‘Taskmaster’ Hasn’t Found a Line It Won’t Cross Since Cohost Alex Horne Sat on a Cake

After 16 seasons, the British game show’s formula of comedians doing wacky tasks is still going strong

"Taskmaster" hosts Greg Davies and Alex Horne

For 16 seasons over eight years, “Taskmaster” has risen from a strange little British comedy show to becoming a global cult phenomenon. That includes gaining a larger following in the U.S. via its YouTube page during the pandemic in 2020.

Now, with the show’s 16th season finale airing this week on Channel 4 in the U.K. and on YouTube worldwide, hosts Greg Davies and Alex Horne still haven’t found a line they won’t cross as they challenge comedians to ludicrous tasks. You know, such as arranging popsicles in a rainbow while blindfolded and only having their taste as clue to their color, or destroying a cake “as beautifully as possible.”

But it’s not just the comedians who get pushed out of their comfort zone. Horne, the show’s creator, often gets put in uncomfortable situations by the comedians while administering the tasks — such as the time he was asked to take a cake and “put your bare arse into it.”

“I think once you put that on telly, you kinda have to do everything, really,” Horne told TheWrap.

Davies, who hosts the show in the studio and roasts the comedians for their performances, has gotten it back from the contestants as much as he’s given it over the years. But he’s never been sprayed with a hose or asked to do an exotic dance like Horne.

The in-studio host says he’s relieved, because he’s “quite a coward” when it comes to such crazy dares. But Davies finds it funny that Horne often does such things because, contrary to the meek assistant he plays on “Taskmaster,” he’s usually down for any dare in real life.

“Alex will always do something if he’s dared to do it, 100% of the time,” Davies said. “It helps if he’s fueled by alcohol, but it’s something that I’ve found quite fascinating about him.”

Horne and Davies talked about what has made “Taskmaster” so successful, from its casting process to its editing, and some of their favorite memories from the show. The interview below has been lightly edited for clarity.

Every season on “Taskmaster,” the cast always seems to find this incredible chemistry with every person easing into a different role. When you cast comedians and other personalities to be on the show, do you have an idea going in of what they will bring to the show, or is it always a complete surprise?

Greg Davies: They always surprise us. We have preconceptions of them going into the show because, you know, very often we know the people to some degree. The comedy community in Britain is not that big. We’re sort of aware of people, and we’re aware of their skills, but I’m always surprised by how they end up interacting with each other and responding to the tasks.

Alex Horne: I would say the process is not very forensic. We tend to think, “Let’s get one person, and then let’s get somebody who contrasts with that person, and then let’s get another person and chuck it into that mix.” But it’s a lot of hoping for the best, really. We sort of know what might not work, but we don’t necessarily know what will work beyond trying to get five people together whom people might not have seen in another program. As long as they are funny and they are nice, we are open to anything.

Davies: And once the show begins, it’s very much a case of… there’s been a world constructed and there are rules within that world. They then become a sort of micro-society within the rules that we’ve laid down. Put any five people in an unusual situation, and they’ll find their own way of surviving and existing within the world. It’s quite organic, and it’s quite exciting. I’m always baffled by the way certain comedic dynamics play well off each other. It’s never the ones you think are going to lay out.

Greg, what’s the most shocking thing you’ve seen someone do on “Taskmaster,” aside from seeing your mother wearing nothing but a fez in a bathtub?

Davies: Well, I wasn’t expecting to see my mum with a fez on in the bathtub, so that would have been right up there. The most shocking thing? God, it’s so hard — we’ve done so many shows and my brain is so addled, plus I’m always so confounded with how people approach these tasks.

I think, perhaps the most shocking thing was when Mike Wozniak… I don’t know how rude we’re allowed to be in your publication… when he called an intimate part of his body an “absolute casserole” because of a medical condition.

Horne: That probably is the most shocking thing we’ve ever had on the show, and we had no audience because it was shot during the pandemic.

Davies: And then the other thing, of course, was in the very first series when Josh Widdecombe got my name tattooed on his foot to win a task. It’s been eight years on, and he’s still got it.

That really must have been a shock, because I’m sure you guys were still figuring out how “Taskmaster” was going to work in that first season. When Josh got that tattoo, did you guys think, ‘Wow, we really got something here’?

Horne: Yes, and I will forever be grateful to those five in the first series. They didn’t know if people would like it or not, and the show could have been canceled before the episode even went out… which would have been really funny. But yeah, I think those guys really did set the tone of this being a thing where, you push yourself, you’ll be remembered.

Davies: It’s such an intrinsically preposterous show that when someone really commits to it, and really exists within the world, without keeping themselves in check… I mean, permanently physically marking themselves to win points on a ridiculous entertainment show is delight to me.

Perhaps another element of “Taskmaster” that is so key to its success is its editing. Alex, since you create and oversee the tasks as they are being done, how much input do you have in that editing process?

Horne: The editors should have their names No. 1 on the team sheet, because they’re as often crucial to the comedy as the comedians. The process is that they get the footage from a task and I send over my notes with who me and Andy [Devonshire, series producer] think should be cut together.

So they start like that, but then we just leave them to it. Sometimes they’ll go, “No, I think we better have those two together.” Some of them have been there from the beginning, and we let them have free rein. I think it’s a really fun job for an editor because it’s different every time and they get to put their stamp on it.

The cast changes every year, but you two have been doing “Taskmaster” together for the better part of a decade now. What are some of the funniest memories you’ve shared on the show?

Horne: That’s a really hard question because I’ve sat next to him for hours and hours and he’s funny all the time. I don’t think I have a favorite, I just love the constant putdowns he’s able to come up with, like how, this series, he just accused me of having Botox out of nowhere.

Davies: I think my favorite moment is this one time when Alex just instinctively touched me one day and without engaging my brain at all I just said “Get your fucking hands off me!” And it’s just so funny because we’ve played these characters for so long that it’s just second nature to us. We just naturally exist in the world of “Taskmaster” as if it is the real world.

Horne: I think what hasn’t been written enough about our show is that it all happens in the room. I think that’s why I can’t quite remember any lines, because every time we tape the show, it feels like a night out at the pub. You don’t remember what people said, but you remember having a good time.


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