Six comedians, a maths whiz and a lexicographer enter a television studio. While this isn’t a joke with a pithy punchline, the jokes do fly thick and fast on 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown.
Combining the letter and number games of long-running British TV quiz show Countdown — the inspiration for SBS’ own Letters and Numbers — with the comedic stylings of British comedy panel show 8 Out of 10 Cats, it might just be the most amusing approach to anagrams and equations that has made it to TV.
Some comedians unleash their inner word nerd or maths genius. Others have fun finding the most inappropriate terms they can and defying numerical logic. The experts are there to show them how it’s done, and the laughs keep coming — and these are the folks you’ll be giggling along with.
Few comedians sling word puns and roast their fellow funny folks like Jimmy Carr. Few comedians take the barbs sent their way in return with such deadpan charm, either. He ribs his colleagues mercilessly — in fact, that’s how he starts the show — and then they fire back with jokes about his hair, teeth and tax avoidance scandal.
The host of 8 Out of 10 Cats since its first episode in 2005, Carr has been 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown’s host for its entire duration as well. When he’s not presenting panel shows, he’s guest-starring on the likes of QI, or bringing his stand-up comedy sets around the world.
The Countdown regulars
Leave a bunch of comedians to their own devices to find words and multiply numbers, and the results prove rather creative. On 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, lexicographer Susie Dent ensures that the teams don’t get away with coining their own new terms (although they try), while Rachel Riley oversees the numbers, making sure that everything adds up.
They’ve both been doing the same thing on Countdown since 1992 and 2009 respectively. In fact, Dent’s 26-year run on the less comedic version of the show makes her Countdown’s current longest-serving on-screen figure.
As well as sitting in dictionary corner, Dent has written a number of books about language, covering everything from weird words to local dialects — and also hosted a web series about the origins of swear words.
Coming to Countdown and 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown after studying maths and working in the financial sector, Riley has also appeared on British television’s Strictly Come Dancing, The Gadget Show and It’s Not Rocket Science, and co-presented Friday Night Football.
The team captains
A comedic odd-couple in appearance, temperament, clothing choice and opinions on just about everything, Sean Lock and Jon Richardson attempt to lead their teams to victory on 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown — just as they did against each other on 8 Out of 10 Cats. Lock appeared on 8 Out of 10 Cats since 2005, while Richardson joined in 2011, and the pair juggled both roles until 2015.
When they’re not making jokes about polls, words and numbers, the two popular stand-ups keep hitting the stage, with both the tall, dry-witted Lock and the neurotic, cardigan-wearing Richardson possessing considerable comedy histories. Name another British panel show, and they’ve both been on it — from Have I Got News For You to Nevermind the Buzzcocks to Would I Lie to You?.
Lock was also the writer and star of underrated absurdist sitcom 15 Storeys High, while Richardson’s sole acting credit comes from Drunk History: UK, playing poet Percy Shelley. Richardson also hosted a radio show with fellow comedian Russell Howard.
The guest captains
When Lock and Richardson can’t settle into their usual chairs, 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown calls upon a number of guests to do the job for them. Regulars include Lee Mack, Sarah Millican and Bill Bailey — all names and faces familiar to British stand-up comedy fans.
Mack’s career highlights include The Sketch Show and his team captain spot on Would I Lie to You?, while Millican hosted a television programming-focused comedy show called The Sarah Millican Television Programme and has appeared on Australia’s Spicks and Specks.
As for the beloved Bailey, a regular visitor to Australia, he has everything from Black Books to Never Mind the Buzzcocks to Hot Fuzz on his resume.
Ask Joe Wilkinson what he does on 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, and he’ll give you a blunt, important-sounding answer. He really does a little of everything, starting out as Riley’s assistant, and now more regularly filling in as a guest team captain or as a team member.
The same is true beyond the show, with his comedy career starting in his local pub. Since then, he has made appearances on all of the usual British panel shows, written for Anna & Katy, and acted in Him & Her, Derek and Rovers.
You can watch 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown every Tuesday night on SBS VICELAND, with episodes also streaming at SBS On Demand: