It’s just not the holidays without Christmas crackers, Boxing Day football, and The Big Fat Quiz of the Year—if you’re British. The annual end-of-the-year comedy special has been a UK TV staple since 2004. Hosted by Jimmy Carr, the giant pub trivia game pits three teams of two entertainers against each other to recap the year’s biggest events in pop culture with snark and tomfoolery. Thankfully, Americans can work around geo-blocks and streaming licensing with YouTube and watch every year’s iteration, including the spinoff Big Fat Quiz of Everything and the of the Decade specials.
Like most panel shows, the series employs a Rolodex of contestants mostly composed of comedians—natch—television presenters (a much more robust profession in the UK), and the occasionally bizarre choice of celebrity not known for their humor-such as Sharon Osbourne, chefs Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey, and Spice Girl Mel B, who are about as much fun to watch as you’d expect. Even the occasional American comedian makes an appearance, but they too struggle to match the show’s signature energy as they lack any established rapport with their overseas peers.
When scrolling YouTube for rewatches or introducing someone to the series for the first time, there are a few names to look for that’ll guarantee a good if not great Quiz. These are the MVPs of The Big Fat Quiz.
Ayoade has appeared in nearly every Quiz since his 2010 debut and for good reason. The stoic and suited The ITt Crowd star looks like the kinda nerd who’d run the tables at a game of knowledge, but Ayoade is here for jokes first and (nearly) jokes only. You can’t count on his team to win but you can count on him to create the most highlights from the show with his classic British mix of ultra-dry wit and absurdity. From schooling Mel B in quiz show prep, to slandering Carr’s mom, YouTube is full of “Best of Ayoade” compilations for his contributions. I don’t think any fans would be opposed to officially making the comedian a permanent contestant.
“I’m paid to whitter on about something!” And David Michell earns those checks. The comedian’s smart, dry humor puts him up there with Ayoade as a Quiz must have. The Peep Show star is one of the UK’s funniest comedic voices whether employed in sitcoms, sketch, or panel shows. On Quiz, his slight curmudgeon tone straddles the fence between disdain for the type of pop culture that makes up the questions and earnest engagement in a trivia game that just happens to double as fodder for quick quips. Mitchell keeps it light as he counters his more silly and childish opponents with his more matter-of-fact banter that makes him a show favorite.
The Wild Child that looks like a crow, Fielding is the ultimate team player if your team is looking to cause the most chaos on the show. The comedian is typically paired with Russell Brand or Richard Ayoade, and either one of them combines with Fielding to form the Bash Brothers of pub trivia. Fielding is majorly preoccupied with crafting jokes and even more so with keeping Carr on his toes. He’s the class clown in a room full of clowns.
Similar to her turn on another UK gem, Taskmaster, Mel Giedroyc is clearly always happy to be involved as she steps up to the plate with genuine enthusiasm and a full promise to commitment. Giedroyc’s personality is like a clear summer’s day as she brightens up everything she’s a part of. You can also count on the former Bake Off gal to shoulder the responsibility of one of the show’s classic running gags of someone bringing a feast of treats to share halfway through the game, including a brandy-capped picnic for her and Romesh Raganathan and a bakery’s worth of sweet treats for Jack Whitehall and company. Both hilarious on purpose and just for being her adorably featherbrained self, Giedroyc is a perfect game show contestant.
Rather disappointingly, the series does not have a good track record when it comes to casting female contestants. They are often the token woman of the year and more likely to be an ill-equipped celeb or presenter instead of the preferred comedian. Seriously, with only six panelists how hard is it to just have an even split (answer: not hard at all, mate)? Millican, thankfully, is one of the few comedian regulars, and she’s a delight every time. Pop culture savvy and quick witted, she’s a strong teammate, especially with David Mitchell in 2016. Like Mitchell, she’s both a formidable competitor and a sharp and productive joke slinger. She keeps it fun while keeping the game alive.
Ross is the series’ old dog and veteran shit stirrer. The presenter and comedian is more committed to creating moments with his co-stars over writing correct or hilariously incorrect answers. He knows and enables all the classic quiz beats: creating rivalries, messing with Carr, and snack breaks. He keeps the game and the entertainment trains on track as both a showman and a punching bag for everyone, and that’s just what the series needs.
A comedy program should be helmed by comedians, but an exception will be made for Winkleman. The TV presenter’s charm comes from her Giedroyc-like levels of enthusiasm and her undeniably affable nature. As Carr often remarks, she has a terrible poker face, often crying out in intense eureka moments that startle all. She clearly loves being on the show and that appreciation turns an ok panelist into a great one. It’s always a party with Winkleman.
Rob Brydon, Romesh Ranganathan, Alan Carr, Joe Lycett
Olivia Cathcart is a comedian and writer.