Dan Schreiber and James Harkin: How we met

'Dan made me feel welcome; he came over and told me how he'd been stealing all my material for his stand-up'

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The Independent Online

Dan Schreiber, 31

A Hong Kong-born, Australia-raised stand-up, radio producer and writer for radio and television, Schreiber (left in picture) co-created the BBC Radio 4 series 'Museum of Curiosity' and is also a researcher for the BBC quiz show 'QI'. He lives in south London

James is like a Bolton cowboy: he walks round like he owns the town, plays a lot of poker and doesn't give a shit, like a lone wolf.

We met online, which is incredibly dorky. I'd been in England for seven months when I started working as a researcher for QI, which had an internet forum. James didn't work there, but he was often on the forum sending in facts for the show. It was annoying, as he was sending in more in his lunch hour than I was coming up with in a day.

John Lloyd [the BBC TV producer, writer and creator of QI] talked him into quitting his job. So he came south, even though he said he hated London, hated TV and hated the entertainment industry. Which is funny because in the decade since he reluctantly started, he's become head writer at QI, co-written the majority of the QI books, hosted a podcast and co-written a new radio series.

Once he moved to London permanently we started hanging out. I soon left QI and started The Museum of Curiosity. I needed a researcher, so James joined the show, and we worked on it for eight years. We had a lot of evenings out after doing the programme, bringing along a lot of intellectuals or lizard experts from Australia who'd been on the show and wanted to party. We always ended up in the same bar, in Soho, at 2am. He's a great drinker: he can open his throat, take your pint, guzzle it in three seconds and put it back on the table before you even notice.

Having a friendship based on telling each other interesting stuff means it's impossible to have a boring conversation. If there's a period of silence, out of nowhere I or James will go, “Did you know there are 600 people in the world with two penises?”

The main difference is that I'm way too gullible: I'll believe anything he tells me. Yesterday he told me the reason Boxing Day is so called is that there used to be a high mortality rate on Christmas Day, so many people were put in coffins the next day. I said, “That's a fantastic fact!” but it was nonsense.

The podcast we started last year [No Such Thing as a Fish] has led to a lot of crazy adventures. We stayed with a physicist who invited us back to his after he took part in a show we did in Ghent, Belgium. He cracked open the world's best beer for us, made by monks in Brussels; we got drunk and discovered all these musical instruments in his house, and ended up playing guitar and singing about caterpillar penises together.

James Harkin, 37

A senior researcher on 'QI' for 10 years, Harkin has worked on several of the 'QI' books and is a producer on 'Museum of Curiosity'. He also co-presents the award-winning 'QI' spin-off podcast 'No Such Thing as a Fish', with Dan Schreiber. He lives in north London with his wife

Like all great relationships, we met online. I was working as an accountant in a Portakabin in Eccles, finishing all my work too quickly. I often had nothing to do, so I began going online. When someone told me about QI, I started sending in ideas via the web forum. 

Eventually work got busier so I had to stop. I told the guys there, and they said, “But we're relying on you; would you do it full time?”

Coming into a TV environment is weird, and I spent a lot of time wondering if I should be there. Few people there made me feel super-welcome, but Dan did; he came over and told me how he'd been stealing all my material for the show and for his stand-up. 

London is one of the busiest places in the world, but it can also be the loneliest if you don't know anyone, so Dan was helpful. I took my now-wife to see one of his gigs on one of our first dates. It was terrible, but he chatted to us after. When I looked to find somewhere to live, I drew a line between Dan and my other friend in London and found a place in the middle – a not very nice part of west London.

On QI, Alan Davies pretends to be the guy who falls for everything, and Stephen Fry is the smart one; with us, in the QI offices, Dan is the fall guy, as he is gullible, and I'm the pedantic one. We work very differently: I get all my research organised days in advance, while he flies by the seat of his pants, which I find quite hard to deal with. Back when we worked on The Museum of Curiosity, Dan liked to leave a few empty spaces [for panellists] in case a great one turned up at the last minute; the only reason we got Buzz Aldrin was that Dan had insisted on keeping a space open.

When I invited him to my wedding a few years ago I remember him saying, “I'll come for the ceremony but then I have to go as I need to write a script for the next day.” Then, as the evening went on, he'd say, “I'll stay one more hour.” He was the last guy in the bar . The next day I ended up going to the studio with my wife to do the show with him.

We're both quite competitive. Dan told me he's good at a lot of sports, so we've decided to start playing different sports to see who will win; I just played ten-pin bowling with him, though I won't tell you who won, as I'll embarrass him. I want to get him on a golf course next as I'm good at that, too.

I wouldn't be here if not for Dan. I'm just a guy from Bolton who happens to find facts interesting. The reason I stand up in front of 1,000 people [at a recent live podcast recording in the West End], and why I get to hang out with Buzz Aldrin, is him.

'No Such Thing as a Fish' can be listened to at soundcloud.com/nosuchthingasafish. A feature-length episode (which includes 52 downloadable shows) is available on vinyl from Alcopop Records (ilovealcopop.awesomedistro.com)

 

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