Fry's new show scripted by his Twitter fans

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The Independent Culture

The idea that an entertainer would organise a 5,000-seater solo gig with no script and only a hazy plan to amuse the crowd, brings to mind images of creeks and paddles.

But if that entertainer happens to be a wizard of digital technology with a sizeable Twitter following and a grand plan to crowd-source his material, the scheme may just float.

Stephen Fry, writer, comedian and raconteur, has announced that his solo show at the Royal Albert Hall, in London, next month will remain, for the best part, unscripted. Fry will rely on his Twitter fans to suggest topics for his monologue.

If the idea sounds like an entertainer's equivalent of a bungee jump, at least it's a tried-and-tested one, in Fry's case. Last month, he performed two sell-out shows at the Sydney Opera House based on the same Twitter principle, and blew the crowd away, according to Australian reviewers.

Yesterday, Fry admitted that while the idea held an element of risk, he had found himself riffing quite happily in Sydney. By popular demand, he performed a second show, while a Facebook campaign was set up urging him to do a turn in Melbourne, where he held an additional two shows.

"It was a little unnerving as I hadn't scripted it but Twitter followers asked me to talk about things like Oscar Wilde, P G Wodehouse and writing, so I began by talking about things beginning with 'w'.

"I enjoyed the experience, all [the shows] were different. I was on for about two hours; they couldn't get me off," he said.

For his 'Evening with...' show in London on 20 September, Fry will put out the same request to his million-plus followers to tell him what they want to hear. Nothing would be "off limits", he said, and he would take in serious discussions about depression, of which he has personal experience, as well as more whimsical material.

"I'm not going to move among the audience but I will ask people on Twitter if they have any questions or subjects, and I will respond accordingly," he said.

Fry is arguably the most high-profile of entertainers to have harnessed the power of digital media, with increasing numbers of comedians beginning to use Twitter to expand audiences.

Gary Delaney, currently performing at the Edinburgh Festival, said he often tested his one-liners on his Twitter followers, sometimes just minutes before a gig. "You can use Twitter for crowd-sourcing but what I do is test funny ideas," he said.

"People have come to see me, who haven't seen me before, because of Twitter. I have noticed in Edinburgh this year that more comedians are on Twitter, because they see it as a powerful tool."

His followers: 'I just have to say we love you. Fact'

At teatime yesterday, 1,679,221 followers were hanging on Stephen Fry's every tweet. But what does Fry get from them? And if they are to provide the inspiration for a gig next month, how hard can we expect to laugh?

Well, if yesterday's unscientific dipping of a toe into Fry's digital stream is anything to go by, he'll have to draw on all his famous brain power to turn the banal into the hilarious.

Things actually started quite well, when Fry linked to an online report of a survey that suggests people who use iPhones have more sexual partners than those who have a BlackBerry or Android smartphone.

"Who could have doubted it?" he asked in a morning tweet. Among a torrent of replies (Fry gets hundreds of "@s", or mentions, every hour) came an Irish tweeter called @dubiousgenius with the moderately witty "Don't you have both iphone and android? You must be exhausted."

How we laughed! Elsewhere, Fry's legion of fans (and we'll admit they haven't yet been invited to provide comic fodder) were rarely amusing. "How was inception? i LOVED it!" asked @cjaysessions.

@GillianMcShane was watching Dave (the television channel). She said: "catching up on QI [which Fry presents]. Anderson, Reeves & Clarkson on the panel. Magnificent!

Indeed, fawning seemed to be the order of the day. Arguably the most nauseating example came from @FallenToblakai, who "@ed" Fry with: "I just have to say on behalf of myself, wife and children, we love you. FACT." Flattering for Fry, but hardly side-splitting.

Simon Usborne