Sports In The Kitchen: Taskmaster Brings Families Together With #HometaskingPlay
From time to time, we receive story ideas from listeners. Here’s one that came in recently, from listener Daniel Barolsky.
Dear friends at Only A Game, it occurred to me, especially in the midst of the pandemic, that you might enjoy another positive sports story to report on. I’ve enjoyed for years a British show called "Taskmaster."
"Taskmaster" is a huge hit in the UK, recently signing a deal for six more seasons that were supposed to begin airing in late 2020.
But, as Daniel explained, during social distancing "Taskmaster" hosts Alex Horne and Greg Davies had been organizing challenges for people stuck at home. They call it #hometasking.
One of their recent challenges was: "Turn your kitchen into a sporting arena, and create the most epic moment of sporting glory in the kitchen."
"Taskmaster" co-host Alex Horne joined Only A Game.
KG: Well, before we get into those epic moments of sporting glory, I want to try to explain the concept behind the show. It all started with an event you put on for the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. So, what inspired you?
AH: Well, my first son was actually born. I always used to go to the Edinburgh Festival, and I missed one because of the birth of the child. And so, out of jealousy, I set up my own sort of mini-festival, mini-awards. I sent an email to 20 of my friends who were comedians, saying, "Would you like to take part in this thing? I'm gonna send you a challenge every month. And at the next Edinburgh Fringe, we'll do a show to see who's won."
"It's still going, which is extraordinary considering how stupid it is."Alex Horne
So the very first task was, "Deposit some money in this bank account. Most money wins." And that was it. That funded the whole thing. And I instantly knew that comedians were competitive. And they all wanted to win. And then we did it again the next year, because it was so much fun. And eventually it sort of drifted onto TV.
KG: OK. So how does this work as a TV show? Describe how it all happens.
AH: Well, there is a man called Greg Davies, who is the Taskmaster. I'm his assistant. And we set tasks to five comedians. And the tasks will be something like, "Paint a picture of a horse whilst riding a horse."
They come and do it individually, so they don't see how each other has done. And then we get to the studio at the end of the series, and Greg judges them. So it's pointless, ludicrous stuff. Often, the most stupid things are the funniest. Often, the people who do the worst are the most popular.
KG: So do you have a favorite task, maybe among those that are currently available on YouTube?
AH: There was one which was, "Give Alex a special cuddle." I'm Alex. So, one of my favorite comedians is a man called Bob Mortimer, and he wanted to cuddle me in the boot of his car. So we spent a half an hour in the dark of the back of his car. So it's when you get in situations you would never have dreamt of — you go to work in the morning, and at the end of it, you come home and you've been cuddled in a car.
KG: And this managed to turn into quite a successful TV show, right?
AH: Yeah, it's done all over the world. So we get to see it in Finland and Belgium and Australia. So, yeah, it's still going, which is extraordinary considering how stupid it is.
KG: All right. So your show, at least the part where the Taskmaster gives his rulings —that part is filmed in front of a live audience. So the obvious thing to do during the pandemic would be to just take a break for a while. How did the idea of #hometasking first come up?
AH: Yes. So, #hometasking, it wasn't my idea. It was — some parents got in touch. So here in the UK, when they announced that the schools were shutting, there was a widescale panic amongst parents. And lots of kids watch the program here. So some parents said, "Would you mind setting some tasks to my kids just to pass some time?" So I set a task which was, "Throw a piece of paper into a bin. Most spectacular throw wins." And that was meant to be it. And so many people did it around the country, and then around the world, that we've carried on ever since.
KG: So you announced that first task on March 23. Were you at all nervous? I mean, what if nobody actually did the task and sent in a video?
AH: Well, I wouldn't really have minded. I don't think I was nervous because it's not really a thing. It's what the internet is best at, I think ... is when it's pointless stuff for no real reason. And since then, because we've carried on and it's built momentum, I now get nervous. I set a task, and I worry that no one will do it well. But every time I've been surprised by the breadth of the imagination.
KG: So, I noticed that between the first and second task, you went from saying, "Please keep your clips to under 60 seconds" to "Please keep your clips to under 20 seconds." So I'm thinking you were having trouble watching all those videos.
AH: Yeah, things changed pretty quickly after Day One. So it was just me. And then we had to rope in a lot of volunteers from the production company who were also at home, you know, at the moment. So there's 10 people now watching all the stuff. Everyone works on a two-hour shift, because there's not enough time in the day to watch all the clips, even at 20 seconds.
So there's a system where they filter through the ones which they think are best. I watch as many as possible. We think every single entry is watched by one of us. And then I filter the best down to Greg. And he judges the top 10. And eventually we end up with one winner.
KG: The task that got our attention was actually the fifth home task: "Create the most epic moment of sporting glory ... in the kitchen." What was the inspiration behind that task?
AH: Well, uh, most of them are inspired by me spending too long in the house, like we all are. So wandering around the house thinking, "Oh, we've not done anything in the kitchen." I really like it when people completely turn their house upside down. And giving them all of sports to choose from means you're sort of — you're going to get some interesting entries. I think skiing was — I liked it when people turned their kitchen into a ski resort. That shows the lengths that people went to.
KG: OK, so the video montage starts with two kids standing on either side of a kitchen island over which a tennis net has been strung. One of the kids is wearing a brown curly wig. The other is wearing a longer blonde wig. And they're using frying pans as tennis rackets.
KG: And over the next eight minutes, we see clip after clip after clip of creative, ambitious and ridiculous attempts at this task. What was it like for you as you watched those come in?
AH: It's so funny, and it's such a privilege, really, because you see the first good one come in, which is normally amongst the first couple. You go, "Oh, wow, I wasn't expecting that." But I thought people would use a kitchen sinks because that involves water, and we often get people using Lego and that sort of thing.
But it's when people do things you would never have imagined that you're really surprised. People turned their kitchen into a proper Formula One racetrack, you know, and had actual cars with engines going round it somehow. And the McEnroe thing, a few people came up with that.
And that's always a pleasure as well, when you see different people's take on the same idea. And you think, "That person in America came up with the same idea as that person in London," and that's quite unifying. And also you get some really just bad attempts with people falling over laughing at the end of it. And I enjoy them just as much.
KG: How many people do you think have participated in #hometasking so far?
AH: It's a very good question. I don't know. We know we have thousands every time. We've got to know a few people. There's a baby in Ireland who's appeared in every single one. She was 11 weeks when she started. She's got her own Twitter account, and she's made a montage of her life in tasks. So, yeah, thousands, I suppose.
KG: And why? Why are so many people tearing apart their kitchens to make videos for you for free?
AH: Well, I don't think they're doing it for me. I'm hoping they're doing it for themselves. Because it's — I guess we all need a bit of direction at the moment. But I think they're competing with other people — not against other people — if you see what I mean. So that they're doing a thing that other people are doing, and they can then sit down as a family and watch how other people interpreted it. So it's quite a unifying thing. And it's not to win money, and it's not to win fame. So, hopefully, it's just a positive thing in the week.
KG: What I really love about these videos — and it's really kind of the only thing I love about this particular moment in history — is that we're really seeing families come together. What has it been like for you to be part of that?
AH: It is sort of spine-tingling every time. I haven't got bored of it or used to it, really. I really like the ones when the older generations have clearly been cajoled into it by the younger generation. There was "reenact a moment from history" — one of the top-10 ones was this old guy in Ireland who was trying to rid Ireland of the snakes.
And we found out afterwards that his son asked him to do it. His son was in England, and he recorded the snake element with the socks on his hands. And his dad was this old guy with white hair, dressed up as St. Patrick, who was shouting and swearing mildly at the socks.
AH: You know, it brought them together across the Irish Sea to do a really stupid thing, and then thousands of people get to watch that on YouTube. So, that's always joyful.
KG: As you mentioned, Greg Davies is the Taskmaster. Usually he's quite a gruff and unbending kind of guy. Do you think people are getting to see a softer side of the Taskmaster during these challenges?
AH: Yeah, they definitely are. And there's been some upset about that. Some loyal fans of the show are saying, "What? Why is he treating people so nicely?" But I think he feels a responsibility as well. He started actually — just occasionally, you see the true Greg, when he undercuts an attempt. But, yeah, he's loving it as well, to be honest. I think just — it gives us the feeling of being vaguely useful.
KG: I'm wondering, once people start going back to work and school, will you keep issuing #hometasks?
AH: Well, I think I definitely will, yeah. We'll do it this way until the schools reopen. But I think, after that, I've really loved doing it. And I've been so amazed by the results that I think people deserve to keep doing it if they want to.
So I'll definitely keep doing in some form. And also, I think, at the moment we've been limited to the houses. And I think, once people can go outside again, you know, they will get up to all sorts of stuff. I mean, it's gonna be awful. So, no, it'll definitely carry on in some shape or form.
Alex Horne is the co-host and creator of "Taskmasters." Episodes are now available on YouTube. You can find the next #hometasking challenge issued on Mondays and Wednesdays on YouTube and Twitter.
This segment aired on May 9, 2020.