Why did you sign up for Taskmaster?
To be honest, I've watched it mainly in clips online, but I'm a fan of Greg Davies and Alex Horne, both of whom I've known for a long time. I also think of it as the only show of this type-crazy novelty shows done by 'people off the telly' - that's done really well, that proper comedians do. I've been offered Strictly a couple of times and I've said 'no' because it would be awful and I'm a terrible dancer, but also because I just don't do shows where I'm taken out of my comfort zone and have to do things that I don't do for my day job. But with Taskmaster, I'm always confident the tasks will be funny - properly funny, not local-news funny. Mainly because of the genius of Alex Horne. I have a lot of faith in Alex.
Was that faith misplaced?
Well interestingly I've had a bit of an identity crisis on the show. This sounds a bit self- aggrandising but I think people have an idea that I'm quite bookish and clever and intellectual, and I am, but the show reveals me to be a total idiot. My cleverness is to do with writing and saying clever things, but I'm a very stupid person when it comes to doing things and making things and practical things. When we were in the studio I'd watch the tasks back and go, 'Why on earth did I do that?' The others are there doing some really smart and inventive things and I'm there doing something that even Homer Simpson would say was stupid. That happened a lot.
Did you have a strategy?
No, not going into it, but a strategy did organically emerge which was to not really think about it and do the first thing I thought of. I mean - no spoilers - but this is reflected in my scores. Don't go to Ladbrokes and put a bet on me winning.
Did you try to win over Greg in any way, or is his point-scoring too arbitrary?
It's not that arbitrary! That's what you would think. Sometimes I thought, 'This is so bad, it's funny, so I might actually get a lot of points'. The audiences are wetting themselves at what an idiot and what a clown I am, and I thought that would translate into doing quite well. But no. Alex does actually have a points system. And I didn't necessarily always understand what that was. A lot of the time we'd be watching it back in the studio and I realised I hadn't actually understood what the task was. I'd realise, 'Ah - it was a timed task. Maybe I shouldn't have stopped and sat around for two hours drinking tea'. I wasn't expecting to win, but it has been complicated for me to see exactly how s*** I am.
Did you find Alex helpful during the tasks?
Yeah, I used him a lot. He's been ornamentally very useful at times. He tends to say 'yes' if you ask him to take his clothes off, or stand over there and be hurt. He's a facilitator.
It is more important to be funny or do the tasks well?
It's more important to be funny but I'll be honest with you: some of the time I'm actually not trying to be funny. I'm just that stupid and I genuinely think I'm doing the task to the best of my ability.
What's the relationship between Greg and Alex?
It's a very classic 'big and little man', a low status playing against a high status, like Ray Allen and Lord Charles. Alex is basically the ventriloquist's dummy. It's really funny. I love Alex's commitment to the rules, and Greg just bulldozing through those rules but still being the one who decides on the points. The chats in the studio are really, really funny.
How did you get on with the first task, bringing in gifts? That's actually my strong point. Because I'm able to think when I'm given time to do so, I'm quite good at those. It's where I'm against the clock, and Alex is in a corner frowning at me, that's when I start to panic. My prizes are mainly actual things from my life. Peculiar things from my life. One of them is something that my brother made, and I had to beg him for it, and then I worried that the winner would break it.
How did you get on with the other contestants?
I've known Jo for 30 years and we were the 'oldies'. What's funny is that this is the first show I've done where I get all the incontinent and Dignitas jokes, which is a bit unfair as I'm only four years older than Greg Davies. But there again, watching me on screen you do think, 'Clearly the brain's gone'. When we are divided into groups, there's a particular task which is amazing in the way it shows the difference between how young people and old people might do a task. It's incredible. The speed at which the young ones do it compared to the way Jo and I do it, is really extraordinary. It's a little lesson in life and mortality. Ed sat next to me in the studio and he was particularly tickled by how bad I am. He turns to me, as my VT starts, and says, 'I can't wait'. He can't wait for me to f*** up the task. He's like the young buck, and I'm like the terrible crippled silverback who's lost his way. Rose and Katy are both lovely, and really funny. They are particularly good at making stuff. There was one task where you had to make one part of your body abnormally long and everyone else was incredible. Mine looked like it was made by a child who'd never been let out of a room to see the world. I'm so awful. I can literally only do two things which is talk with my mouth and write with my hands. Even Greg said to me, 'You can't do things'.
Did you get any advice from Frank Skinner beforehand?
No, but I should have done! I know Frank really loved doing Taskmaster. Here's a little secret for you: Frank loved it so much, he organised a little holiday for him and the other Taskmaster contestants from his series, but only Tim Key turned up. They were supposed to be going to Amsterdam or Brussels or something, but only Tim was at the train station. They had a lovely time, though. I don't know if we'll do that. I love them all and I'd be happy to go on holiday with them but it hasn't been mentioned. Maybe they're all going away and they haven't mentioned it because they think something terrible will happen if I'm there.
What was your best task?
I can't think of a task that I've been good at. I may have just forgotten. Because that's what happens to me these days. We filmed the actual tasks about four months before the studio shows so when the VT comes on, Jo and I find ourselves looking at each other going 'Nope - don't remember doing that'.
Do you care about winning?
Thankfully not. I don't think anyone really does. Actually, I think Ed does. He gets quite angry if he feels he's not got the points he deserves. But no, I never ever thought I would do this well. As soon as I did the first task that became obvious. I think it's quite a good contrast that some people really care and others really don't. Jo oscillates. Sometimes she clearly can't be bothered, and at other times she puts in loads of effort. She did a song which was incredible. I should have been good at that. I have had four number ones. Okay, with the same song, but still... I have to say, if I could make one complaint, there are times I think I could have done with more information. Some people had backing tracks on their songs. I think I needed to be told that.
Who else would you like to see on Taskmaster?
I like the fact that it's just comedians, but having said that, I do think Jeremy Paxman and Trevor McDonald and super serious people would be brilliant. Elton John would be great. Or you could have one with all those brilliant comics who don't do TV much. Like Daniel Kitson, Stewart Lee. Those comedians who don't like to be undignified on TV. And Theresa May. She's got a lot of time on her hands now.