How can one man talk to a packed Albert Hall for more than two hours about his life and reveal so little about himself?
That's not to say that Stephen Fry, right, told us nothing of interest: we learnt that Hugh Laurie's Cambridge ambition was to join the Hong Kong police; that Jean Cocteau would apparently lie on his chaise longue and bring himself to orgasm by the power of thought alone ... Who knew? Stephen Fry, polymath, raconteur and emeritus professor of everything, of course.
What appeared to be beyond Fry's ken, however, was that an evening of showbiz anecdote and prep school recollection would satisfy his "discip..., sorry, audience". An evening that began with a palpable sense of expectation ended with a paean to Oscar Wilde, the fatigued shuffle of corduroyed bum-on-seat in the auditorium, and polite applause.
Two hours earlier, though, Fry had taken to the stage, pawing his iPad. (How, you wondered, had his 1.7 million Twitter followers responded to his call for questions? Had Fry really taken to the stage, as he insisted, with nothing prepared?) Off he set, reading tweets from his iPad that were more akin to, say, a carefully planned marketing campaign for one's second volume of memoirs than to the rough and tumble of the blogosphere. "Who are you?" "Who is the most exciting person you've ever met?"
The roundabout answer to the last question was Hugh Laurie, who is "of course fucking brilliant". You could practically feel Laurie cringe all the way from LA. At least I think we ended up at Hugh Laurie because the question prompted a bewildering half-hour of celeb free-association that took in Fry's first success at Cambridge and Blackadder, diverting by way of Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Lord Hailsham. Such was the charmed progression of Fry's early career it couldn't help but sound self-congratulatory.
Despite Fry's seductive verbal fluency, the evening sorely lacked an original gag or two. He retold a couple of Peter Cook's jokes in his recollection of their friendship, and closed the first half with a sweet mock fairytale that he had first performed in the Footlights. Few, I think, doubted that this was Fry's first stand-up gig.
He signed off with a Tommy Cooper joke ("Builder: Can I have a skip outside your house? Tommy: You can do whatever you like"). It made you wish that Fry had been a lot less showbiz and a bit more trouper.