A Hypothetical Josh Widdicombe interview

Posing offbeat questions on tour like 'long you could live in a service station?' was just a way for Josh to pass the time. And now it's turned into a brand new show on Dave. But it's still a GREAT way to pass the time. We caught up with the host of Hypothetical to find out more...

A Hypothetical Josh Widdicombe interview

Where did the idea for Hypothetical come from?

On tour there's always a lot of time to kill. And I've always found posing questions to the tour manager or support act as a fun way to while away the time, although I think they may find it quite annoying. One night I was talking to Tom Craine and Matthew Crosby, who are both brilliant comedy writers, about that and I thought actually, this would be a good idea for a comedy show. So I took it to Hat Trick and to my amazement, they wanted to make it! It's one of those things where you have an idea and you think, 'This won't go anywhere', and before you know it, you're in a studio thinking, 'God, I've got to learn to read an autocue'.

It feels like a game everyone can play, doesn't it?

Yeah and that's one of the things we liked about it, it's got that simplicity and everybody has played this game in one form or another. All the shows I love the most, like Taskmaster or Would I Lie To You? are simple ideas. You don't have to have lots of different rounds where it's completely different because the main idea is strong enough and simple enough on its own.

That's one of the reasons we liked this and secondly, as you say, it's the sort of thing you hope people will already understand and play along at home. You hope that the next day they will be discussing how they would tackle the hypothetical. It's got that play-along-ability, if you like.

There's one question for example where we ask, 'If you could only use five words for the rest of your life, what would they be?', and I'd hope people at home will talk about that amongst themselves afterwards.

Sara Pascoe, Lou Sanders, Nish Kumar and Ed Gamble are guests on Episode 3.

Sara Pascoe, Lou Sanders, Nish Kumar and Ed Gamble are guests on Episode 3.

It's a great line-up. Is that how you got the contestants to take part - it's just fun?

I hope so, yeah! I hope they came on because they trust that we're not going to do them over or talk over them or make the show all about ourselves. One of the things about hosting the show is that you're not thinking, 'Do I need to say more, do I need to say something funny now?' like you do when you're a guest.

Your job is to enable the other really funny people to be funny. If I get through the show and everyone else has been funny, then I've done my job. We couldn't have dreamed of a better line-up and everyone who came on seemed to really enjoy themselves.

It's your first presenting role, as you say. Did it take a while to get into the rhythm of that?

I've presented on radio but it's different on TV. I thought the autocue would be more nightmarish than it was. At the end of the day it's just reading out loud. There are worse ways to earn a living. So that was alright.

It's keeping control of it, and the timing, but I enjoyed the challenge and it felt natural quite quickly. It's all a learning curve but I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would. I was really proud of how it went.

I met James within two months of starting stand-up so it's not like those shows where you're thrown together and you have to build up a chemistry. We understand each other, we don't tread on each other's toes, and we make each other laugh.

Who comes up with the ideas for the hypotheticals?

Me, Matthew and Tom were central to it. When it got commissioned we only had about eight hypotheticals! So then we got in some really funny comedy writers to help us. It took hours and hours but it got easier as we went along.

Josh with Hypothetical co-host James Acaster.

Josh with Hypothetical co-host James Acaster.

Can you explain what James Acaster's role is, compared to yours?

So I'm the host of the show. I set the hypotheticals, and James sets the rules. It's his job to be pernickety and we also use him to test out the contestant's claims. So, if they say, 'It would work like this', we get him to act it out to see if it works or not. To be honest, he's the funniest man I have ever met so his main role is just to be really, really funny.

Neither me or James have any background in improvisation, but as we were running through the game, we just found that was an occasional funny way to test out what the contestants were talking about. When this show is at its best is when it gets out of hand and the contestant is digging a hole for themselves. That's what's funny. Because it's an hour it means you can get a build-up of jokes and a real momentum instead of a series of funny gags edited together.

Playing the game can be quite revealing in terms of the way the comedians approach the questions differently, can't it?

It's the ultimate way of doing a chat show, in that sense. You find out so much about people through the hypothetical. We discovered Jon Richardson is a huge Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, for example. And it's interesting when you see more than one person doing the same hypothetical and how different they are in terms of the way their brains work.

Roisin Conaty did this brilliant answer on a hypothetical about how she would manage a challenge to get a selfie with Nicholas Cage in 48 hours. Roisin's mind works in such a brilliant way, I don't know anybody else in the world that would come up with as many twists and turns as she did. You get to see a different side of someone you think you know.

And that is what is great, Roisin's mind works completely differently from Victoria Coren Mitchell who is different again to David O'Doherty. It's never same-y or formulaic.

David O'Doherty, Guz Khan, Sara Pascoe and Cariad Lloyd are guests on Episode 8.

David O'Doherty, Guz Khan, Sara Pascoe and Cariad Lloyd are guests on Episode 8.

Now that you've started presenting, is there another show you'd like to host?

Yeah, I'm still livid Question Time went with the respected and knowledgeable Fiona Bruce rather than me as their new host.

I have actually really enjoyed hosting. I've been a panellist for a long time and I've never even thought of hosting. It's not like this is an itch I've been trying to scratch for years. It was just an idea I came up with. But I've loved it and I can't wait to do it again - hopefully in a second series of Hypothetical.

Changing the subject entirely... how often do people do an impression of you?

All the time! All. The. Time. But you have to take it as a compliment. It's a lot but I do have a funny voice, don't I? Romesh Ranganathan did it on Hypothetical at a certain point where if he hadn't done it, it would have been disappointing. It needed doing. It was the elephant in the room.

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