Taskmaster: A Beginner's Guide

As Dave's runaway hit returns for its 8th series, we've kindly made you a beginner's guide so you can get up to speed

Article by Emma O'Brien | 01 May 2019
  • Taskmaster

There surely can’t be many who regularly make the August pilgrimage to the Fringe who haven’t fondly imagined all the stalwarts of the circuit hanging out and getting into humorous scrapes. From one such moment of festival high jinxing came Taskmaster; currently having seven TV series, two specials and a Stateside season under its belt, it’s still going strong.

The peculiar concept is almost as if someone created a Fringe stalwarts Big Brother but dumped the contestants on the set of Shooting Stars. Even in the age of the panel show as soothing background noise, there’s nothing quite like humdrum chatter to calm the soul. While the format is familiar enough, pitting comedians against each other in a series of increasingly ridiculous tasks to earn points, the panellists on Taskmaster remain the same for the whole series and have showcased an incredible range of comedic talent.

Initially conceived by Alex Horne as a long range concept for a 2010 Fringe show, it was inspired by his watching of the Crystal Maze and stint behind-the-scenes of Big Brother. Throughout 2009, Horne set 20 comedians a task a month via email, culminating in a 'drunken two hour show' where he reported back on their progress. Following the success of this venture and its subsequent outings, the television series was commissioned by Dave in 2014, and has been recently commissioned for at least another two series.

Past winners include Katherine Ryan, Bob Mortimer and Liza Tarbuck, who compete for the prize of a bust of ringmaster Greg Davies (or a karate trophy if you’re Josh Widdicombe). The whimsical nature of the tasks such as ‘draw the best picture of a horse whilst riding a horse’ have the ante upped slightly as each participant hands over an item of personal value to add to the prize pot – wedding rings and houses have both been risked. As the tasks are filmed separately, a crucial element of the show is that no contestant has any idea of their relative success until the final judging process, meaning camaraderie can somewhat go headfirst out of the window with people trying earnestly to convince Horne that they are the real winner. Personal task highlights include Sally Phillips' video of Little Alex Horne being 'born', which needs to be seen to believed and frankly will probably need seeing repeatedly, and Jon Richardson’s touching rendition of Three Blind Mice.

Taskmaster has earned itself a loyal following of die hard fans, some of whom congregate on subreddits to discuss episodes, and it’s easy to see why as the bizarre charm of the format is evident on first viewing. Far more than on traditional panel shows, you get the sense that Taskmaster was genuinely fun to make and the contestants seem to be having a great time in both the pre-recorded tasks and the studio finales, with the live audience gleefully reciprocating.

You get the sense that were this to return to its drunken live format, while a joyous time would be had by all, we could likely also expect arrests. Though some reviewers pointed out the tokenism of only one female comedian and person of colour per panel for the first few series, the show was generally well received and seems to have been rather a coup for original programming on Dave.

Endearing, energetic and unique, for all its referential touchstones there’s really nothing else to compare Taskmaster to. With a companion book being published late last year, you can now attempt your own tasks from a selection of 200, and with the series being as much unabashed fun as you can find, it surely won’t be long until I pitch my editor a running column of me trying to 'high five a 55 year old' and looking an absolute dickhead.

Series 8 of Taskmaster returns to Dave on 8 May and can also be found on UKTV Player. This series' contestants are Iain Stirling, Lou Sanders, Paul Sinha, Sian Gibson and Joe Thomas