Alex Horne reveals why he had no concerns about switching channels, and the secrets of the show's cult success...
After racking up nine very successful series (and one Bafta Award for Best Comedy Entertainment Programme) on Dave, Taskmaster makes the jump to C4 for its tenth run, with Alex Horne and Greg Davies.
This time, the comics taking on the strange and often tricky tasks set by Alex and Greg are This Country star Daisy May Cooper, The IT Crowd’s Katherine Parkinson, and stand-up comics Johnny Vegas, Mawaan Rizwan and Richard Herring.
Taskmaster star Alex Horne tells us about the channel move, the tasks, and why the contestants keep making him eat weird things…
Were there any concerns that the show might have to change when it moved to C4, Alex?
Alex Horne: “There weren’t at our end because we wouldn’t have moved if there were. We’re a very culty programme, there are people who feel like they have ownership of the programme which is absolutely fair enough, and people were worried that C4 were going to ruin it. But they assured us from the beginning, they’ve bought the programme that has been on, they don’t want a new programme. So they’ve been very helpful, they haven’t told us what to do, they didn’t want to see the tasks, they didn’t want to know who’s in it, they let us choose. So no, I wasn’t worried at all, and I’m relieved that they have been true to their word.”
You did have to make a few changes because of Covid-19 though, didn’t you?
AH: “We filmed the tasks pre-lockdown, and we filmed the studios early after lockdown in terms of when people went back to work. People had to be so spaced out that there wasn’t room for a normal audience, but we weren’t allowed one anyway! So we recorded it, and actually you can generate a nice enough atmosphere in the room – there’s seven comics on stage and we all made each other laugh – and then we edited it, then we put it on in the cinema, and we did tickets the normal way, advertised for free to the Taskmaster fanbase. They turn up, and we have our normal warm-up act, Mark Walker, who says, just treat it like a normal Taskmaster show, cheer on your favourites, get involved, so it’s an authentic laughter track, it’s real reactions. Luckily they know the show inside out, and they just went for it, so it feels to me as close as it could be to the norm.”
Were you sad you couldn’t sit as close to Greg as you normally do?
AH: “I was sad! I mean, it’s really weird, we weren’t allowed to sit in each other’s dressing rooms either. Normally we’re all hanging out before, but we only saw each other on the studio floor and we were all in masks until that moment, and we had to be very sensible. I mean, there’s a sense of relief from being out of reach – he couldn’t physically harm me! But no, I miss a bit of the closeness, but it’s really not that far away.”
There will be viewers seeing the show for the first time on C4 – how would you sell Taskmaster to them?
AH: “I’m not very good at sales pitches! I think all it is, is a funny show where funny people do funny things, that’s kind of it. It’s unscripted, but – this is where the sales pitch falls down, because you start wanting to include all the details! – but it’s a very lovingly-crafted silly show. So we put so much effort into all the little details, and then it’s just five really good comedians being themselves, so you get to see a different side of people – so you’ll see Johnny Vegas being tender, in the same way as you saw David Baddiel being really stupid, or Jo Brand singing, so yeah, you get to see five great comics letting go.”
What can you tell us about the five comics taking part this time?
AH: “All we want is a variety of characters, and this is as varied as you can get, I suppose. Johnny and Daisy are at one end, they were a real partnership. They really sparked off each other, which is what you want. We always sit them alphabetically, so there’s no plan to it, but they were loud and brash and very funny, and that contrasts very nicely with, I suppose, Katherine and Richard, who are much calmer and more prim and proper on the surface. I don’t think there’s a pecking order of funniness but there’s a pecking order of loudness and extremeness. You wouldn’t want five Daisys – one Daisy is enough! And Mawaan Rizwan is for me the sort of hidden gem, he’s just a star in the making.”
And is there anything you can tell us about the tasks?
AH: “I don’t want to spoil too much – it’s your normal Taskmaster stuff. You know those bagging machines, where you put a Christmas tree through it? There’s one involving one of them where you’ve got to bag the heaviest thing from the furthest distance, so I think that’s typical Taskmaster – you know the premise and then you’re just waiting to see what Johnny Vegas is going to do! We’ve got a karaoke number this time, which is a highlight for me. I like ones where there’s a performance, like a song. And also each series we go to a different location for one day each, so we’re at the normal Taskmaster house as always but we go to this old print warehouse, that was really fun. We did a lot of stuff there on a slightly grander scale, the details of which you’ll have to see. But it’s all the old stuff: in the Taskmaster house, in the lab, in the garden, with things you have at home, and then a few bigger set pieces as we always do. Something for everyone!”
The contestants often get you to help them out – what’s the worst thing anyone asked you to do in this series?
AH: “They weren’t too bad to me this series. I always have to eat stuff which is disgusting, but people seem to find that really funny. I had to do a lot of heavy lifting for Daisy because she was pregnant. It was generally being abused by Daisy, I suppose, she was possibly the most abusive to me that anyone’s ever been. More than Greg! But I like it. It does say something about me, I think. I’ve unlocked something in my psyche that I do like to be humbled.”
Taskmaster begins on Thursday 15 October at 9pm on C4 (see our TV Guide for more shows to enjoy)