Alex Horne, creator of comedy hit Taskmaster, receives an unusual delivery and consults his children for advice
My working life was turned on its head nine years ago, the summer after I became a father. Presumably out of panic, I began two projects that were meant to run alongside my normal stand-up comedy, but these now dominate the working week.
My three children seem not to mind both ventures – for now, at least – and actually help on occasion.
We are currently filming the bulk of the eighth and ninth series of Taskmaster. What started as a one-night stand at the Edinburgh Fringe took on a life of its own – and took over mine.
I spend more time at the Taskmaster house, by the Thames, when we are in full swing than I do at home, but it’s only fun. We think up tasks for my comedy heroes to tackle. One by one, they come and do whatever is asked of them.
Sure, they bicker and berate me. Many force me into situations that I’d never wish on others. But I am constantly surprised by the unending inventiveness of their brains. It turns out that comedians are funny people.
If I’m not adjudicating at the Taskmaster house, I’m adjudicating from mine. I foolishly invited the public to take part themselves through a Taskmaster book, which involves as much work for me as the reader. Many of the tasks are interactive.
Throughout the week, I receive amazing and alarming correspondence. Yesterday, I came home to a message from my neighbour, who’d had to take delivery of a pallet of peanut butter for me (in response to a “Send me something unusual” task). There are many perks to what I do.
Even more recklessly, I vowed to dish out a task on Twitter every day throughout Advent, unaware that a daunting number of people were lying in wait for just such an opportunity.
I can’t back out now, so any spare time is spent answering questions from the confused and trying to decide who’s won every day. It’s a job that Greg Davies was born for but which makes me sweat.
This, though, is the heart of the show. Nine years ago, I sent my first tasks to 20 of my friends over the internet. Now, thousands are taking part. I can see how cult leaders get carried away with themselves.
Thankfully, my other children – the members of my band, The Horne Section – are consistently excellent and always diligent at putting me in my place.
We meet at least once a week for a chaotic live show, ideally somewhere within two hours’ travel from home, or for a rambling podcast in the saxophonist’s basement.
I seldom do stand-up alone any more, so this is my only chance to do what used to be my job.
Doing it with friends (I went to primary school with two of the band and know the others more intimately than is healthy) is immeasurably more pleasurable than the solo world of endless journeys, silent dressing rooms and soulless service stations. Although, to be fair, I still love these islands.
If I ever need to write something, I head to Teddington or Beaconsfield and plant myself in the middle of the very worst café to get inspired.
This week, we recorded with Tim Key, Rufus Hound and Sir Chris Hoy. I didn’t expect I’d be saying that when we booked 10 nights at the Pleasance back in 2010.
We never had a plan – and still don’t – but, again, better comedians and friends such as Tim have always been there to muck around with us. And it’s a happy surprise that the likes of Hoy and Hound are so willing to join in.
At home, the kids suggest their own tasks and solutions. I try to get them to practise their saxophones, because I still wish I was a real musician.
My wife is a saint for putting up with it all.
Alex Horne is a comedian, musician and writer.