A Hypothetical James Acaster interview

As co-host on Hypothetical, James lays down the rules and dishes out the points and generally plays the pedant. Luckily he's very good at that as we found out.

A Hypothetical James Acaster interview

Can you describe the concept of Hypothetical?

So, Josh Widdicombe asks contestants some hypothetical questions - what they'd do in different circumstances - and I lay down the rules and dish out the points. We have four comics every week who have very different minds and a different array of approaches.

Do you feel you get a real insight into their personalities?

You get an insight into how they panic, and what their minds do when they have to think on the spot. You see how willing people are to go along with it. Luckily everyone who came on was very open to going down a bit of a rabbit warren of ideas.

We have a load of props ready for every eventuality. So, if they say they are going for a meal, for example, somewhere in their plan, we have a dinner table ready with candles and plates and so on.

The amount of props we had left over at the end was ridiculous but we had to have different scenarios because we never knew which way people's minds were going to take them.

James Acaster with guest Rob Beckett during a Hypothetical Question in Episode 1.

James Acaster with guest Rob Beckett during a Hypothetical Question in Episode 1.

How did you get involved in Hypothetical?

Josh and I started comedy at the same time and I did Josh's radio show for many years. When he started developing this, they did a couple of run-throughs without a co-host but they decided two people would work better so he asked me.

It sort of felt like they needed a good cop - bad cop thing where Josh is asking the fun questions and I'm the pedant.

It's such a fun show. It's the sort of thing I've been doing since I was born, asking these questions of my friends and joking around. Every day in the studio, the audience took no time at all to go, 'What is this show?' They all understood it because they've all done it for years.

How much did you enjoy the improvisation scenes?

I really enjoyed it. I've never really done it before. I've watched great improv comedy groups before like Snort and The Bareback Kings. I used to write off improv and think it was just a game for intellectual people to show off, which it is if it's done badly. But with a sense of humour and fun applied it is really funny. So I was keen to do that myself and bounce off comics who I really admire. It's my favourite part of Hypothetical, messing around with that.

James with guests Romesh Ranganathan and Matt Forde in Episode 4.

James with guests Romesh Ranganathan and Matt Forde in Episode 4.

Did the role of 'pedant' come naturally to you?

Yeah! I get obsessed with minutiae and over-analyse things, so that was fine. But although I was the pedant and I was supposed to get them to stick to the rules, it was often funnier to say 'yes' and let them carry on, rather than blocking them. So the more episodes we did, the more generous I got.

What was it like working with Josh again?

He's one of the easiest people to get along with that I know. From day one of us starting stand-up together in 2008, he's always been the same person. He's never changed, he's never been difficult, there's no ego. I didn't even have to think about it really.

The line-up is brilliant. How did you get so many people to say yes?

The people who came on the show are largely people we know personally so, although they don't know what the show is because it hasn't been on TV yet, I think they trust us. I'd like to think they saw it was me and Josh and assumed it would be at least worth giving a go. I think everyone came out and enjoyed it.

James with guests Guz Khan and Cariad Lloyd in Episode 8.

James with guests Guz Khan and Cariad Lloyd in Episode 8.

What were your highlights?

Well I don't want to give anything away but there was a fact about an ex-footballer that Matt Forde got fundamentally wrong, and when this was pointed out to him, he went into a complete spin. Bearing in mind that football is his thing. It's the most I've laughed on any TV show, ever.

Then on another one there was a soap improv that is so good I think we'll get tweets saying we're cheating and it can't possibly have been improvised but I promise you it was.

Then it turns out Jon Richardson loves musicals. We gave him a question about musicals thinking, 'This'll be hard' but it turns out he loves musicals more than life itself so that backfired.

We decided to bully Romesh Ranganathan as much as we possibly could and I think we achieved that so his episode was fun.

You've been doing stand-up for a long time but having done more TV recently, have you noticed a change in how people respond to you and recognise you?

It's been a gradual change over the years to be honest. If you look for that, you're never going to enjoy this job. If everything you do makes you think, 'Is this helping my career?', it's not the right way around. I think it's not about whether things to lead to anything, it's about enjoying what you're doing.

If it's about whether your face is everywhere but not necessarily doing something you're proud of, I know which one I would prefer. If I'm making a living and doing what I want, that's all that matters.

Each year a handful more people come to my live shows and I get to do a different project that I haven't done before. This year it's Hypothetical, last year it was Taskmaster and a Netflix show. Bit by bit you're lucky enough to get to do what you want to do.

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