'I’ve been psychologically crushed enough to be compliant' | Sarah Kendall on her Taskmaster experience © Andy Devonshire/C4

'I’ve been psychologically crushed enough to be compliant'

Sarah Kendall on her Taskmaster experience

Were you a fan of the show before you signed up?

I did know about it and I’m into the fact that you do genuinely start caring about the outcome. You go into it sort of thinking, ‘Well, who cares if you can’t get a frozen banana into a bottle of lubricator’ and then by the end of the show you find yourself seriously stressing about how you’re going to get it in there. It’s a slippery slope.

Is it more important to be funny or to do the task?

I didn’t try to be funny at all. I wanted to do the tasks well and I tried really hard and didn’t succeed a lot of the time, which is really the sad bit.

I wasn’t going, ‘Yeah, this is going to be funny’ – I genuinely gave it my best because I think that’s more interesting to watch as a viewer. I don’t like watching someone not trying. I tried super hard and was still pretty mediocre! That’s what’s really heart-breaking for me to watch. 

What did you discover about yourself?

I’m not good in an emergency; in fact my mind goes completely blank as soon as there is any kind of urgency. My brain has checked out and I’m not even thinking tangentially, there’s just nothing happening upstairs.

The thing I found that I’m good at is working well in a team: I will do what I’m told. I instantly defer to another member of the team who I recognise as a senior, and then I just go, ‘Tell me what to do.’ I’m a henchman essentially. 

Were you surprised by that?

Oh no, I’m a follower from way back. The other thing I found is that even though I know something is going to look grotesque on camera, I don’t mind doing it.

I spent a fair few moments licking objects and putting them in my mouth and I knew at the time it wouldn’t look good on camera but sitting in the studio and seeing it played back, it was shocking television. It was really alarming for me to see myself doing that. I literally put everything in my mouth.

You really can’t have any kind of ego or vanity on this show, can you?

No, that will absolutely work against you and I think any standards of behaviour, you have to check it all in at the door and try very hard, never knowing why you’re trying.

That’s the other layer to it that’s also completely complexing, you do all of that and try your very hardest and then at the end you go, ‘Why do I even care what the outcome is?’ That’s what’s so intoxicating about this show – just how much you start to care about the outcome.

Did your day job give you any kind of head start – you must be good at thinking quickly?

Yeah, I’m good at making affable chit-chat whilst I do something to a poor standard! So what I found I really excelled at was a bit of banter with Alex, just friendly banter. It’s not Oscar Wilde – it’s ‘breakfast regional radio’ kind of level.

It’s a skill of sorts.

But it’s not though, is it? I thank you but it’s not.

What about Greg?

I’ve known Greg for years just from live comedy and doing stand-up. Of course he’s the Taskmaster so you play along with this insane Roman emperor persona that he has, but he’s a formidable force.

Joking aside, he’s a presence and you find yourself caring when he doles out the point. It hurts. At first you think, ‘I don’t give a fuck how many points you give me, I’m a 44-year-old mother of two’ then it quickly goes to, ‘Two points? Oh wow.’ It’s a really unnerving study in humans

Did you do anything to try and sway him?

If you do the whole ‘We’re mates’ thing he’ll be like, ‘Of course we’re mates – but I’m still giving you no points.’

It’s almost like an empirical fact – like, ‘Yeah we’re friends but gravity still exists, you can’t debate that’. It’s nothing personal, it’s just business: that’s the vibe you get from Greg.

Did being a mum of two help or hinder you?

I think parenting prepares you beautifully for boring and repetitive task work. There was one task where I said, ‘What you’ve given me there is three tasks, all at the same time, which are very difficult but kind of brainless and there is no thanks at the end of it’ and that’s basically a Saturday morning, that’s the school run.

So in a way I’ve been psychologically crushed enough to be compliant and not question it. As a mother you just say, ‘Yes of course’, so you wrap a birthday present, clean some shit off some clothes … you do all of those things so it’s actually good prep.

Was there a difference between the genders?

I don’t think I had the mental fortitude to fight over points. I found the boys would scrap over points a lot more than Charlotte and I did. I don’t know if that was just Charlotte and me or if there is some interesting gender psychology breakdown there.

I did find there was a certain maleness that crept in very early: it was like silverbacks in the jungle – I felt like I was Jane Goodall and I was witnessing the silverbacks duke it out for supremacy.

I want to qualify that by saying I love them all, they’re wonderful guys. These are men that I really like and get along with and even I’m going, ‘Jesus Christ, guys’.

Plus these are showbiz men, they’re not real men by any standards! So even pretend showbiz men who can’t do anything, even they become super competitive.

What about the prize tasks: did you bring in anything precious?

I did put in a lot of effort and took it very seriously. I think that first round is a really nice way for the viewers to meet you, it’s a nice way for them to get to know you so I put a lot of thought and effort into that. Possibly too much. I kind of look like the swot who worked too hard on their homework; there’s something very uncool about it.

But I’m pretty sure that if I approached any of the contestants and said, ‘Would you mind if I had that thing back, it means a lot to me’, they’d have to be real pieces of shit to say no.

Did you get any advice from anyone who has been a previous contestant?

I’m very good friends with Kerry Godliman and Lou Sanders and they both said to me, ‘You’ve got to do Taskmaster’. They said not only is it an incredibly fun shoot but it’s actually really friendly in terms of the working hours and it’s a really happy set. So they both raved about their experience.

Phil Wang as well is a good friend of mine and said he had a great time. It only took them 11 series to invite me, so I instantly leapt at it.

What was it like filming during lockdown?

Being home with two children all day and home-schooling them for six months … it turns out that that’s really tiring. The first task after lockdown, I look like Tom Hanks in Castaway. All of us looked so bad on those days: everybody’s hair was fucked up, my moustache was too long … it was pretty stunning viewing.

Are your kids fans of the show?

My son is seven so he’s young, but he’s kind of into it. My daughter has a very gendered, female response of, ‘That’s all well and good, but why?’

• Taskmaster returns to Channel 4 at 9pm on Thursday with contestants Charlotte Ritchie, Jamali Maddix, Lee Mack, Mike Wozniak and Sarah Kendall.

Published: 15 Mar 2021

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