From destroying baked goods in the ‘most beautiful way possible’ to seeking out celebrities who’ll sign a vegetable, Dave’s Taskmaster is part panel game, part challenge show – and part plain bonkers. Now in its fourth series, it’s just picked up a BAFTA nomination for best Comedy and Comedy Entertainment Programme. Here, the stars and makers of series four talk about its origins and why it works so well.
1. It started as a one-off show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Creator, producer and co-presenter Alex Horne dreamt up the idea for Taskmaster eight years ago, but as a live show, not a TV series. ‘I emailed 20 colleagues, such as Josie Long, Joe Wilkinson and Mark Watson, saying, “I’m writing to you because I like what you do. In particular, I like the fact that you sometimes do interesting things and tell people about them in a funny way,” so that got them onboard. Then I said: “I’m planning a show at Edinburgh – here’s the basic idea: I challenge comedians I admire to join in the ultimate comic challenge. Over the next year, I write to them each month, setting them a daunting/amusing/pointless task, and each time, my brave comics will let me know how they’ve got on. The final round will climax in Edinburgh 2010, where I’m going to reveal the results, and the competitors can explain/defend their actions and query their opponents’ techniques.” So that was the birth of the show.’
2. Tasks are thought up in a hot tub
‘Thinking of the tasks is quite a specific skill,’ explains Alex. ‘They have to encourage lateral thinking and a variety of methods, but be the right side of wacky – quirky but not “zany”. It turns out the best way to come up with them is to sit in a hot tub. My wife rented one for two weeks for my birthday, so the director, the series producer and I had quite a few meetings in this hot tub coming up with tasks. So far, no one from the public has suggested a good task, but feel free to write in.’
3. The contestants take things seriously
Despite the silliness of the tasks, the show seems to unleash the competitive sides of the contestants. In series one, comedian Josh Widdicombe actually had Greg’s name tattooed on his foot to secure his place as victor. Series four hopeful Mel Giedroyc is a self-confessed fan: ‘I just love the show. It’s that combination of really stupid and really clever, which I like, and I love the fact it’s very GB.’ She went to the effort of getting four members of a boy band to sign a variety of oddly shaped vegetables for episode one. You’ll have to watch to find out whether it was enough to bag her first place.
4. Kirstie Allsopp might have been involved
‘In the original pitch for the show, I called it “The Taskmaster”, which was a mistake,’ Alex Horne explains. ‘The main difference between the show now and the pitch idea was that I thought there’d be 10 contestants, not five, and not just comedians, so I had people like Kirstie Allsopp and Louis Smith in there. UK TV thought there was something in it, which is to their credit, and with their help we whittled it down to five comedians, rather than celebrities, and I think that does make it a good show. Because it turns out comedians are funny people.’
5. There’s a pedigree team behind the show
Director Andy Devonshire, who’s racked up an impressive list of credits on big-budget prime-time shows, including The Apprentice and Top Gear, is responsible for making the show ‘look like a classy show’, according to Alex. Perhaps even more excitingly, production designer James Dillon, who designed the original Crystal Maze no less, is the creative force behind Taskmaster’s studio set and VT locations – 70s caravan included.
Taskmaster series 4 is on at 9pm, Tuesdays, Dave, BT channel 12/387 HD