Taskmaster is a clever and hilarious spin on the tried-and-true British comedy panel show format. It was born of an Edinburgh Fringe skit by comedian and musician Alex Horne a decade ago, and its success has spawned multiple versions of the format the world over.
The premise is simple: Greg Davies, The Taskmaster, holds court and towers over the proceedings, by issuing devious and unusual tasks for each season’s fixed roster of five hyper-competitive comedians to complete. Outside of some pre-defined terms and conditions, the participants are encouraged to engage in creative thinking to complete their task successfully, and quickly. The aforementioned Horne provides logistical support, and lives in Davies’ shadow (doesn’t everyone, though?), to feed the data back to The Taskmaster for the assignation of points.
It’s long been the mission of SBS VICELAND channel manager John Beohm, to acquire Taskmaster for his channel, and now, ably assisted by the SBS acquisitions and business affairs teams (hi guys, long time no see, no joke), he can tick it off the bucket list: as it’s yours to enjoy Mondays at 8.30pm.
We invited John back onto The Playlist to talk about what sparked his love of Taskmaster, and what drove his mission to acquire it for Free-To-Air TV in Australia (hint: it helped him though time off work healing a broken back). Regular listeners of the SBS movie and TV culture podcast will recall that on his last stint in the guest chair, John cited Taskmaster in his Top 10 shows of 2019 – to stony silence from Ben and I (to be fair, we hadn’t watched it yet, and the trailers don’t convey how funny it is).
On his return visit (via Zoom), John gets deep about why watching these silly tasks teaches us a thing or two about human nature. You can hear the full discussion in the episode, but some edited highlights:
John Beohm: As sort of silly as [the premise] sounds, it is joyous. I've watched nine seasons of it at least twice now, and I'm very excited that it's coming up free to air TV in Australia.
Ben Nguyen: That is a great pitch, John. I want to know how you first came across it, and when it was, if you can recall, the exact moment you were viewing when you knew that this show was for you.
John Beohm: That's very specific. Well, the funny thing is I do remember watching a clip from years ago and kind of going, "Oh, this looks fine." But not really sticking with it.
But it was a certain broken vertebrae and a couple of weeks laying down that finally made me push play on my first full episode. And it was those first few weeks that I burned through six or seven seasons all at once and just immediately couldn't wait for more.
[…] and it wasn't just the painkillers. I think it remains a very, very good show.
On the surface, it is an incredibly silly show, but I do think there is genuinely some really interesting depth to it in the way that it does give you an insight into these people's psyche. Because I think if you plop someone into the middle of a situation, hand them a piece of paper, say, "Complete this task." And then watch five people do the exact same thing [differently], you really get an insight into a person's psyche.
So, a show like Couples Therapy, where people are sitting down, pouring their hearts out about a personal experience, or You Can't Ask That, where people are sort of getting very raw and emotional about an aspect of their life, I think that is not dissimilar to what Taskmaster does. It does it in a very silly way, but not to over intellectualise it, but I do think it is this very interesting insight into human behaviour. And that's just one of the many reasons that the show is appealing, besides the fact it's also just hilarious.
Taskmaster screens Mondays at 8.30pm on SBS VICELAND, with episodes available at SBS On Demand after broadcast.