What can you tell us about I Literally Just Told You? What attracted you to the premise?
The more Richard Bacon (who created the show) told me about it, the more I thought it might work. It reminded me a little of one of the first things I’ve ever did on TV called Distraction which featured me and four members of the public – it was crazy, and it felt like it was the most exciting thing I could possibly do. I sort of like to think of TV being like a trainset: you’ve got this incredible trainset and these brilliant producers that all help you play, and you’ve got to come up with the most fun game to play with. It’s such an unusual, weird and wonderful show. I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
That’s a big claim!
It’s not that big a claim! It genuinely was a joy to make.
My main job is I’m a stand-up comedian, I go out there on my own and decide what I say, what I don’t say, that’s how it goes and that’s great. TV is like a team sport – who came up with the idea, who’s the creative producer, who are the people behind it? Richard Bacon was amazing, as were Adam Hutchinson the producer and the guys at Expectation (production company.) I’m in the show, I host it but really if you haven’t got good contestants, this show wouldn’t be anything. The contestants are crazy good, I don’t know where we found these people, but we searched high and low!
The show has an enormous play–at–home factor which most game shows don’t have. Most game shows are binary, you either know the answer or you don’t. All you have to know for this show is what’s just happened, you just have to pay attention, and you can get the whole thing. We had real fun with the fact that anything could happen – 15 second celebrity cameos, false ad breaks, you can really mess with people’s minds. It felt really exciting as a premise for a show.
How would you do on this show? Are you observant? Do you pay attention?
I think I was pretty good. I suppose there was a feeling of when I was on set, I was kind of playing along but I was also in work mode. I’m used to being on stage and having to remember someone’s name from fifteen minutes ago so I can do a call-back to that guy on stage so my memory’s not bad. If you’re a one liner guy, and I’m a one liner guy, you need to remember 300 jokes in a row every night, so you work that muscle a lot.
Random things happen – we’ll show them a film and I’ll say ‘Dave, roll VT’ and then the question ends up being ‘what was the name of the VT operator?’ It’s tangential, weird, wonderful stuff – we messed around a lot. It feels like a really fair, level playing field for everyone playing the game. My favourite is the final round – I’ve never seen another game show do that where you go ‘oh, you’re setting each other questions.’ The records were really long because we were shutting down at each end of every part and went ‘right, we need to write some questions for the next part.’ We had a bank of people writing questions live which is time consuming and crazy but for the viewer at home, that’s fantastic.
How does it feel to know that Richard Bacon selected you to front the show? Have you known him for a while?
I’ve known Richard for years! He’s having a bit of a run at the moment. Obviously he was on Blue Peter and he was amazing on Five Live – I was a big fan of him as a broadcaster. He’s got no attention span so is constantly interesting because he’s always on to the next thing. He’s been quietly coming up with these TV show ideas over the last five or six years and suddenly there’s a glut of them coming out. I was so flattered that he asked me to host as he’s a pretty good host himself. He hosted the try-outs for this, and I really badgered, begged, cajoled and pleaded to be allowed to do this because great ideas for TV shows don’t come along very often and you grab one when you can. I knew I would have fun working on it which I hope comes across in the show. It feels like properly exciting telly – very Channel 4 – a bit transgressive, a bit different, edgy and weird – all the things I love about Channel 4.
How does it feel to be back in a TV studio making a brand new show after the past two years? And what sort of effects has the pandemic had on you personally?
Making a TV show is always quite a lot of work – these were long records and we did two of them in a day – but we were having a ball. The contestants had a brilliant time, the audience, albeit a small socially distanced one, were amazing and we just had such fun. We were all so emotionally engaged with the show in the end and genuinely cared about who was going to win.
As for the lockdown, I went off and wrote a book. It seemed like every comedian was given an ultimatum by management – you either do a podcast or write a book. I think I took the gentleman’s approach and wrote the book plus I was a full time dad! I had a good one, I never would have had that expanse of time with my child and I liked it an awful lot.
Is it easy to keep your cool when you’re having to repeat the phrase, I Literally Just Told You, over and over again?
No! I found that so fun. I bored all my friends to tears telling them about the show. I’d be going I’ve got this new show, I Literally Just Told You, and you’d be amazed how many times people go what? You say, I Literally Just Told You, and they go ‘woah, you’re being rude.’ I had to say, ‘no, no, it’s called I Literally Just Told You.’ It makes me giggle every time but maybe that’s just my daft sense of humour – I loved it. I think the show came out of Richard Bacon going to see Brian Cox, the wonderful physicist, give a talk, and he was sitting there thinking ‘I wonder how much of this the audience will remember in five minutes’ so he noted down something Brian said and thought ‘there’s no way anyone will remember that.’ I don’t think you can double screen with this show, that’s something I really love about it. I’m as guilty of that as anyone – I’ll sit down and watch something amazing, one of my favourites shows, and be checking the news on my phone at the same time.
I can already imagine an exciting celebrity version with lots of celebrities making complete tits of themselves. Is there anything in the pipeline?
We’ve already made it! I’m not going to spoil it, but my dream line up would be hosts of other TV quiz shows. I always think when you’re the host of a quiz show, you’ve got all the answers and there’s a bit of smugness that comes with that. I’d want Philip Schofield, Jeremy Clarkson and Anne Robinson – that’s the dream.
We see in the first episode you use a fake ad break to really throw the contestants. What other cunning tricks do you have up your sleeve?
The fake ad break was a lot of fun. Once you start the show, literally anything can be a question. So I might be having a chat with autocue, the warmup, the guy on the rig – and anything within those chats could be a question.
Have you ever forgotten something really important? Perhaps someone told you something minutes previously and it completely slipped your mind?
Well I lost a pair of sunglasses when I was 14. That’s the last thing I lost. Oh and hang on, I did forget to pay my taxes for a while there. I’m not going to fucking forget that again.
You’re much loved for your humour and your near the knuckle jokes, but much has been made of cancel culture recently. Has it made you want to make risky jokes even more?
I think it’s always existed hasn’t it? It’s always been a thing. I do what I do – I have a duty to my audience as people have booked tickets to see an edgy comic do edgy jokes so I’m going to do that, performing to an audience who’ve paid to be there. We have a lot of fun and somewhat ironically, a comedy show feels like a safe space, it feels like that’s where transgressive comedy should live.
If we’re doing the sums correctly, you turn 50 next September. How are you feeling about the milestone? Are you embracing it? Any worries about it?
I mean I’ve had a reasonable amount of work done! They say you can’t avoid death and taxes and I’ve done my best to dodge both. I’m trying to Benjamin Button this shit, I look fucking terrific, look at that skin – iridescent, beautiful. No, I’m good with it. I think it’s about life stage, not age – I’ve got a young kid and I’m running around with him. I’ve never felt better.
The Big Fat Quiz of the Year is back again this year – a highlight of the Christmas telly schedule. Do you still enjoy doing it? And see yourself presenting it for years to come?
Oh yeah, and looking good too… I adore it. Because it’s once a year, it always just feels a little bit special. Those shows have a life of their own – people all round the world are watching bits of it online. The idea with The Big Fat Quiz is that you could sit down and not have to chat to your family for two hours – you’ve probably been with your family for three or four days at that point, everyone’s in the same house and it’s all a little bit tense. It’s in the finest traditions of public service broadcasting!