Taskmaster returns to the Channel 4 schedules this March with a brand new cast of hopefuls all keen as a condiment to win television’s most revered gong: a vague representation of Greg Davies’s head sprayed with gold paint.
Those contestants are: Charlotte Ritchie, Jamali Maddix, Lee Mack, Mike Wozniak and Sarah Kendall.
Where did the idea for Taskmaster come from?
Alex: Eleven years ago, my wife and I had had a baby, so I didn’t go to Edinburgh Fringe for the first time in years.
Tim Key won the comedy award and I was sat at home with the baby feeling very jealous, genuinely. So, I set up a show for the following year and I invited 20 comics. I sent them all emails secretly, didn’t tell them who each other was, and said, ‘I’m starting a new competition which you can enter, I’m going to set you a different task every month’.
Mike Wozniak won it and Tim didn’t, so I was happy. And none of the comedians was Greg Davies.
Greg: I’d love to tell you it wasn’t noted at the time, but it was noted at the time. I was in a sketch group, We are Klang, and one of the members had been invited by Alex, so I knew about it.
Alex: That must have looked like a quite cliquey sort of thing.
Greg: Yeah, it felt like there was a real Edinburgh clique going on and I was in the early stages of my career, excluded by someone I would have thought was a monster.
Alex: I think I would have been scared of you. I didn’t ask any of the bigger boys.
Greg: I wasn’t even that fat back then!
Alex: You were quite lanky weren’t you, but I just meant, we didn’t really know each other, is probably the truth.
Greg: We didn’t know each other at all but it didn’t stop me from feeling excluded.
It was obviously a successful show…
Alex: It was on at midnight and only 150 people watched it but it got more word of mouth than it probably merited. It was one of those quirky Edinburgh things. So we did it again the following year, then Avalon said, ‘There’s something in this’, and we started pitching it as a TV show with Greg hosting.
Alex: Well, I would challenge you to name anyone else who could do that job. He had all the elements that role needed, as well as being very funny and good off the cuff. I’d say his physical attributes lend itself to the role, but also the headmasterly qualities.
Greg: I’ve basically spent the majority of my adult life pretending to have authority. I certainly was like that in the sketch group I was in and on stage I tend to turn the volume up on everything I do. So, some bombastic tall shouty man setting tasks seemed like a very natural fit.
Alex: There’s a moment in every show where Greg does have to say, ‘That’s it, we’re moving on now’. And most comics… even Johnny Vegas in this series listened to Greg and moved on, which I’ve seen him not do on many other shows.
Greg: Once I put the Taskmaster suit on, I become someone else.
Alex: Yeah, even our relationship: it’s odd but we do instantly have a different relationship.
Greg: It is odd because it’s all very cordial off set, but as soon as I step onto set, there’s just a natural irritation I feel towards you.