Let’s talk about the cast for Series 12, first of all. How do you decide on a group?
We try to make sure the cast has a different feel each time, but this is a fantastic group. I was going to say it’s greater than the sum of its parts, but that isn’t true; each of them is great individually. But I do think that together, in particular, they became this unlikely band of people. The five of them are great together.
Let’s talk about them individually: starting with Alan.
I really love Alan, and have done for a long time. The first time I worked with him was when I appeared on his show, As Yet Untitled. He’s genuinely as nice as he seems on QI. He’s gentle, and a naturally very funny man. He is slightly bumbling, but he tries really hard and there’s a real sweetness to him, in that all the prize tasks – the prize tasks are, I think, where you learn a lot about people – every single one was brought from his house, and I like that. He thought about it and came in each time with something that really represented him and his backstory. There was a particularly good prop from Jonathan Creek. Also, and this is important for Greg and me, he looks like he’s having a brilliant time. He’s sitting there, giggling away, which is lovely.
What about Desiree?
She challenged my expectations, because she is undoubtedly loud, she’s a tall lady, she wears bright clothes, and most of all, she’s from LA. I thought she was going to be the loudest of the five, but she was actually very measured. She was only loud when she needed to be – nothing is put-on about it. She was very enthusiastic, and always tried her best. She also failed spectacularly a few times, which was great. We always have one escape room-style task, and she proved that she’s got an amazing logical brain – which, to my discredit, I didn’t expect. She definitely had a lot more nous than I was expecting. I very much enjoyed her cursing too. We had “Holy Schnikes”, “Mother Father”, and “Jesus Tap Dancing Christ” to name but a few of the less offensive ones. They just come out of her, they’re brilliantly innovative swears.
What about Guz?
Guz was a bit of an enigma, because he could be very loud, or very quiet; very clever or very stupid. He’s definitely one of the coolest people we’ve had on. He came in with this effortlessness, and he wore these big coats, so he had an aura and a presence unlike anyone, I’d say. He held his own against Greg. In fact, he had a gravitas about him similar to Greg, almost. In another world, he could be the Taskmaster, which is quite an interesting thought. We haven’t had that very often. I can’t think of many former contestants who could do that job. I really enjoyed spending time with him. Off camera, we’d talk a lot about cricket. He’s very sweet. We feel very lucky to have caught him before he heads off into Hollywood or whatever. He’s got proper acting chops.
What I liked about having her on is that she’s very rarely herself on TV. She’s always playing a part, or doing an impression. She only did maybe a couple of impressions throughout the whole series, which I thought we were going to get more of. On this show I want to see the real people, which we did, and her real persona is slightly mad, but there’s a tenderness too and there’s annoyance. She brings a lot to it. Brilliant clothes as well. I’m saying on the record, this is the best-dressed fivesome we’ve ever had. She was very happy to push the envelope, which is great, especially because she’s sat next to Victoria, and they couldn’t be more different. I feel like they’ve got a good bond, but it’s like the movie Twins. They are very, very different.
And finally, Victoria?
I was expecting a very brainy lady, which she definitely is, but she’s probably more eccentric than I thought. I really liked her arguments. She argued with Greg a lot, and stuck to her guns. She’s different to anyone we’ve had before, and she’s playing a different game to everyone else too.
Taskmaster’s popularity just keeps growing. People at home particularly love being interactive with it. Are you pleased about that?
It’s brilliant. There are always requests like, “I want to propose in a Taskmaster way, can you help?” You want to help as much as possible, but there’s a lot of guilt because I can’t spend all my time proposing to people! I know I’ve missed a lot. But we’re definitely into double figures of Taskmaster proposals and weddings. One guy surprised his girlfriend by making up all these tasks around the house which ended up with a ring in an envelope and a note saying, “Your task is to marry me. Your time starts now.” People have done that quite a few times, which is amazing. It does make you think that we’re doing something right.
A lot of people have also done Taskmaster things for their actual wedding, sending out an invite that says, “The best hat wins,” or something like that. It’s a nice, odd thing, but it’s lovely. You don’t expect that sort of thing to happen because of a silly comedy show, but people have really taken it to heart. Because it’s malleable, you can invent your own tasks, so you can personalise it however you want. We know loads of people do it with their kids, and parents, and scout groups, and schools.
My family plays it every Christmas and on the children’s birthdays.
That’s brilliant. People often say to me, “Your kids must have such a fun time,” whereas it’s the opposite because I don’t do it with them. They don’t want to do it either, because it’s Dad’s work. We’ve played the board game a couple of times – I highly recommend it, by the way – but somebody has to judge them, and they don’t like me doing that!
It’s doing very well internationally too.
Sweden has set the benchmark because they really have run with it. Theirs is on Saturday night, and it’s a primetime, Britain’s Got Talent type thing. I think the audience is about two million out of a population of six million. Their version is really glossy, but what I like about it is that it’s so different. Some countries do more of a carbon copy of it. The New Zealand one is very similar to ours, which I like, and I know people in it, and it’s great, but Sweden has started its own authority with it. They’ve got a lady in charge as Greg, which is brilliant because it does make it much more distinctive from the off. Greg and I both wish he was a woman, in many ways. Sweden’s little version of me is also one of the producers who comes up with the tasks. I really enjoy watching their show, and we share tasks, which is nice. There’s a balloon popping task in this series, which was a Swedish task that we adapted. We had another one which was a version of a New Zealand task based on waiting for a toaster to pop. Another fun bit with the international ones is that we work together, so it feels like a little community of people, all trying to make this odd thing.
Mike leaping over that fence in Series 11 has to be one of your most shared clips of all time, isn’t it?
Yes, it went viral and that’s nice, because it was very spontaneous and maverick of him. I actually don’t think they were allowed to jump over that fence. Health and Safety weren’t happy about that first of all, but then they did agree to let us show it. What was really funny about that, though, is that there was a gap on the side, so there was no need to jump over it. He made it look so easy, though! So graceful.
So many of your lesser-known contestants have become huge stars after doing Taskmaster.
I don’t think it’s necessarily all down to us, but I’ll take it! It’s hopefully a little bit of fortuitous timing – for example, someone like Romesh [Ranganathan] was always going to be huge, and we managed to get him as he was getting on the wave. Mawaan Rizwan was one as well. It does feel good. You have a moment when you release the names, and there’s automatically a thing on Twitter where people go, “I’ve only heard of one person.” I like that, because that’s the whole point. By the end of the series, you will know all five of them. I have to take a deep breath, because you want to reply to everyone and say, “I know you don’t know them now, but you’ve got to trust us, because we’ve done this 12 times and we know what we’re doing.” We’ve obviously stymied ourselves by saying we never have anyone back, because it would be great fun to get Romesh back, if he was up for it. But that’s our rule, so we’re sticking to it.
Could you do a special with five great people from previous series?
Everything is a possibility, and that’s been mooted but I was always against that. If anybody gets to come back, it should only be the winners for the Champion of Champions. Lots of people suggest the Worst of the Worst, and that would be very funny, but hand-picking five is a bit odd because most people have different favourites. I remember everyone very fondly. It would feel a bit odd to say, “We want that person and that person, but not that person.” Having said that, Romesh is in the unfortunate position of being the only person to never win an episode, so maybe we could give him a chance to redeem himself.
Talking of low scores, you’ve got your first ever negative on the scoreboard this series, so that’s exciting.
We try to keep it fresh every time, so the tasks are always different, and sometimes we have slightly different scoring. So, yes, we had our 100th episode this series and we did a task where you could potentially win ten points but lose five points, which keeps it interesting. People watch the show in very different ways. Some people let it flow over them and they don’t really care who wins or loses, they just enjoy laughing at everything, but we do have the hardcore fans who are interested in the numbers, and they create spreadsheets and graphics. People have their own opinions of how things should be done, so it keeps things fresh for them to mix it up a bit sometimes.