Why did you sign up to Taskmaster?
The truth is I hadn’t watched the show before I did it, but when I got the tasks I got very heavily into it. I recently filmed Travel Man with Joe Lycett and he is brilliant and I really like him, and he said Taskmaster was the most fun thing he had ever done. Then I happened to meet the director of it, and he said I should do it.
Normally it’s the kind of thing where I’d say ‘No, I can’t do that, I can’t be me’ but on this occasion I was so charmed by the director, reassured by Joe and subsequently watched lots of it and I find it so funny.
I think Greg and Alex are such a team. I found myself laughing so much in the studio at Greg, he’s masterful.
Some actors worry about appearing as themselves. Did you?
It is, and very much has been, a worry for me, and I’ve turned down an awful lot of panel shows over the years for that reason. They’ve been quite conscientious on shows like 8 Out of 10 Cats about approaching females who work in comedy as well as comedians and I have turned them down 20 times! I’m really pleased they keep asking because I like being asked but I do think there is a lot of truth in that if you establish a persona on TV, it can compromise how much people can invest in you as other characters.
However, I genuinely think Taskmaster is a valuable life experience. I just knew it would be a lot of fun and I didn’t want to miss out on that.
Also, I’ve done quite a lot of stage work and acting recently and there comes a time where you can go, ‘Okay now I can be myself on TV for a show and enjoy it’. Rather than do loads of different panel shows I thought I would love to do just this one and then disappear again.
Do you see Taskmaster as being different from other panel shows?
It is different and it’s interesting because comedians have a set persona and I am the kind of person who changes the way I behave depending on who I am with. So, it’s been interesting to see what character emerges.
It’s difficult to keep up a persona on this show though, isn’t it?
That’s interesting and that is true. I think it’s because you are so out of your comfort zone and engaged with the task that you almost find out about yourself. It’s almost like this is a test that should be available as soon as you reach adulthood.
I don’t know what kind of person I am. I’m definitely middle aged now and I still don’t know if I am a logical person or if I think laterally! I have no idea and I feel like I might come out of this process knowing what kind of person I am because until you’re put into those ‘sink or swim’ situations you don’t know.
So, what have you learned about yourself?
I’m quite methodical, a little bit suspicious. I’m a little paranoid. Quite methodical but disappointingly lateral. So, both logical and illogical.
There was an interesting task where you had to throw a shoe into a bath with your foot, using a makeshift boomerang… how did you feel when you saw that one played back?
I tell you, I’m pleased that I’m married because I’m not sure this show would get me a date. When I saw my ass, and the positions I ended up in. Honestly, you don’t think about poise or how you’re coming across when you do the tasks, especially the ones that are timed. It’s amazing how engaged you get in the task because I am just so pleased I got that shoe in the bath.
Which ones did you find you were good at: sporty, logical, or creative?
That’s interesting because I feel like overall I excelled at the ones I didn’t think I would be good at, and I let myself down on the ones I thought I would be good at.
There was one that was making a marble run and my heart sank when I read the task. I thought it was a really male, practical task that I was not going to do well in, but I think that was my best task. You get imaginative in ways you couldn’t imagine. In life you often operate as a team, with friends or whatever, so you don’t work out what your skill-set is on your own.
We did a task about language which I should have been good at and I thought I was all over it and I lost. I’ve been very surprised by the ones I’ve been good and bad at.
How competitive has it been?
I think Johnny is quite competitive. Sometimes you wonder: is it a competition or is it about trying to maintain some kind of dignity on national TV?
I didn’t want to come last because I think it would be something I would let my daughters watch, as long as we all stop swearing so much. I think it’s something they would be invested in and I just didn’t want to lose for their sakes.
Tell me about your relationship with Greg: have you had a strategy to impress him?
I thought I really wouldn’t care about the points system but the Taskmaster is quite considered on how he allocates his points, so I found myself caring but caring too late because I have already done the task in a too casual way.
You can claw it back in the studio. Did you try reasoning with him?
I don’t think he takes well to being buttered up. One day he told Richard that if he said another word he would lose all his points. He’s quite strict. I also think he is very fair and considered, though. I don’t think his point-giving is all over the place, which I think is why I have become more invested than I thought I would be.
That’s what’s so great about the show, there is genuine logic to the competition. They take it very seriously. I was disqualified from a round where I had to draw an animal with only straight lines and I drew a wasp and I buzzed and I thought ’It won’t matter because it’s just a silly game’. But it did matter.
Describe that relationship between Greg and Alex.
It’s bullying. That is the word. There’s nothing more to say than that. I probably got Alex to try and help me in the tasks more to try to make it seem like it was him and me together… so I tried to butter him up but it didn’t work.
Had you worked with any of the contestants previously?
Johnny and I played Mr and Mrs Pooter in a radio show so we knew each other from that. I think he remembers… he says he does, but I’m not convinced.
Richard and I weirdly did a short film that featured a live bear many years ago.
I’m a big fan of Daisy’s and I don’t follow social media but Katy Brand told me to look on Daisy’s Instagram so I did, then on the first day I walked into her dressing room and said, ‘I’m really pleased to meet you, I think you’re hilarious.’
And Mawaan is adorable and if I could back anyone other than myself to win it would be him.
Is there any difference in the way men and women approached the tasks?
I think Daisy and I did quite well in the one with words. It’s a massive generalisation but I wasn’t surprised to find myself competing against her in that one. And we did both try to hit on a man when we had to persuade him to look in our bags! But I think we’re quite different and I’m coming across as a bit of an elderly lady from a gentile time and Daisy is not.
She’s doing all of this pregnant and I haven’t heard a word of complaint. When I was in that situation and filming I was complaining a lot so she’s a real hero.
Tell me about the first task of every episode where you have to bring in a prize. Have you lost anything you are devastated about?
I realised I submitted something that belonged to my children without checking with them, so I’ve requested to have that back or my life will be difficult. It was a water gun.
You’re allowed to politely make a request to the winner of the round and ask if you could have something back if it means a lot to you, but there is no actual legal requirement… I’m not the only person who has given away items that belong to their children.
What are some of the tasks you have nailed?
I was pleased with my short film which I don’t think scored highly. We had to do these upside down films and I was pleased with my work. That’s the first short I have written, directed and starred in and to be honest with you, Greg was nice about it but it didn’t get the points it should have got.
My marble run I was very pleased with. I’d say I did more bad tasks than good ones though. I lie in bed at night remembering them all like a bad dream.
You must have had a bit of an advantage when it comes to the creative tasks?
No! There’s one where we had to learn lines, but I was in the middle of learning a play with an awful lot of words so I literally didn’t feel able to put anymore lines in my head without the play ones coming out so I refused to learn it.
It’s the task you think I would excel at but I couldn’t do it.
How do you feel about socially distanced audiences in the theatre?
A lot of the theatres I work in are the really old ones with tiny loos. So it’s also about when is the public going to be up for being in a small room again together.
I’ve been really sad about it and obviously very relieved about the money from the government but I’ve also felt so grateful that I have done so much theatre recently. Part of me thinks there will never be a full return to theatre. Even if there’s a vaccine, now we know the way those viruses work perhaps we can’t do it. If that happens, I’ve so enjoyed my time doing theatre and I am so grateful.
It feels like you have been a bit more visible to a wider public in recent years. Does it feel like that to you?
I’m pleased to hear you say that! It’s felt nice and steady. I’ve always been cautious about jumping in. I didn’t want to shortcut anything at the start by being front and centre too soon, and I do feel like I’ve developed skills and grown as an actor. Theatre really allows you to do that.
I’ve started to do some writing properly now so I am feeling like I’m maturing. I feel like I’m finding my feet properly.
Can you walk around Sainsbury’s or do you get recognised constantly?
That’s been gradual. I’ve been recognised from my late 20s but recently it has got a bit more… I am quite used to it. What’s really nice is when you get recognised for a play you have done, or something unusual. What’s weird is getting recognised in a COVID mask!
What’s next for you?
I’m writing and I have two big projects I am excited about. I’ve been very busy, not least with home schooling, but I also filmed something for BBC on Zoom. I feel like I’ve come on leaps and bound in the technical states. We’ve had to!I’ve also been doing a lot of art and I am comically bad but it doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed doing it.
Taskmaster is going to be seen by a new audience on Channel 4. How would you sell it to anyone who hasn’t seen it before?
I think it’s really profound. It’s a joyful watch. You see people failing in all sorts of different ways and you’re bound to relate to at least one of those failures. If it’s anywhere near as fun to watch as it was to film, then we will do well.