'Working with Greg Davies is like being a pet' | Taskmaster Series 7: Alex Horne interview © UKTV

'Working with Greg Davies is like being a pet'

Taskmaster Series 7: Alex Horne interview

Taskmaster returns to Dave for its seventh series next  Wednesday. Here the show’s creator, and Greg Davies’s put-upon sidekick, ‘little’ Alex Horne talks about the show…

What’s this series like? 

I think it might be our favourite one, which sounds like that’s the sort of thing you say every series. But it’s really good fun and brilliant. 

What’s so good about it: is it the contestants or the tasks? 

It’s really hard to put a finger on it, I think. It’s just a sort of chemistry thing, in that all five bring something different to it. You’ve got James Acaster, who really knows the show inside out, he’s a superfan who’s watched every episode, then you’ve got Rhod Gilbert, who’s seen virtually none of it. 

So, James is trying to work things out, Rhod’s just trying to get through it. They’re very different.


Jess Knapett and Phil Wang are slow, odd people, in a nice way, and Kerry Godliman  is - well, we always seem to end up with someone who is the straightforward one, boshes her way through it, does really well. She’s almost like Romesh Ranganathan: she never thinks of a way around it, she just does it.

If you had five people like her, or five people like Rhod, it wouldn’t work, but the combination is great. And also, they are just funny, funny people. 

There have been some comedians who’ve appeared on the show just as their career was exploding into the stratosphere.


Yes, it might be a coincidence, but it feels like that. We do try to pick people on the way up like Joe Lycett, Rob Beckett, Romesh, Sara Pascoe.

And it definitely could be the same for Phil and James in this series. You know, they’re both well on their way but there’s a difference between the comedy world that I know and the comedy that my parents know, for example.


But yes, we do try to get that mixture of someone who is very experienced, like Frank Skinner or Rhod Gilbert, and then people who are fresh, but comfortable enough to cope in what is a pretty weird situation.

They all have to improvise, they all have to be able to defend themselves with no scripts, so picking the team is hard. they are just funny, funny people. 

   

What makes a good Taskmaster contestant? 

I don’t think there’s an answer to that particularly, I guess it’s sort of an attitude, but it doesn’t matter if it’s a positive or negative attitude.


It helps if you don’t have much dignity, or at least if you’re prepared to put that to one side. 

But I think many things make a good contestant. You know, we’ve had nice people, angry people - it all works, you just have to fit into the jigsaw,

Is it in any way hard to persuade people to do the show? 

It really helps everyone knows what it is now. The only thing is, there are certain people who are busy, busy, busy, and making Taskmaster is quite time consuming. You can’t just turn up. If you want just a lazy job, this isn’t the one for you.

But people do like the idea of it, we just haven’t managed to work around their schedules. There’s still a couple of people I haven’t got yet. 

Can you say who they are? 

I always say Jack Dee, because I feel like the more I say it, the more chance I have of getting him. He’s number one on our list. I worked on Big Brother, a long time ago, and I do remember Jack being on the very first Celebrity Big Brother. 

The way he tried to escape using a spoon is very much a Taskmaster idea. So I just know he’d be great. 

Do you ever get the giggles when you’re watching a task? 

Yes, more and more, which is a worry. This time round, there’s a task where they’re not meant to blink, and Rhod does something very extreme to himself, and I really lose it on that. But I’m also crying a bit, because it’s so painful. So, laughing and crying. 

In terms of trying to butter up Greg, how successful or not have they been this time?


Well, they’re never very successful! I’m not giving too much away by saying Phil’s probably not going to win, but even I would be keen for Greg to give Phil a few extra points to keep him in the hunt. 

It’s difficult to have a strategy when it comes to buttering up Greg anyway, isn’t it? Because you just don’t know what he’s going to do.


Yes but he does listen to logic. If you can persuade them that something is within the rules, he will listen to that. And you’ve got to appeal to his very silly side, I think. He is a very silly man. If there’s something just really stupid, he will normally like that. 

How is your on-screen relationship progressing in this series? 

Oh, it’s very difficult to know. He’s touching me more, but he’s crosser with me.   He’s getting quite handsy. I think the relationship is breaking up. It’s really not in a healthy place. Off-camera it’s great. But it’s getting more odd on-camera. 

Do you rehearse your chats together? 

There’s literally zero rehearsal but we do have a little chat about what we’re going to do. It’s much better if there’s no rehearsal, I think. I mean, we don't know that, it might be better if we could rehearse it. But it feels more natural this way. 

Is he still your master In Between different series? 

Yes. It’s a full-time job. I think of it as being a pet, but I also work for him. Like a working dog. A husky or something.

Is Rhod the most extreme contestant you’ve ever had? 

Yes. I mean, they do all test themselves, and James Acaster has pushed it a lot as well. But there’s no doubt that Rhod’s gone the furthest. From the very first task. 

  

Have you got any idea what anybody from the previous series has done with the gold Greg busts?

They’ve all got them in their private places. I think they were all very surprised that they were actually allowed to keep them. They are quite expensive. 

Josh didn’t get one because in the very first series we gave away a karate trophy because we didn’t know if we were going to get recommissioned. 

So we have since given him one and he’s really proud of it. 

They are the best trophies. I mean, they don’t look anything like Greg, but they are good trophies. So I think they are on mantelpieces across the country. 

Do people actually take the prizes home, or do they renege on that? Because sometimes they put up very personal and / or expensive prizes…


They always, always take home the prizes they win. That’s our line. I’m sticking to it.

I don’t believe you! 

What we do have to tell them is that legally, if you win the episode, you get all those things. So if someone puts up their car, and someone else wins that episode, the winner does officially own that thing, legally. 

Whether or not they squabble about it and hand things back in their own time is up to them. 

So what effect did the 15-year friendship between Greg and Rhod have on this series, as a whole?


It’s never really happened before. Well, Roisin Conaty in series one, they were mates, but this has been slightly different. 

It does mean Rhod has had an edge in some tasks, but equally, Greg has marked him down on other tasks, because you do, you know, you don’t want a friend to do well, ever. 

So it’s been a fun thing. I think viewers will enjoy it. It’s just seeing two mates. It’s a bit like the Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse fishing programme at the moment – it’s just nice to see two people who do clearly have a past. 

Are there any particularly interesting prizes in this series? 

There is a horrific mummified cat. There’s some good artwork. One of the contestants has gone down the route of using their 15-year friendship with Greg to produce quite a lot of unusual items. 

  

Do people call you Little Alex Horne on in the street now? 

Yes. The common thing is, ‘Why are you that tall’ They’re just quite cross with me for not being little. So that plan is working.

   

Do viewers send in their own ideas for tasks? 

Yes and I really love that people take it on. My favourite thing is when they do their own Taskmaster event, which happens reasonably often now. 

Stags, hens, scouts, football teams, they all do it - it’s brilliant. 

I actually much prefer it when they come up with their own tasks, do it themselves, and tell us about it, rather than send it as an idea for the show. 

Because normally, without being boastful, if they send in a task we’ve usually thought of it already because that’s what we do all the time, just sit and think of tasks. 

We haven’t ever used a viewer’s idea. I’m not saying we wouldn’t, if it’s a great idea, but it’s also such a peculiar thing to get right. 

But people send other lovely things too. Someone sent in some music - the Taskmaster theme tune, but as if it was on a computer game. 

And someone has sent in a spreadsheet of all the points that have ever been handed out. I love that people take the stats seriously. 

Because of the level of interest, we’ve got a book coming out which is a cross between a board game and a behind-the-scenes book with tasks for every occasion. 

• Taskmaster series 7 starts on Dave at 9pm on  Wednesday September 5, with the second episode available on UKTV Play  immediately afterwards.

Published: 27 Aug 2018

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