Q&A with Sue Perkins

Category: Press Pack Article

Did you enjoy making the show?

I really did. The innate brilliance of the show is that everybody’s brain works differently. Everybody has a different solution to the same problem. I learned that I have no sense of competitiveness, but within five minutes of starting the task I was laughing. Clearly I’m not competitive because I just laughed my way through it. When you come to the studio and watch yourself you think, “What an idiot,” because you should have worked out how to do it much sooner. But I don’t care. I had fun.


Did you learn anything about yourself?

I actually did. I learned that I don’t read tasks properly. My attention span is so bad that I go, “Yes, I’ve got that” and I dive into it. There’s no consideration. I’m so speedy in the way that I go into things that actually I don’t stop to think, “Hang on, where’s the detail here? And where’s the important information?” I don’t know how much of that personality trait I can change without medication, but I can imagine it’s very frustrating for other people. I’m never very present. I have a weird brain – but we’ve all got weird brains. That’s the great thing.


Was there any task that was humiliating or embarrassing?

Yes, but I don’t mind looking like a fool. If you mind looking like a fool, you shouldn’t be doing this for a living. There are certain tasks where you look at it and it’s staring you in the face. None of it was broadcastable and it didn’t get me any closer to the answer whatsoever.

You think, “What the f*** are you doing? No one is interested in this. It’s a comedy show.” But it’s just how my brain works, which is a weird combination of skating over the top and not listening, and then deep diving into an irrelevant place. It shows my nerdy obsessional side. In my life I like to collect things or become very, very interested in very, very unusual stuff. And the next minute I’ll just be like, “I don’t know where my keys are!”

But hopefully you’ll also see a part of my personality which is child-like. All I want to do is be playful. I’m very scatty, I can’t concentrate for a moment, but I hope I’m well-intentioned.


I think people might be surprised by that childishness, because you do seem very together and cerebral on most of your own shows.

It’s interesting, isn’t it? Being book-smart, which I suppose people will think I am, isn’t very helpful in this game. You look at someone like Victoria Coren Mitchell, who is hilarious and very clever, but it’s almost like two worlds colliding. Being book-smart doesn’t allow you to unlock a lot of the tasks. I’m not ashamed to look like an idiot, though. That’s been the biggest change in my life – I felt as a young person that I couldn’t be the prettiest, I couldn’t be the most “normal”, I couldn’t be any of the things that society seemed to value above everything else. But I loved books, and I would know things, and I would be nice to people and I wouldn’t bully anyone.

Early on in my television career, I just wanted to be smart and for people to think I wasn’t stupid, but now I don’t care. Sure, if there was a competition about late Renaissance literature or early Gothic, then I might be really up there in the winning position. But this isn’t that, it’s a show about being silly, and that’s okay.


You did very well on a lot of tasks but, as you say, you did very badly on others.

Yes! But that’s fine. I quite like f***ing up and then post-rationalising it. I really enjoyed being in the studio going, “How can I turn this around?”, it tested my brain. I love Greg and Alex so much.


Did you know any of your fellow contestants?

I’ve worked with Julian on Just a Minute, and obviously the dynamics have changed because I host rather than being a panellist nowadays. I admire him hugely. Certainly, on that show, he’s dazzling: one of the all-time greats. I love him. He’s a very, very clever man. He’s very laconic and I think his energy on Taskmaster has been lovely, because there are so many fizzy, bubbly folk on this, you need a different texture, so I’ve really enjoyed his sardonic banter. He acts like it’s all beneath him, which is very funny. He brings a grumpy, paternal, elder statesman vibe to the thing, which I think you need.

I’ve met Lucy before, quite a while ago. I think she did a pilot with me very early on in her career. It takes a very special person to be that singular that early on. She’s this beautiful, rare, curious flower, and I want to be in the garden staring at it with a degree of awe and reverence. It’s a joy to behold. Every time she said something a bit mad, there were at least thirty questions I wanted to ask her about it, but we never had time, and also that’s not my role. But I’m fascinated. I think her brain is beautiful. Sometimes people change as they get older, but she’s always been exactly the same; she came out of the box just doing her own thing. If it’s Lucy’s world, I am very happy to live in it.

Sam, I didn’t know at all. He was a fan of the show, so I think he really thought about it. He’s a very smart, switched-on dude. And again, he ploughs his own furrow. He’s got so much confidence in who he is and how he thinks. I was in awe of it, really.

As for Susan, from the get-go, I thought, “Oh! I love you. I think you’re great.” I’ve enjoyed everything she’s done, and she just seemed like a really cool person. She’s got great vibes. We hugged when we first met, and that was it. We’ll go and see Arsenal Ladies footy matches together and hopefully will remain friends for a long time. I’ve got such love and respect for her. She’s a super cool human. She’s a very smart, caring person. I think we synced because we want to laugh all the time and we’re both very child-like. There was one moment with her where I have very rarely laughed and felt such child-like joy. I was on my hands and knees paralysed with laughter. We couldn’t move, we couldn’t think. We were overtaken by pure laughter. It was just wonderful.

I can’t say what I was within the group, but they were all so distinct and magnificent. I just felt really lucky to be around them. They’re good folk. It was a real pleasure to play with them.


Your relationship with Susan has been one of the great joys of the show

I’ve been really lucky. I work in a partnership [with Mel Giedroyc] that is absolutely predicated on love, and to have a spark of that with somebody else was really joyful. Susan’s so good at inhabiting physical comedy, or using her body to describe and to evoke something, and I’m so useless at that, but I can talk a lot. I won’t stop, and I’ll have a billion words at my disposal. We’re different but it works.


Talking of Mel, she has done Taskmaster. Did you ask her for advice?

I did, actually. I said, “Should I do it?” She went, “Yes” and that was it. I’m a fan of the show, so I knew that it was about the chemistry between the contestants. There are stand-out performances, yes, but it all hinges on the chemistry. I’m at an age now where I don’t really have the energy to try to be anybody but who I am. If I ask Mel for advice, she just says, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.”  So that was my plan. To be resolutely, and quite sh*t-ly, myself.


You say you weren’t competitive. Were any of the other contestants?

No, no one really cared. I think most of us wanted not to be last but as long as it was funny, it was okay. There was no edge. And I think what’s interesting is everyone’s got an individual take: there’s sardonic comedy, there’s whimsy, surrealism, physical, cerebral, so there’s a space for everybody. I was quiet at first until I worked out who everybody was. Everyone was reserved at first, but it ended up being sensational. I was really invested in Susan winning one of the tasks. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I just hope I’m funny. I hope I’m not letting the Giedroyc legacy down.


What did you make of Greg and Alex?

I’m madly in love with both of them. Genuinely, madly in love. I think it’s an exercise in on-screen chemistry perfection. It’s the old schtick of the domineering bullying guy who dominates the other but actually needs him. They need each other. So there’s this fake assault and battery line going on, when actually, underneath it, it’s so fraternal and delicious. And they make each other laugh. I love them a lot. I think they’re very, very special. And for all Greg’s posturing and denigration, he’s got the biggest heart. Genuinely, I’m in love with them both and I don’t even care who knows it.