Consider, for a moment, how you might go about concealing a large pineapple on your person. Would you try to juice it all up and drink it? But then what about the skin? Would you cut it up into pieces and tape the jagged, sticky pieces around your body, underneath your clothes? Would you, like comedian Katherine Ryan, briefly contemplate and then immediately dismiss the prospect of introducing the spiky, exotic fruit to the depths of your divine feminine chalice? Keep in mind, you only have 20 minutes, and at the end of those 20 minutes, you will be inspected by a man with a clipboard. Also, you’re competing against four other people, and your efforts will later be replayed in front of a live studio audience. Your time starts now.
Such is the premise of one task on season two of Taskmaster, the British comedy panel-slash-game show, in which five comedians compete every week to complete a series of three ridiculous tasks that are assigned to them by the so-called Taskmaster himself, comedian Greg Davies, and his co-host, Alex Horne. At the end of each season, the points from each week are tallied up, and one comedian wins the grand prize: a gold statue of Davies’s head. The show is absurd, the tasks are pointless, and currently, its YouTube channel is buttressing a significant portion of my emotional well-being.
A friend introduced me to Taskmaster over the holidays after I had spent roughly two and a half months watching Great British Bake Off on a loop and it became clear that my brain, like an unsuccessful cake during a technical challenge, was developing a soggy bottom. “Here, watch this now,” she said briskly, parking me in front of a Taskmaster episode like a parent turning their toddler over to Peppa Pig. And like a toddler, I was transfixed, cooing happily and clapping my hands as the comedians went about tasks like: “Make an exotic sandwich” and “Balance Alex on a seesaw.” I have been watching it for several hours a day ever since.
In some ways, Taskmaster scratches the same itch as Bake Off: There are cute, quaint settings (many of the challenges take place in the same Taskmaster house and yard) and familiar faces (Bake Off hosts Noel Fielding and Mel Giedroyc both compete in series four), and everyone seems to genuinely be having fun, which feels like a corny thing to say, but is nice to see at a time when fun is particularly hard to come by. But Taskmaster is also funnier, far more absurd, and delightfully, charmingly stupid.
Originally created by Horne for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2010, the show was adapted for television in 2015. There have been ten seasons so far, and in each, one is treated to both the depths of human foolishness and the heights of human ingenuity. Consider the series four task “Camouflage yourself,” in which we see Mel Giedroyc fundamentally misunderstand the challenge and stand — plainly and hilariously visible — behind a flowerpot, and witness Noel Fielding brilliantly conceal himself in a bowl of fruit.
Or the series seven task where contestants have 18 seconds in an elevator to completely change their appearance, a task comedian Rhod Gilbert achieves by taking his shirt off and smearing mustard all over his face.
The wonders of the human mind on display.
Watching Taskmaster feels like watching your funniest friends do stupid shit outside a bar after several beers — ridiculous, endearing, and sometimes genuinely impressive. And while we can’t really go to bars or do stupid shit with our friends right now, fortunately for all of us, six seasons of Taskmaster are currently available on YouTube, the perfect background noise for the next few months of lockdown. And if you really get bored at home, I suppose you could always try doing some of the tasks yourself. Just be careful with how you hide that pineapple.