compete to answer questions about....About what? Oh, the physics of invisible ink, the architecture of whale penises, the German national anthem, faux European Union directives--that sort of thing. It really doesn't make much difference what the topics are since they're just excuses to spout witty in the discursive way that seemingly only the British can do.

"Q.I." is our current favorite program[me], despite the fact that it is so funny it can be physically painful to watch. (The closest we come to it in America is probably NPR's "Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me." And it's not that close.)

I can imagine BBC television producers kicking around ideas and one saying, "Let's get Stephen Fry to do it!" It doesn't really matter much what "it" is: a documentary on Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a tour of West Country cheddar farms, a quiz show on the Law of the Sea Treaty. Whatever it is would get that trademark Fry touch: witty and erudite, cerebral without being off-puttingly intellectual, clever but not too-clever-by-half, twinkly-eyed and chuckley, if that's a word (and if it isn't, it should be), with at least one Oscar Wilde quote per episode.

Fry's current project appears to involve traveling to all 50 states in the U.S. in a black London taxicab. (The Brits love unleashing their comics on the world, Baedeker in hand.) I can't wait to see it. Or, as Stephen Fry might say, "Whoopy-doo!"


cktirumalai said...

There can be little question that one of the things unique about Britain is its humour, which comes in many varieties. And of course it metamorphoses over the years.
Americans may need to adjust to it, as to the accent.

Mark from Alexandria said...

In my very youngest days, there were those clever souls on American TV. You'd often see them as panelists on "I've got a Secret." Also, American talk shows, when they were based on the East Coast often got interesting guests from the theater and literary worlds. When I think of the likes of Mr. Fry, the closest American example I can think of is Dick Cavett when he was really on his game.

Because PBS has become so ineffectual a counterweight to celebrity journalism, I don't think we will ever see a Q.1. on our shores.

Anonymous said...


I'm Sarah's Dad, so quite a bit older than you. Actually, its "whoopsie do" and is exclaimed when one picks up and swings or inverts a small child.

Tony Lamport

suburbancorrespondent said...

So....Fry played Jeeves? Or Bertie? Or someone else? I can't place him.

Leigh Russell said...

I've lived in England all my life and never once heard anyone say "whoopy doo" or "whoopsy doo". Perhaps Stephen Fry was responding to the film where Julia Roberts pokes fun at Englishman Hugh Grant for saying "woopsa daisy"?

I love QI by the way. And yes, the English are a humorous lot, in our own quirky sarcastic way. I think it can appear quite rude to our American cousing until you get used to it. I'm not saying the English are never rude, but when they are, it's usually lager driven, loud and anything but subtle. And that's not funny.

Leigh Russell said...

In my last, cousing of course should be cousins. Woopsy doo!

ps Please feel free to drop by and leave a comment on my "writer's" blog. Fellow readers and writers are always welcome.

John Kelly said...

I love the various strands of British humo[u]r, from Benny Hill to Monty Python. Americans can be funny, too. We gave the world the Marx Brothers and "Seinfeld," after all. But Mark is right that Dick Cavett may have been the last "droll" personality on US TV.

My child-inverting days are over (for now at least). "Wheeeee" was the expression I used. "Whoopsie" was reserved for accidents: "Wheee!....[accidently lets go of child] Whoopsie."

Fry played Jeeves, the unflappable butler. It's a great series.

One thing, among many, that I love about the British is that they do actually say things such as "crikey," just the way Americans really do say "Have a nice day."

mark from alexandria said...

Crikey John...I'll work on getting some Britishisms into use in the DC area. By the time you get home, you'll be hearing bloody, crikey, "mate" "cor blimy" etc.

Henry said...

my daughter sometimes says whoopy-do, and she's American, but I'm a Brit, so maybe it a mid Atlantic thing. Or maybe my hearing is going.
Incidentally, Jeeves was a "Gentleman's Personal Gentleman" not a butler. There's a scene in one of the novels where he gets quite shirty about the distinction

Sarah Laurence Blog said...

Crikey! I always found my parents' penchant for 1950s American expressions such as "whoopsie do" or "golly day" somewhere between embarrassing and quaint. Henry claims our ten-year-old daughter says "whoopy do," but it's a single "whoopie" used sarcastically. As in "did you know your father and your grandfather commented on a blog?" "Whoopie!"

dceditor said...

We never find QI as funny as some of the other quiz shows. University Challenge is unintentiomally hilarious with the host even meaner than Alex Trebek. Our current fave is the music "quiz show" Never Mind the Buzzcocks, which usually has us rolling in laughter though we know none of the Brit bands/singers

Richard said...

I know no-one likes a smartarse, and therefore I apologise in advance. But I fear it's "whoop-de-do", and it dates from the late 19th Cent. This from the OED.

A fuss, bustle, or commotion; a ‘to-do’; spec. in Motor-cycling, a very bumpy stretch of road.

[1895 S. CRANE Red Badge of Courage xvi. 160 ‘Whoop-a-dadee,’ said a man, ‘here we are! Everybody fightin'.’] 1929 W. FAULKNER Sound & Fury 321 But I cant have all this whoop-de-do and sulking at mealtimes. 1949 S. LEWIS God Seeker vi. 34 But what's the use of a loud-mouthed evangelical like your Reverend Chippler,..with his..general circus whoop-tee-do? 1962 J. STEINBECK Trav. with Charlie 186 This is not patriotic whoop-de-do; it is a carefully observed fact. 1976 B. KAYSING Fell's Beginner's Guide to Motorcycling 256 Whoop-de-doo, a road that goes up and down like a roller coaster track. 1980 Dirt Bike Oct. 15/1 Very soon we were all lying beside the road, for even though the road looked good at first, it was plagued with whoopdiedoos, and we came into them a little hot. 1981 Verbatim Spring 24/1 There was many an angry powwow and much whoop-de-do, but in the end, of course, the bigwigs won. 1985 Dirt Bike Mar. 27/1 Through whoopdedos it takes a full stroke without bottoming harshly and keeps giving you maximum ground contact.