Britain’s 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown is one of the most bizarrely constructed and equally satisfying game shows on Earth (outside every game show ever created by the Japanese). It’s a dazzling mish-mash of expertly pre-written quips, ingenious improvisation and solid TV gaming.
If you’ve never caught the show that began as a novel one-off experiment, you can find out everything you need to know here. But if you’ve been watching it on SBS VICELAND, you’d know that one of its main draw cards is its revolving roster of unique, quick-witted guest stars.
We’d love to celebrate each and every one of them, as they all bring something special to the table, but if we did so, you’d probably need a day or two to read it. So, here are the top eight.
Lee Mack: The Motormouth
Renowned as a Team Captain in BBC’s ode to elaborate fibbing, Would I Lie To You?, Lee Mack is to quick wit what Michael Jordan was to professional basketball. The speed with which Mack handles comments and comebacks is a thing of flabbergasting beauty, and he regularly brings those prodigious improvisational skills to 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown.
Comedic skills aside, Mack is among the best Countdown players when it comes to letters (one of the few guests to come up with 9-letter anagrams on more than one occasion), and the worst when it comes to numbers. Either way, Mack more than leaves his mark.
Katherine Ryan: The Serial Panelist
If there was such a thing as PA (Panelists’ Anonymous), Canadian actress and British-based stand-up comedian Katherine Ryan would need to attend regular meetings. In addition to 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, Ryan has appeared on Just a Minute, Safeword, A League of Their Own, Would I Lie To You?, Mock The Week, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Have I Got News For You, QI and the original 8 Out of 10 Cats.
Ryan offers a refreshing North American performativity that complements the casual dryness of her British co-guests – exerting her signature subversion of “girly” tropes while playing a decent game in the process.
David Mitchell: The Fussy Jester
Peep Show and Mitchell and Webb’s David Mitchell is a national treasure, for good reason. The seemingly stuffy, deceptively self-effacing multi-hyphenate is a welcome edition to any television show, and his guest stints on Cats Does Countdown are no exception. In this quiz show in particular, Mitchell’s intellect is displayed for all to see and admire. He pours as much wide-eyed enthusiasm into a puzzle as he does a solid joke and it’s a delight to behold.
Sarah Millican: The Charming Pottymouth
If you go hunting for the Wikipedia entry on ‘likeable’, it’d be unsurprising to find nothing but a picture of Sarah Millican. Just over a decade ago, Millican was awarded best newcomer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and five years later she was named one of Britain’s most powerful women. Her comedy style is sharp and risqué; she manages to get away with broaching taboo topics with a charm and ease that can’t be taught, and that would seem forcibly provocative coming out of a lesser comedian’s mouth.
On Cats Does Countdown, as with all of her panel show appearances, she operates in ‘quality over quantity’ mode – sitting back and giggling with her peers and serving up zingers at calculated moments.
Richard Ayoade: The Faux Failure
As one of British television’s most treasured eccentrics, on Cats Does Countdown Ayoade wields his articulate loser persona no matter the segment or situation – with predictably rib-tickling results. The I.T. Crowd alumnus and host of Travel Man may not be able to boast consistent success as a contestant on the quiz show, but he compensates by offering some of the most memorable, off-the-wall anecdotes. In each, he goes beyond the initial zinger with a relentless stream of punchlines. We’re a big fan of Ayoade over here at SBS, and his stints on Cats Does Countdown only further solidify that fandom.
Jonathan Ross: The Man-child
Often, Ross’ gameplay is secondary to pre-prepared stunts and skits that aim to entertain through self-deprecation – such as wearing an oversized monstrosity of faux-fur or poking fun at his own speech by attempting to pronounce the name of Cats Does Countdown’s math whiz, Rachael Riley (known to Jonathan as Wachael Wiley).
Roisin Conaty: The Hot Mess
Being dubbed the “worst” Cats Does Countdown player in the history of the show has nothing to do with the comedian’s actual intellect. Her stand-up comedy style ramps up a staged ignorance, a distracted messiness, or an intentional simple-mindedness. So when she fumbles most of her attempts at each quiz segment, we can’t help but think her poor performances are intentional – an extension of her brand that offsets the guests that actually try to do well at the game. This persona adds a refreshing nonchalance to the whole concept of panel game shows – harnessing her alleged inability to play the game to hilarious effect.
James Corden: The Superstar
While now international superstar talk show host James Corden has only appeared on the show twice, each appearance has been predictably memorable. Corden’s an undeniably affable personality – his humour increasingly inoffensive as his fame balloons (it’s almost shocking to hear him drop the f-bomb in the below clip). However, the Gavin and Stacey actor rounds out this list due to being one of the only guest contestants to be accused of cheating in the numbers segment of the game – allegedly copying the hard work of his gaming partner (regular captain, Jon Richardson). It’s a milestone worth celebrating.
Watch 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown nightly on SBS VICELAND. Missed the last episode? Catch up at SBS On Demand: