Taskmaster, Cut Faster

Does a television comedy require comedians? Probably not; there’s been plenty of decent vox pop segments over the years that have scored big laughs without the use of skilled professionals. So does Taskmaster Australia require comedians? Now that’s a question.

Back for a second season that’s technically a third because the second – which they filmed before the one currently airing – was lacking just a little in star power (don’t worry, it’ll air later this year), Taskmaster is pretty good at what it does. But does that require comedians?

On the surface, having them there probably doesn’t hurt. So they should sack Tom Gleeson right away. Haha, only kidding! We’d say about 60% of the reason Australia got its own version of this UK format is down to the already inexplicably popular Gleeson having a comedy persona that’s perfect for the hosting role.

So while we’re not fans of what he does, he’s generally doing a serviceable job of it here. Likewise, everyone else this season. Wil Anderson seems slightly bemused that he’s actually required to be funny. Josh Thomas is dusting off his old Talkin’ ’bout Your Generation persona of “slightly annoyed brat” only it’s at least a decade too late. Jenny Tian is just happy to be there. And married couple Lloyd Langford and Anne Edmonds are solid performers as per usual.

Which is to say, they’re all wasted on this show, because this show doesn’t need comedians at all.

Oh sure, it’s always good to have comedians on our screens. But do you know what’d be better? A show where they got to do what they thought was funny – after all, these are all professional comedians who have a pretty good idea of what they need to do to make people laugh – rather than a bunch of wacky stunts. Because let’s be honest: on Taskmaster, it’s the stunts doing all the hard work.

Taskmaster is the kind of show that appeals to famous but possibly not that off-the-cuff funny comedians, because all the work of being funny is done for them. Sure, they can (and often do) make the stunts even funnier. But a lot of the time, the funny stuff is really just the audience thinking “can’t wait to see what they’ll do with this!”. Any celebrity can generate that kind of connection with the viewer. Hell, most regular folk can generate that once they’ve had even the briefest opportunity to disply any kind of personality – as shown by pretty much every single game show on television over the last 60 years.

Usually it’s not quite as obvious that the comedians’ skills are going to waste, because the people doing the tasks are people like Peter Helliar or Julia Morris. But everyone this season is funny or Josh Thomas (who can be funny in the right setting). Does making them wear a helmet with a stuffed seagull on top make them funnier? Sure, for about ten seconds.

To the format’s credit, it avoids pretty much all the usual pitfalls. The tasks either produce wildly different results or lend themselves to very different approaches, so we’re not just watching the same thing happen five times. Constantly cutting back to everyone sitting around with Gleeson and sidekick Tom Cashman allows some panel show banter to mix things up. It’s varied, it’s fast paced, the stunts are well thought out and allow the contestants a bit of room to express themselves.

But those contestants don’t need to be comedians. And if your show would work with anyone, is it a comedy? Or just a version of MasterChef where the cooking challenge is getting hot chips out of a balloon?

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