'I have accidental great physical comedy because I’m a klutz' | Desiree Burch on Taskmaster © C4/Avalon

'I have accidental great physical comedy because I’m a klutz'

Desiree Burch on Taskmaster

Series 12 of Taskmaster is coming to Channel 4 later this month. Here, contestant Desiree Burch talks about how she genuinely injured herself on set, her biggest competitors, and why she shied away from too much confrontation with Greg Davies

Why did you sign up for the show?

I didn’t have to be convinced. It’s so much fun! I have to say, especially during this time where there’s masking and Covid testing and all of that stuff, it was truly delightful to show up to a place around a bunch of people and do something fun that you’ve never done before, and are never going to do again.

My background is in theatre and working with performance artists, and Taskmaster is very similar to that sort of work where you’re trying to accomplish something in real time, and you’re allowing yourself to be witnessed doing it.

It’s an attempt, so it may very well fail. We’ve all watched each other and ourselves fail, especially when you look at someone else and you’re like, ‘How did you figure out how to do that?"’ I feel like that’s the perennial appeal of Taskmaster.

My only regret is that I wish I’d done better at certain tasks. Everyone who’s done this show has walked away from challenges like, ‘I should have done that differently.’

Did you know any of the others beforehand?

I had done some work with Guz [Khan], who’s amazing, and I’d done a little bit with Alan [Davies], who’s also wonderful. I didn’t know Morgana [Robinson] or Victoria [Coren Mitchell], but sitting in a room chatting about random stuff and our utter failures on screen together was a way of making a collective of everyone involved in that process.

I definitely feel a closer relationship to everybody now that we’ve been through it together. Usually on a job there’s that one person, but genuinely everyone on this has been truly lovely.

The fact that you all got on so well ended up irritating Greg, didn’t it? 

Yes, seriously! It’s like we were all kids. Everything we were doing on the show was relatively childish anyway, so it was easy to slip into those roles.

He was irritated by the fact that we were a collective unit, because that meant that we were all going to tease him like, ‘Come on, Dad!’

I hope that it lights the way for future generations of Taskmaster to really team up and get on his last nerve, because it is funny to watch. Obviously, there’s the persona and the reality, but it was hilarious that he seemed truly irritated by us.

Did you go in with any kind of strategy?

The only strategy you can do is to be utterly yourself. You sit there watching other people do tasks and you think, ‘Oh, she’s really good at the BS portion of this,’ or, ‘He’s really good at naturally coming at it from a different angle,’ or, ‘He’s good at being really calm,’ but ultimately, you can’t be any other kind of person than who you really are.

Turns out I’m good at saying random things out loud to myself as I’m trying to do something.

You had some very choice phrases!

I can’t take credit for ‘Holy Schnikes’, because I’ve been saying that ever since I saw Tommy Boy, which is where that appears. ‘Mother, Father’, I do say a lot too, because you’ve got to get that energy out somewhere.

But some of them just popped out, I think they came from the deepest part of my heart and soul out of sheer frustration. You know how when you’re around different people, you become a different person? When I got in that group, I was like, ‘Clearly we’re in a school project, and I’m the group leader,’ because I was always that person of like, ‘Well, someone’s got to get the assignment done, and everybody’s messing about.’ So you naturally start going, ‘Okay, I guess I’m the one who’s going to tell everybody what to do, otherwise we’ll be here for hours.’

How did you do in the group tasks?

The task with the riddle was the slowest task in Taskmaster history, of actually trying to get something done that should have been a lot easier accomplished. It’s like everybody uses so much less of their brains when they’re together.

We were on a walkie-talkie trying to communicate the alphabet, which seemed to stymie everyone. You’re looking at the cameramen texting their wives like, ‘I’m not going to be home for dinner.’ It’s like you’re looking at people’s dreams die behind the camera. I really wanted to solve that riddle! It was so frustrating.

People often learn a lot about themselves on this. Did you learn anything different about yourself?

A lot of the frustrations that you have about yourself come to light. I was most disappointed when I had an instinct, and then immediately, habitually, as I do in my real life, went, ‘No,’ and then did another thing, when I should have gone with my instinct.

You’re given a task, and it’s like achievement versus time, and you have to pick one. If you pick time, then you’re going to be flustered. I regret cutting corners when I didn’t necessarily have to. I could have sat down and done the task fully, as opposed to freaking out and ending up doing it neither fast nor well.

In the studio tasks, you compare with the others out of the side of your eye, which never gets anybody anywhere good.

I’m much better being true to myself, seeing how it goes, and feeling fine about how that shakes out. The times that I wished I could do things differently were when I wasn’t fully true to myself, because I felt like, ‘Oh, everybody else is going to do this better or quicker or faster.’

It’s better to honour the weird thing that you want to do. The same thing goes in life too. That’s what I learned.

There’s no point looking at what everyone else is doing because they don’t know what they’re doing either.

Yes! One of the tasks I got totally right, like knocked it out of the park really quickly, but I was still sitting there going, ‘Did I do this wrong?’

There were a couple of times when I was like, ‘Wait, I did the thing we were supposed to do, and everybody else did this other thing,’ so I’m worrying about what I did, when there was no need.

There was one task where I really wiped out. I do have accidental great physical comedy because I’m generally a klutz, but I really came down hard on that one. 

At one point you complained that there were too many throwing games. Do you stand by that?

Yes! I’m not a PE person, and I’ve never quite learned when to let go of the thing you’re throwing. Morgana has a netball background so she was great at throwing stuff.

What was your lowest moment?

There were some low moments in the studio when all of us failed which were pretty rough. Alex does like to have very wordy challenges too, which could have gone either way. Sometimes I tried to convince myself I didn’t care, and I didn’t want to win. But I did, and I did.

How badly did you want to win?

It’s hard, because I don’t normally win things. I don’t win raffles. If it’s an academic thing, or a monologue competition, great – but anything in the real world, I don’t. But this, I really wanted to win. I want my picture on the house wall!

I went into the studio every week like, ‘I have every confidence I’m going to be applauding somebody else tonight and trying to be very gracious about it.’ I was trying to prepare myself for the worst, but what I really wanted was to be like, ’In your face!’ Who doesn’t want to snatch a trophy?

The more I talked about it, the more I wanted it. I needed to shut up about it. It was a balancing act. Yes, we’re all here, we’re all on TV, we’re all happy to work, we’re bringing entertainment to people. It’s so much fun, and it’s a joyous thing to share with people in the world. That’s all true, but winning is better.

Who was your main competition?

Oh, I can tell you right now that Morgana Robinson and Guz Khan were my main competition. Morgana was very good at talking a good game about her studio prizes, so I had to step that up. It’s hard, because no matter what happens you want to remain true to yourself because you don’t want to lose. I was like, ‘Let me try to crank it up a little bit more.’ I needed to bring my A-game.

Did you ever try to argue your case with Greg?

Sometimes that can be quite effective, but I had to be careful because I have one of those personalities where if I ever get upset, people are like, ‘Why did you take it so far?’ I ride a fine line. People can be like, ‘What’s wrong with her?’

 You have to leave your ego and your vanity at the door and possibly your dignity as well when you do this show.

Yep. I fell over, which was funny, so I know that’s going to look hilarious. I hurt my wrist on that one, and I blistered my fingers on another.

I felt more embarrassed during the studio moments, doing stupid things like putting an upside-down face on my face, but when you’re a paid clown, that’s part of the package. You’d like to think, ‘Oh, I’m smart, I should be able to figure these things out,’ but when you’re sitting there looking at yourself on camera, you don’t even know how it’s turned out or how you look.

We all tried to do paper aeroplanes, and nobody could pull it off. You’re sitting there going, ‘This is pathetic and sad and wrong, and no one’s even in the studio to pretend that it’s funny.’ But that’s the chance you take with randomness and chaos, and that’s why people love the show.

What were your funniest moments?

There were so many times where I was brought to tears, laughing at stuff on screen. When Alan was trying to make his upside-down face, there was this moment of quiet despair that went across his face. We laughed because we’d all been there at some point too.

The laughter comes so much easier with something like this because it’s so pure in a way, like you can tell that these are genuine attempts and genuine reactions.

Victoria is absolutely lovely, and she can talk a great game about why she’s done the thing, but Greg will lay into her like, ‘No, it’s not working for me.’

She’s got maximum chutzpah and perfect comedic timing. I have to give it to her for that.

• Taskmaster series 12 starts on Channel 4 at 9pm on Thursday September 23.

Published: 8 Sep 2021

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