New Taskmaster Season 15Category: Press Pack
Greg Davies and Alex Horne
Congratulations on Season 15: what a great cast. Let’s go through them one by one, starting with Frankie Boyle. People may be surprised that he signed up.
G: I think that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to be surprised about. He’s on it because his children like it.
A: He sometimes seems surprised that he’s on it as well. It’s unusual to see him without his dignity and not being in charge but he completely threw himself into it, partly because his kids are big fans, as Greg says, and partly because he really likes the show and I think he trusts us, luckily. But he had to wait 14 series to really be sure that we’d look after him and agree to do it! He’s got friends, people like Sophie Duker, who helped persuade him. It was really nice to see him be his normal self. He brought his kids into lots of conversations during the studio shoot so you see a tender side of him, which was nice.
G: I make a lot of jokes in this series about him not caring whether he wins or not but, as Alex said, he really entered into the spirit of it. It’s not that he was sitting there going, “Who cares?” He tried, and was often bad. It’s nice to see someone like Frankie being incompetent.
A: He’s always competent with his mouth though. The things he says are so brilliant.
G: He restores his dignity with every analysis.
He brings a lot of intellectual prowess in the studio.
A: I love that. And that won’t be lost. These five actually feel like a really intelligent five. I don’t want to say that they’re more intelligent than others, but all of them –
G: But you are.
A: I am, yes. They’re much cleverer than anyone we’ve had. They’re led by Frankie, I think, when they’re arguing.
G: Certainly, if there’s a judgement to be made where semantics are involved, it’s kind of awkward having Frankie in the room to point out the facts. I might bluster over certain things sometimes, then people like Frankie come in and check the facts. But dictators need to be checked.
On the other hand, you’ve got him running around in his pants in one task.
A: That was all his idea. I think he was keen to put a stamp on the show. I think he decided, “Right, if I’m doing it, I’m doing it.”
G: It shows a different side to his creativity as well. His normal act is not a natural conduit for some of the things you see him doing and being naturally funny.
What about Ivo Graham: he’s quite chaotic and anxious, isn’t he?
G: Wilfully so.
A: He fits a bit into the David Baddiel or Mark Watson “intelligent man doing badly with practical things” but he’s also got a real playful side. I think he’s in control of his badness.
G: He’s not cartwheeling out of control; he knows exactly what he’s doing. I don’t think he’s being bad on purpose – but when it’s evident that he’s being bad, he welcomes the chaos. He revels in his mistakes.
A: He was desperate to win it because he knows the show inside out. Most of his mates have done it and that desperation meant going charging into the tasks and then realising it was too late. He got all giddy and excited and never stopped to think. But he’s a really thoughtful person generally, so that was surprising.
G: I think he makes an assertion, he comes up with a plan, and he follows that plan through regardless of new information that might come in. “This is the plan, and I’m sticking with it.” It’s a sort of Bomber Harris approach to Taskmaster.
A: When he does get in too deep, that’s fun. He’s prepared to go the extra mile more than anyone. He has quite a physical reaction to it. He’s a peculiar character. There have been moments of sadness with him but he has got his dignity as well.
G: It’s remarkable. He’s so naturally funny. He does a thing where he throws away a point wilfully in one of the live tasks. It’s one of the most surprising and funniest things I’ve seen on the show. That really wrong-footed me, that.
A: Me too. He’s technically an unbelievably clever comedian.
And then there’s Kiell …
A: I think he’ll surprise people. People will have seen him in things. Even like Ghosts – someone from our Art Department who loves Ghosts didn’t even put the two together because he’s known as an actor, not as a comedian. But he’s thankfully a really funny person. And he’s got a face that lights up, a real twinkle.
G: I always say he adds value in some way to every task. There’s always a shimmy or flourish. He’s showbiz.
A: Yes, he’s a showman. Even the clothes he’s wearing. He’s very likeable.
G: He’s very competitive.
A: He’s had a problem with me as well on several occasions, which I found quite funny.
G: Which I’ve really enjoyed as well. They turn on me normally around show six, and my judgements get called into question. But he really has had it in for you since the beginning.
A: I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong. I have dobbed him in, but that’s my job. I could see you were getting beguiled by him and I had to stand up for justice. He did a few things badly but he managed to get things under the radar by being a bit showy, so I had to make sure you get the full picture.
G: You think I was getting beguiled and being soft?
G: Don’t be silly.
A: I don’t really think that.
G: But he has beguiled me. He has. I find him beguiling.
How would you describe his approach to tasks?
G: Route one.
A: Yes. He’s got such a confused face.
G: And there’s a lot of fury.
A: I think he thinks it’s all against him. He doesn’t realise there’s four other people doing it too.
G: Yes: “Why would you do this to me?”
Jenny is joyous.
A: She is. She had the time of her life, both in and out of the studio. The whole show is meant to be doing stuff you did as a kid that you don’t do any more. You know, you can make a big mess and you can make a little film. She’s really throwing herself into it.
G: You can really see the inner child in her, and I found it so gleeful. There was one task where she just went, “Fuck, yes!” I think there’s genuine glee there. It’s not performance. She’s doing it for herself.
A: She’s quite anti-establishment as a person, so this is a good way of breaking rules and not giving a shit.
G: She’s very, very funny and quite chaotic.
She keeps you all entertained with some great stories about her family.
A: If you say to her, “What do you think of the Nissan Micra?” she’ll have a story about it, in the same way Greg often has a story for most occasions. She’s got an amazing memory for details.
Do you think people will be surprised by her?
G: I don’t know how people have perceived her in more recent years.
A: I’m just really pleased that people will see her being funny on telly, because she should be on telly more. You’re seeing the true Jenny, I think.
G: And carefree. Not being associated with being grumpy and menopausal. What she is on our show is someone who loves life. She spends a lot of time laughing.
A: She had a grandchild during the filming. It’s quite nice when Taskmaster fits around people’s lives, and you can see their lives in the show. Her grandson has come up to the show a couple of times. I do like that.
And finally, Mae Martin. People might not know them as a stand-up as much as an actor.
A: Yes, they’re quite hard to pin down because they had a really good approach to the tasks, almost more than anyone. They read it and think, “Yes, I know how to do this.” I think they sometimes think they’re taking it too seriously.
G: But we like that, don’t we? They’re quite forensic in the way they approach tasks. I like that. But then there are flashes of mischief: understated mischief. And they’ll often throw in a very clever call-back or a very witty line.
A: They’re very good at bending the rules and going the extra mile. Also, it’s worth mentioning they were much better by themselves than with the team. They found it quite frustrating to be with their team. And that was really funny.
G: And publicly slagged their them off. Which is always fun – it adds a frisson of danger to the room.
A: And a different voice to anyone we’ve had before.
G: More of a tactician, more thoughtful.
A: Yes, all of them, by the way, were really good at the prize tasks, which is huge for us. They were all thinking about it, which was great. That doesn’t mean they did well.
G: Well, they tried. A lot of people just grab something as they leave their house, but they’ve all really tried giving it some thought.
A: Also Mae is really good friends with Charlotte Ritchie and Kiell, so it’s good to see someone who’s had history with the show and came in with a slight mindset. I like that.
Who is on the hitlist for future series?
A: I thought about RuPaul earlier from Drag Race.
G: As a special?
A: Probably, yes. But I’ve never seen the show.
G: So you want RuPaul on based on… photos?
A: Yes. I like the look. So RuPaul. I guess Prince William we still want, do we? He’s one step closer?
G: William’s right up there for me.
William rather than Harry?
G: Yes, I think so, because William is more likely to be King and the royal family need to reinvent themselves if they are to survive, and what better place to do it than on Taskmaster?
A: I don’t think we probably want to mention any other comedians specifically because we say the same names each time, although I did spend a week in Edinburgh this year, and it was exciting thinking there are plenty of people out there who would be great on it.
Finally, can you talk about The Horne Section which was new to Channel 4 last year?
A: What’s quite nice is it starts in the world of Taskmaster and ends up in another world, which is really fun. It’s meant to be me trying to get out of Greg’s shadow and not quite ever achieving that. It’s almost funny. It’s almost part of the show that that’s exactly what I don’t want to happen.
G: It sticks in the craw though, doesn’t it? The press said I was in it, but I’ve only got a cameo.
A: It does a bit, yes. My poor band, putting in a load of effort, and in the press it’s all about Greg. It’s been a lot of fun though. Very silly. All the special guests we had – we’ve had some great names including Martin Kemp and Anneka Rice, and Imogen Heap – really odd. We just wanted to be unpredictable.
G: It’s really great.
A: I’m really pleased. I think it is great. It’s nice to do something different to Taskmaster.
People want funny, silly stuff.
A: Yes. There aren’t that many sitcoms out there that are just nonsense. Actually, Man Down was quite a good influence on me. You were mainly trying to be really funny on that show. Is that fair enough?
G: Yes, that was the goal.
A: I’m not saying that makes it any worse. Like, it’s still really good writing.
G: I’m always surprised when that can be levelled as a criticism, because that’s why I came into comedy.
A: Yes, completely.
G: It’s sort of what I thought being a comedian was. I thought we were supposed to make people laugh. There should be a space for pure silliness, and we both like mining that.
People were slightly surprised when you signed up for it.
Yes, but I’ve got nothing to lose. I didn’t quite grasp the show at first because they asked me to do it years ago. I was a bit like, “This is just people trying to bake a cake only using their elbows. What the fuck is going on?” But then I started watching it like, “Oh, right. It’s a kind of play about humility.”
Did you become a fan of the show?
Yes. I watched it with my daughter. I thought about doing it a couple of series ago, and I asked my daughter what she thought about it, and she went, “You’re not jolly, you’re joyless.”
What was your answer to that?
I’d agree [laughs]. No, I’m quite jolly. I’m quite a singer. I create a lot of stupid songs. I’m more Winnie the Pooh than you’d imagine.
This might be showing a slightly different side of you than perhaps other TV shows that you’ve done before. Do you agree?
I do a bit of political stuff now so yes, it’s all quite serious. I guess politics is getting more immediate for people, so maybe those shows are a bit more serious. But I have been daft as well.
During one task, you ran off in only your pants. Has it been nice for you to show that side of yourself?
I would have swam in the river in my pants for that one if they hadn’t stopped me. In showbusiness, you overestimate how much people care or think about you at all. I was just happy to be on that scoreboard somewhere.
So why did you sign up? To prove your daughter wrong?
There’s a lot of stuff in our culture where people take themselves too seriously and it’s all about presenting a serious version of yourself. Maybe I’ve been tricked into that a little as well. I don’t take myself particularly seriously and it’s good to admit that, sometimes, you are inherently ridiculous.
You do have to leave your dignity at home with this show. Is that something you were perfectly comfortable with?
There’s not a lot of it to leave, but I’m happy. I think it’s a useful thing. I think there’s so much stuff, even in Britain’s idea of itself at the moment. We can see this has been punctured, our self-image. And that’s a really useful thing.
Did you have any strategy going into Taskmaster?
I didn’t care in the least about the tasks, but I thought I wanted to try and do them in a different way from the way other people would have done them, because I thought, “Well, if everyone’s done this, that will be really boring.” But more, I thought it’d be good to do a panel show. I’m not really allowed on too many panel shows, and I thought however I do at the tasks, it would be good to go and try and be funny and have a laugh. But this was even more competitive than the main show I did [Mock the Week] which had six people running to a microphone to tell a joke.
But then there was a backlash for that, of course.
Yes, and rightly so, I think. Because things you do together as a group are always more fun. It’s always more fun if someone puts a funny line on the end of the thing you say, or you put one at the end of what someone else says, or something else happens. When it’s just you, it’s never as good.
Is there literally a list of panel shows that you’re banned from? Or is that just a sense you get?
No, no, I don’t think there is. I think there’s probably more that would have me on than I would think. But I don’t know. I have New World Order, which is very fulfilling, but it does mean I have to write it pretty much all year because even the start monologues and end monologues, if you put them all together, that would be longer than a Fringe show – that would be seventy minutes. So I pretty much just do that all year. Even if I’m tweeting a joke in a car or something, I’m really thinking, “Maybe that’d be a joke that could go into New World Order.” It takes up my whole working life.
Have you learned anything about yourself doing Taskmaster?
I think it’s things I already knew about my own lack of problem-solving ability, hubris, and so on.
Have there been any particularly humiliating moments?
What about the surreal aspect of it?
I feel it’s not surreal enough. I’d happily do it on acid, the whole thing. Have the hosts on acid as well.
Talking of which, what do you make of Greg and Alex and their relationship?
Well, basically it’s a show about humility. So the framework is of the British Empire. That’s the artwork, right? So it’s Edwardian, late Victorian, music hall-type art. And this is the British condition, hubris. And also, the condition of comedians generally is narcissism and hubris. So this is a game that is designed to create humility within those players. But then if you have a Taskmaster, then they’re not going to have humility, so Alex has Greg to humiliate him. And then Greg is the Taskmaster because Greg is a self-humiliating machine – all his jokes about himself, because he’s simply too large to have ever lived a normal life. So it’s this agnostic reminder of humility all the way through the show.
How have you got on with Alex: has he been useful, or just a huge hindrance?
By Scottish standards Alex is a pretty helpful person.
Tell me about the rest of your contestants. Did you know any of them beforehand?
I didn’t know Jenny, who I thought may be grumpy because I largely knew her from her early stand-up. I met a journalist who had interviewed her and I went, “I imagine she’d be a bit grumpy” and she went, “Oh, no. She’s bananas.” I hadn’t met Kiell, but I’d seen him in Ghosts. And I’d not met Mae but I’d seen all their stuff. That’s the thing, isn’t it? Sometimes you meet somebody like, “I’ve seen so much of your stuff, I almost feel I know you,” and you have to be careful not to be too familiar.
How do you feel that you all bonded?
Really well, considering it’s just a job. You don’t see each other during the tasks, apart from the occasional group one, so mainly you just get to know each other at the studio. So considering that, we got on really well.
We were going to take mushrooms together during the last episode. I wanted to go to Amsterdam with them and go on a psychedelic journey.
Did you enjoy your experience on Taskmaster or was it stressful? You seemed to be unravelling at one point.
It was so fun. So fun. You can quote me on that: “So fun”. I surprised a couple of people when I said I’d enjoyed the day you’re talking about, because the evidence seemed to suggest I hadn’t. I did find a lot of the tasks, and my failure to adapt to them, very stressful. I returned home every day, delighted with how fun and creative it had all been, and how I’d been taken care of, but with a lot of micro regrets about things I knew I could have done better.
Most people feel that way.
Really? Do you think Mae Martin went home with those kinds of feelings? The stone-faced killer? No, of course not. Everyone’s got their regrets, but there was a consistency to mine. My friend Jack, who loves the show, said to me, “You obviously don’t know what the task is going to be, so you can’t prepare anything – but none of that really matters. Just breathe and look for the loopholes.” So I tried that, but there were no loopholes that I could see anywhere, which induced an immediate state of panic. At the start, I decided I was almost certainly going to be playing Taskmaster for laughs, going for some sort of wooden spoon, and that was a nice thing to come to terms with. The team said generically reassuring things like, “You don’t know how everyone else has done,” but the day of the uravelling, a lot of things went badly wrong. So as much as it might have looked like I was unravelling, I was really just settling in. I was reaching full speed of unravel. And actually, I love full-speed unravelling.
What was it like in the studio?
It was so fun being with them all. It’s such a great group. I obviously love the show, and like so many shows it adapted really well, probably better than most, during the pandemic, but I was so pleased that we had a studio audience and that we were sat really near each other.
Were you a fan of the show?
Yes, right back to the first series, and I know Josh [Widdicombe] quite well – he obviously won the first series whilst also being victim of a few classic Taskmaster pranks like having to do humiliating tasks on his own. The whole line-up that year was fantastic – him, Roisin [Conaty], Romesh [Ranganathan], Frank [Skinner] and Tim [Key]. And Alex, I’ve been such a fan of for so long, and obviously I like Greg as a stand-up. My parents love The Horne Section, so that’s the sort of thing I’d always try and take them to if they were ever coming to Edinburgh, like, “Here’s a nice, wholesome thing.” The Horne Section gave me occasional guest spots at the Fringe years ago, so I felt like I had a little role in there. It’s a slightly eccentric universe. And also I loved the fact that it started out as a live show in Edinburgh and it’s become this juggernaut. There was a family feel to the team, which went from being a bit tentative around each other to really quite aggressive levels of pedantry in the studio.
There was a lot of backstabbing in the studio.
My parents came one night when I’d done badly and they were very happy with that narrative because it fits a lot of self-deprecating things they’ve been saying about me and our family in general for years. My dad, as he was getting into the car afterwards said, “It’ll never be as bad as under-13s football,” which is the gold standard for being a part of a team that got battered every Saturday morning as my dad watched. There were no laughs or financial remuneration there, though, just a load of 12-year-olds crying.
Did you feel competitive? Did you go in there wanting to win?
We all wanted to win, because then you get to do Champion of Champions. But I’ve got a fairly well-established reputation amongst my family and friends for being chaotic and easily flustered, and possessing not a lot of practical or lateral thinking skills. So I went in there wanting to show them that wasn’t entirely the case, and to do it in a broadly dignified manner. Taskmaster is so popular and so good that even if you’re being humiliated on it, it’s like top-tier humiliation. I did a dance in lingerie on ITV2 once, and I didn’t feel nearly as grateful for that as I was for this. But having worked out that I wasn’t going to pull any unexpected logic or practical decision making out of the bag, I was then very happy with whatever happened.
When I was arguing with Mae about whether drawing ducks means that they’re ducks or whatever, I didn’t really mind about the points, it was just really fun having these arguments on the show, and I hope it doesn’t come across otherwise. I’m not competitive. I did think quite obsessively about winning while I was doing the tasks, though, and carried a lot of regrets back home with me at the end of the day, in a way that someone like Frankie didn’t. I envied Frankie. I envied all of them, to be honest: they were clearly in a better headspace than I was throughout the tasks.
Did you learn anything about yourself on the show?
I think I’m coming to terms with the fact that when you start to do more stuff in the public eye, the full extent of your character is out there. When you’re doing stand-up, which has been the bulk of my career, you have a degree of control over what you’re putting out – and obviously, you’re slightly massaging your own character to make it more likeable or whimsical or whatever.
When you start doing lots of TV or podcasts, you’re documenting your life more extensively and truthfully. I found this a lot with being disorganised and late for things, which is something that I still really would like to think at the age of 32 that I am going to get on top of, but I haven’t yet. In fact I was late for a gig in Bristol a few weeks ago and they had to stretch out the interval before I came on. After the gig I was looking at my tweets and someone had posted just before the show started: “Waiting in a long interval for the latest man in comedy.” That’s not a title that I’ve ever put out into the world, but that’s something that has been now baked in beyond my control. Which is a very long way of saying the way I come across on Taskmaster is stuff that the people close to me have known to be true for quite a while. I would have loved to have clawed things back a little bit. Instead, I have really dotted the I’s and cross the T’s.
I genuinely watched Taskmaster as a fan and thought, “If I could do Taskmaster, I’d be a whole different beast”. But that’s a delusion. We did five days of task filming, with a gap of a few weeks in between each day. I had plenty of time to regroup. I didn’t regroup.
You mentioned Josh Widdecombe. Did you speak to anyone else about it beforehand?
Fern Brady and I did a travel show for Dave last year called British as Folk, so I talked to her. They obviously don’t want you to talk to the other contestants who you’re on with, which is a bit of a shame because I know Mae quite well, so not texting them about how much fun it all was, was one of the necessary limitations and frustrations of it. Ed Gamble is someone I know quite well, he’s very deep into Taskmaster and I listen to his podcast about it a lot, which is a good way to get under the skin of how things might be received, or how things might be done well.
But everyone said, “Just enjoy it – it’s the best experience you’ll have in your career.” And it has been the best experience I’ve had in my career. And I have mostly enjoyed it. And like a lot of other manic regrets in life, I could vicariously rant at future Taskmaster contestants about what they need to do, often probably with no prompt or request whatsoever. I remember someone telling me, about stand-up, when I was on Live at the Apollo, to just take a moment to enjoy it – so that’s what I did with this. My brother’s a big fan and I talked to him about it. I said, “I’m quite worried that it might be a bit humiliating.” And my brother said, “Yes, but that’s your thing, isn’t it?”
Have you had any particularly humiliating episodes?
There was one team task where I had to make it back to the lab within a time limit, the other contestant had given me all the direction they could, and I was on course for a photo finish. And then, at the very last second, I thought I could duck into the kitchen and try and do a bit more of the task. I’d certainly not known it was that tight timewise at the time. And to hear the tension in the room as I came close to getting it right, and then the frustration when I got it wrong, as well as the points that it cost me and my team, that was a classic example of greed and hubris and trying to pack too much in. I really saw a lot of my personal failings crystallised in that moment.
What do you think of your fellow contestants?
I loved them all. The Taskmaster experience was such a compact little summer camp of friendship. It’s testament to how well Taskmaster puts groups of people together. I was a fan of all of their work beforehand, but Mae was the only person I’d met more than once before so it was really exciting to get to hang out together. In fact, Mae had the very thing that I envy most, which was a very logical, calm, usually brilliant approach whilst also being so funny along the way and doing little skits and stuff. Frankie was so unruffled and cool and turned up to the live shows in his suit, but I also saw him in his pants. As someone who was a huge fan of Frankie Boyle as a teenage comedy fan I saw a real different side to him. Jenny made me laugh more than anyone else. Just watching her cackle away and frequently saying things like, “Fuck this shit!” was heaven. She also said the most outrageous things in between filming, with filth and amazing candour, or turned an unbelievably dramatic story about getting mugged in Battersea in the 90s into one of the most exciting stories I had ever been told. Kiell I could watch do anything. He’s just swaggering into every scene and being so funny, but also being someone whose competitiveness I’ve been able to hide behind a little bit.
Interview with Jenny Eclair
What an absolute hoot. It’s a lovely line-up.
It is a good line-up; it’s an absolute treat. I’d met Mae once before, in Melbourne, when we were both doing the comedy festival. We were both younger than we are now. Mae was really young – foetally young – but I remember seeing them have breakfast and thinking, “What a gorgeous creature.” I’d never met Kiell before, he’s hilarious and much more capable than he occasionally seems, particularly in throwing tasks. Ivo is a poppet, he was at university with my daughter and they have mutual friends, but I’d never met him. Frankie, our paths have crossed, but never to a point where we’ve been stuck in a corner talking to each other so that was an absolute joy. There’s a real light side to Frankie, and when you hear him giggle it’s very fun. If you say something that makes him laugh, and you get that giggle, it’s really satisfying. I thought he’d be more intense.
He also thought you were going to be a bit more serious. And you’ve both found each other to be quite joyous.
I don’t know where he got that impression from but I’ve long been associated with Grumpy Old Women which actually was never about sitting there moaning. The television series was slightly more like that but the live shows were definitely not. We all make assumptions about people.
Were you competitive?
What happens with me is that I start really well, I fly very high, and then I do an Icarus and I crash to the ground. That has been the story of my life, my career, every single thing that I’ve ever done. I make a superhuman effort and do really well, then everything crumbles.
The truth is, I’ve been waiting 15 series to get on this show and you can imagine how begging my emails became over the years, and then I got really resentful that I wasn’t asked to go on it so I didn’t watch it for ages and ages, because I don’t watch programmes I’m not invited onto that I should be invited on to, which means I’ve never ever watched a single episode of Have I Got News for You, or many other fucking things. So then, when my manager said, “We’ve got you on Taskmaster,” I was absolutely overjoyed. Then I started watching it properly, and I thought, “Fucking hell, what have I got myself into? This is really fucking big.” It’s quite a monster task all in all, and physically and mentally draining.
Why did you want to do it so badly?
Because I saw my peers doing it and I thought, “Well, why haven’t I been invited to do this?” And it had a reputation for being really, really good fun.
Did you ask anyone for advice or tips beforehand?
No, I’m not like a baby [laughs]. No, I could tell people were having a good time.
Did you have any strategy?
No, I forgot. I forgot to have a strategy. It would have been better if I had, I think. But a strategy should always be “take it slowly” whereas I just did everything like a bull in a china shop because I thought, “If I do it quick they might not notice I’ve done it wrong.”
You clearly really enjoyed it. Is it a bit like returning to childhood?
I think so. I had a similar childhood. I was brought up abroad and we didn’t have television, so there was a lot of mucking about. I had a very mucking about childhood. So yes, you’ve actually hit the nail on the head. It is a total regression.
And have you learned anything about yourself?
Yes. That I’m incredibly stupid, naive, trusting and clumsy. And too quick to act and too slow to think. That’s what I’ve learned.
Any regrets, then?
I wish I had thought more about the prize tasks, because I was mortified on a couple of occasions. But no real regrets. I wish I hadn’t taken my shoe off without having any nail varnish on my toes in episode four. And I am very double-chinned, and I forgot about that. And I wish I could do some of the tasks again, knowing what I know now.
You were accused of emotional blackmail in a bid for points by bringing up stories about your family. Is that a fair accusation?
Yes, and I wish I’d done it more. Greg liked the story about my dad being a spy. I don’t think the story about my grandson got enough points, though. I’m not sure we’ll ever break that news to Arlo that he only scored a measly two points in that round, that it didn’t tug hard enough on Greg’s heartstrings.
How did you get on with Greg generally?
I recognise a very, very common streak of comedy in what Greg does and I adore the relationship he has with Alex. It really makes me laugh; I’ve become hysterical on occasion. I once saw his live show called The Back of my Mum’s Head, where I was almost incontinent with laughter. I went with my daughter, and it was in a small sweaty attic room in Edinburgh. We were sitting next to a boy who had never seen stand-up before and afterwards, he said, “Is it always like this?” and I had to say no. It was so special for him, he was wet with laughter. I had to say, “No, sometimes it’s shit. Come and see me tomorrow night.”
How do you describe the relationship between Greg and Alex?
Absolutely adorable. It’s a much more interesting Ant and Dec. And I love Ant and Dec. I’ve worked with them a lot and they’re great. But they’re not a patch on Greg and Alex, are they?
How do you describe your relationship with Alex during the actual tasks?
I felt sometimes that he felt very sorry for me but was trying not to show it. He wasn’t as helpful as he could have been. He could have saved my bacon on a couple of occasions. He gave me the impression that I was allowed to do things that I actually wasn’t. The thing is, in the studio, you know very well it’s not your show. It’s Alex and Greg that the audience have come to see. We are mere courtiers really, in the palace of. So it is quite nerve wracking, being in the studio. There’s a tension amongst us all. We want to do well, we want to be supportive of each other, but we also want to be funny, and sometimes you feel a bit clumsy.
You have to leave your dignity at home on Taskmaster, don’t you?
I’ve never had much dignity, and what little dignity I did have disappeared a very, very long time ago. I’ve done a lot of things I should have died of shame of over the years, and I’ve managed to survive. But that has helped. I don’t think you can have vanity and be funny unless you use vanity as the core to your comedy.
Was there any particular moment where you caught yourself in the middle of doing the task and thought, “What are we even doing here?”
There is one that has prompted me to write letters of apology to my family for being so stupid. It’s a history thing and I really, really showed what my teachers always wrote in my school reports, which is “doesn’t listen, doesn’t concentrate, waste of brain” and all this kind of thing. I really live up to everything my teachers said in my school reports. It’s the one that I really cringe about.
Why did you say yes to Taskmaster?
If I wasn’t asked within the next two years, I would have set fire to the Taskmaster house. I realised that all of the non-creators of Ghosts have done it – Lolly [Adefope], Katy [Wix] and Charlotte [Ritchie] – so I was like, “Excuse me, why is my phone not ringing?” I was desperate to do it. I don’t really love being myself on TV. I don’t think it’s my strong point – I’m an actor first and foremost, and I play characters – but this is one of the very few things that I really, really wanted to do. I wanted to do Catchphrase and I did that, and I wanted to do this and now I’ve done that. I’m sorted now.
So we’re not going to see you on Strictly or Celebrity MasterChef, then?
Not for me, really. No matter how much my mum wants me to go on Strictly. I’m sorry, Mum, but I don’t think I will be doing the jive any time soon.
Did you talk to any previous Taskmaster contestants about it?
I spoke to Guz Khan about it. Guz doesn’t really get excited by anything. He’s equally happy being the main person in the biggest show of all time as he would chilling at home watching TV. But he was like, “Bruh, you’re gonna smash it. You’ve got to do it.” I told Katy because we were filming when I found out I was going to do it, and all she said was, “Of course.” Charlotte came to watch me in the studio record. She’s like me: as an actor, you sometimes don’t really want to see yourself in that scenario, especially with a bunch of comedians. It can be daunting, and you worry whether you haven’t said enough, or you’ve said too much.
Have you learned anything about yourself?
I don’t think I knew I was that childlike. I knew I was silly, but watching it back I’m like, “That’s a small boy.”
I particularly enjoyed your reaction whenever you first heard the task. There’s always a real confusion.
When things sound too easy I think, “That’s got to be a trick.” But also if things are really complicated, I’m like, “Why has that been written like that?” It’s harder than you think. There’s one where, without giving too much away, there were probably about four different ways I could have fucked it up and I did all four. Actually, I probably did five. And also, how close I was to actually getting it right is really annoying.
Are you a competitive person?
A lot of people came in this like, “I’ve come here to win a trophy.” I said, “I don’t care about the trophy, I just want people to say ‘Kiell won Taskmaster’ one time. That’s all I care about.” I went in there going, “I’m going to fight for everything. I want to win.”
It started to get backstabby in the studio in the final episodes.
Yes. I think it was a really great dynamic for this group. Congrats to the guys for putting this team together. The dynamic was really funny. Frankie didn’t give a shit, he’s hilarious, but he did sometimes stir the pot for fun. Jenny was very comfortable, Mae and Ivo were the most competitive.
What surprised you most about the other contestants?
I’ve met Ivo a few times but this is definitely the longest time I’ve spent with him. He’s a very funny boy. His structuring of a joke is like working backwards. It’s like in an exam where you’ve got to show your working. I can’t even think like that. But he was loads of fun. Frankie, I didn’t know what to expect either. I was actually blown away by how funny he was whilst also not caring. It was like he thinks in a slightly different way to everyone else. I was really in awe of his ability to sit in his own thoughts; not on his phone, not reading a book, not watching anything, just sitting and observing the room – and sometimes not even that. I can last about three and a half minutes before I need to be on Twitter. I’m really impressed by it. It makes me want to try it out.
I want to take Jenny home. We had such a laugh. If the house next door to mine comes available, I’ll buy it for her, just so she could live next door. Mae I know quite well; we’ve done various improv shows together. When I was doing my show at the Soho Theatre, Mae was on before me so I’d see them every day and I knew what they were going to be like – I expected an element of competition. Mae has an Escape Room brain, and that is what I don’t have. At all. I’m going to name drop a little bit. it’s not a great one, but I once did a show with Noel Edmonds, and he told us about pranks that he used to do in the eighties. Obviously, he had a lot of money in the eighties so he was able to pay for some quite elaborate pranks. He went on a stag do and he paid a bricklayer to build a brick wall outside of the best man’s hotel room, so he’d open his door to a brick wall. I wanted to do that to Mae.
What was your tactic with Greg in the studio and trying to win a few extra points?
Greg was really annoying but I did try to convince him. Every now and then I was surprised by thinking that Greg was going to absolutely hate something, then he loved it, and vice versa, so I felt it was always worth having that conversation. Sometimes it would be going in my favour and Alex would pipe up like, “Ah, but what about…” Shut up, Alex, I’m chasing victory.
Was Alex helpful on the actual tasks?
He was at first, but then I felt he turned against me. He could be a master of destruction.
Is it true that you invented the term “Platty Jubes” for the Platinum Jubilee?
That’s correct. I was thinking about that during filming because Greg used the phrase and I said, “You owe me £50, that’s my copyright”. I got nothing for coming up with that. I didn’t get an endorsement deal. I didn’t get lifted up by the England team. Nothing. I want a Gregg’s black card. I want Jubilee sausage rolls for life.
Have you thought about a name for the King’s Coronation? Because you are clearly in charge of naming royal stuff now.
Hmm, the Coronation, eh? That’s interesting. Charlie’s Corrie. That’s a working title. Let me think about that one.
Does it feel like life has changed a lot in the last couple of years as Ghosts has grown and grown?
Firstly, I think Charlotte Ritchie should get a Bafta. Her performance is incredible in this show, and what she’s doing is brilliant. She’s a horrible person [laughs], but her performance is fantastic and I think she needs to get something for that. It’s a people’s favourite, but in terms of accolades and stuff, it hasn’t really done as much as it deserves because it’s a good show, it’s funny, it makes you laugh, makes you cry, it makes you think. It’s relatable – there’s at least one character that you can be like, “Oh, that reminds me of…” And it’s very rare to make a show like that, that can be enjoyed by all ages and that can move you. I think it’s been a bit underappreciated by the industry. Not by the fans, because the fans love it.
Why did you sign up for Taskmaster?
I’ve seen every episode, and I’m a big fan of tasks in general. I like problem solving; I spend most of my time in Escape Rooms. I wish that my life was just people giving me specific tasks to do. I like having choice and free will taken out of my life so I’ve been trying to get on Taskmaster for years. Every year, I literally begged them.
Why has it taken them so long to get you on?
Oh, there’s a long list of people desperate to do it, because everyone I know who’s done it has said the same thing: that it’s the most fun, and the best job, and the crew is so nice. So everyone’s desperate to do it. The format is bulletproof so in a way it doesn’t matter who’s on it, it’s always amazing because Greg and Alex are brilliant.
What did you think of your fellow contestants?
We’re super different but we did genuinely get on, even though we were at each other’s throats. There was a mutual respect! I loved sitting next to Kiell the whole time in the studio, he is hilarious. And I loved getting to know Jenny. Her laugh is so contagious and joyous, she made me laugh a lot. Ivo I’ve known for years, and Taskmaster is just the perfect format for his brain. He’s so verbose that he could take a mad task about an egg and distil it into some beautifully constructed aphorism about life. I don’t have that skill. It threw me into a bit of an existential crisis actually. Like, what is my comedic persona? I don’t have an angle. I was basically just trying really hard and really really cared about the tasks and forgot to be funny. I guess that’s my angle. I’d never met Frankie before. I knew all about him and didn’t know what to expect, but I was really pleasantly surprised. He was so lovely. I loved his dry, acerbic wit. There were these moments of real warmth and sweetness that were really nice when he got giggly.
Did you learn anything about yourself?
I learned that in that navy tracksuit I look like Judi Dench if she was eight years old. I wish I hadn’t worn that tracksuit. That’s my main thing. I could have worn literally anything else and that's what I chose? I thought I would look like some kind of cool American boy, but no. It’s really, really intense having to watch yourself. I’ve never watched myself doing stand-up – I can’t handle it. On Feel Good I was in the edit, so I had to get over myself but at least with that I had some kind of control over it. With Taskmaster, I had none. That was probably a good thing because I’d have just picked shots where my hair looks good.
You seemed quite calm.
Really?! That’s so crazy – I did not feel calm. I felt deeply panicked. Greg said I had poise, which was nice. I find Greg unbelievably magnetic. I don’t know what it is. I’ve met so many people in my life doing comedy, and I’ve never been more starstruck. For some reason, it’s like he’s the most famous man on earth in my heart. I think I just fancy him. People warned me about that. They said, “You’re going to be shocked by how fanciable Greg is.” And they weren’t lying. It’s because he’s so lovely. And it’s how quick they both are. And they’re so in tune with each other, it’s joyful. And so British.
They’re both very observant, aren’t they?
They're good at cutting right to your core with an off-hand remark. I think we’re all probably low-level narcissists, so when someone really incisively sums you up – I mean, any attention is always attractive – you’re like, “You’ve really seen me.” That’s very intoxicating. You’re like, “What else? Tell me more about me.”
Did you have a tactic when it came to dealing with Greg in the studio and trying to win him over?
I didn’t try as hard as Kiell or Ivo. I was happy to accept a loss. There were a few prize tasks where I got really shocked at the points given out, but it’s subjective, isn’t it? I knew going into it that you had to defer to his personal taste, and I knew arguing wasn’t going to get me anywhere, but maybe I thought “If I don’t push it, then maybe he’ll remember that he shafted me and he’ll pay me back. He’ll be more magnanimous.” That never happened.
How useful or not did you find Alex on the tasks?
When he says, “All the information’s on the task,” you want to chop his limbs off. Aside from that, I found him extremely charming. As a North American, I felt like I was in a Roald Dahl book. It’s so quintessentially English that I was just automatically charmed by it.
Why do you think it’s so English?
It’s the whimsy. It’s his word play, and the surrealness of it. And just the total silliness. It’s so nice for me. I’d just come off doing Feel Good, which was a hyper-personal comedy drama, you know, trauma parade. This experience was absolutely the antithesis to that, in the best way.
We should talk about Feel Good. Does it feel like things have changed a lot for you in the last couple of years? It’s done so phenomenally well.
Thanks. Yes, it came out during lockdown, so it could have done well or not, but now we’re out of lockdown that has been super nice. Even if 50 people really connected to it, that would have been nice, but it’s been great. I’m living in the States now, so it’s nice to come back for this and see my pals.
What do people say to you about it? People really connected with it.
Because it’s so personal, it opens the door to really deep personal conversations with strangers so there are a lot of people telling me about their addictions and their families and their relationships and sexuality and gender. There’s no small talk, people get right to the deep stuff, which I love. I hate small talk, so I’m happy to delve right in. And people really feel like they know me. And annoyingly, they do.
No regrets about that, though?
Nah! I also get a lot of, “What does Charlotte Ritchie smell like? What’s Charlotte Ritchie like?” She’s England’s rose. She came to watch the Taskmaster filming too, which was really nice. Kiell and I felt like we had our parents coming in to visit us.
Do you get competitive with each other over Charlotte though?
Over her attention? Sure. Alex asked her in front of us which of us was her favourite, and time froze. We all went silent. She said, “I can’t answer that.” She was very diplomatic.
Had you and Kiell met before?
Yes. Kiell and I do improv together and are pals but we both genuinely care about the integrity of the Taskmaster format, so we were really good about not discussing what tasks we’d done or anything like that. The impulse didn’t even cross my mind. I really didn’t want to.
But you both became increasingly competitive.
Yes, well, he was seething a lot of the time. Absolutely seething. I also really wanted to win but I also have a lot of self-loathing, so I was also like, “Will people hate me if I win? Maybe I shouldn't win”... I’d rather be liked than win, so it was a constant internal battle. But the winner gets to come back for Champion of Champions, so that’s the dream.
Were you surprised by the levels of competitiveness?
Oh, yes. I went into it thinking, “Don’t worry about anyone else, just focus on yourself.” But when you feel like someone has transgressed some rule or something, it’s so hard not to call them out, and then you feel like you’re ten years old. I know the worst thing in the world to be is a snitch, but you’ve GOT to get those points.
You have to leave your dignity and your vanity at home for this show.
I definitely had an out of body thing, thinking, “What am I doing?” because I am generally quite an inhibited person. I am quite shy and self-conscious about my hair and my appearance and stuff. So that was like exposure therapy, having to sit and watch yourself on the big screen as you try to peel an egg with your disgusting, pale, bare feet. People will take freeze frames of my fucking feet and mock me.
No, not at all. It’s also my dad’s favourite show. He was obsessed with Charlotte’s season. He watches it all from Canada, so I know that he’s gonna really enjoy it. It’s totally his type of thing. One of my prize tasks was something that my dad made. He spent months on it, to be honest. I can't wait for people to see it.