The creator of Taskmaster is on a mission to entertain a world stuck in lockdown, one 20 second video at a time.
Faced with the prospect of spending months at home due to coronavirus, comedian Alex Horne is challenging the public to complete a series of tasks, using nothing but themselves and things they can find in their house.
Christening the project “Hometasking”, Horne tells Sky News he’s been impressed by the result: “A lot of the public are far better than any of the comedians we’ve ever had on the show”.
High praise indeed, as the quirky comedy which ran for eight series on Freeview channel Dave has featured top stand ups including Bob Mortimer, Frank Skinner and Jo Brand.
So, what sparked the idea for a home-based Taskmaster?
Horne says it’s thanks to a mother who contacted him on Twitter: “She got in touch saying, ‘Please, could you send us a task? Because we’re facing weeks of being in the house for the kids’.”
A father-of-three himself, Horne admits his own fear of being trapped at home with a trio of bored children also played a part in Hometasking’s birth.
“Last Monday I definitely woke up with a sense of dread. I think a lot of parents did. That was the first day of home-schooling, and we’re all thinking: ‘I don’t know how to do that’.”
So Horne, who admits he’s “fairly useless” at entertaining his own kids but good at coming up with ideas to inspire others, said he created Hometasking to give families “something to do each day”.
Tasks are set every Monday and Wednesday at 9am, with a time limit of 30 hours to complete each challenge.
So far, families and individuals, adults and children (and pets) have taken the tasks in their stride, with two videos being sent in every minute of each challenge on average via Twitter.
Horne says he’s been “amazed” at the response.
“Every video is watched”, he explains, “but I have a team of 10 helping me out too”.
A top 10 compilation is then sent to the Taskmaster, Greg Davies, to select each task’s winner.
Horne says if in doubt, his kids (three boys aged seven, nine and 10) help make the call: “I’m using them as little judges. So if they say yes, that video has to make it into the montage.”
And it’s not just English Taskmaster fans taking part – around one third of entries come from overseas.
“There’s about 20 percent from North America, but also Norway, China, a lot of places across Europe, lots from Italy and from the hardest hit countries, which is it’s very moving but also pleasing.
“People everywhere are just trying to have some fun in whichever situation they’re in.”
It turns out one nation in particular are upping the ante: “Australians are particularly competitive. I should say that they’re in it to win it rather than to have fun.”
And parents have been making use of their kids in a bid to win too: “Quite a few people are employing their babies to try to sneak into the montage using the cute factor.”
However, Horne says it’s not really all about taking the top spot: “This sounds very cheesy, but it really isn’t about winning.
“It’s about taking part because you’re then doing something that other people in the country and around the world are doing. You’re sharing a moment.”
Horne worked on the third series of Big Brother back in 2003, which he admits helped foster his love of challenges.
“I was just a lowly member of the team, but we did get to go in the house and test some of the games before the before the inmates went in. It definitely rubbed off on me a little bit.”
So how does Horne come up with the quirky tasks, which have included creating a dancing elephant, throwing paper into a bin and camouflaging yourself?
“The second task was to convert your bathroom into a venue you’d like to go to for a great night out.
“That was literally seeing my wife singing in the shower and thinking: ‘There’s something in that’.”
However, there are rules.
Instructions listed by Horne on Twitter include: “All tasks must take place in your homes or gardens, please obey the social distancing advice, don’t break the law and don’t hurt anyone.”
And there are additional practicalities: “They need to be achievable by anyone – if you’re on your own or if there’s five of you, if you’re stuck in a top floor flat or if you’re on a farm.”
Horne admits that getting to peek into people’s homes around the world is an added perk.
And despite the light-hearted nature of the challenges, participants are encouraged to be mindful of resources in their attempts: “You can’t waste stuff. They can’t involve pasta or loo roll. I don’t want people chucking food away.”
Plus Horne says the limitations of lockdown are actually helpful: “The sky is not the limit. The ceiling is the limit… I just set a very general thing, and then it’s up to people to interpret that however they want.
“We can’t go out and play football. We can’t even watch the football. So, we’re forced to be slightly more creative and that’s hopefully one of the upsides of this whole thing.”
Like many self-employed artists, Horne has had to cancel work because of the virus.
A tour featuring Horne and five musicians – a fusion of stand up and live music called The Horne Section – has had to be postponed, leaving them all in the same position as five million self-employed people across the UK – without a regular income.
Horne says the chancellor’s financial aid should tide them through, when it eventually arrives: “Money wise, I think the self-employed offerings from the government seems to be giving people hope.
“But I think the timing is difficult. It’s going to take a while for it to come through, I’m just hoping that the end is three months away rather than a year.”
However, for Taskmaster fans, Hometasking is a welcome bit of fun amid the COVID-19 disruption.
Horne says: “A lot of people got in touch saying, ‘I’ve always wanted to be on that show, and now I know I can'”.
Meanwhile, Taskmaster Greg Davies will only be playing Mr Nice Guy for so long.
Horne says: “I can see him holding himself back, but I think that’s only going to be a matter of time before he unleashes himself.
“I think he’s been really touched, because the lengths people go to impress him.”
Normally sat together on the show in adjacent thrones, he says Davies will also be missing having him “within striking distance”, having to make do instead with having him “at the other end of Twitter”.
Judging from his living room, a black suited Davies passes the final verdict on each challenge.
Horne says: “There’s been a lot of accusations that he’s not wearing trousers. But I have nothing to corroborate that.”
He also says Davies resolutely refuses to film in landscape, the preferred aspect ratio for mobile phone videos on Twitter: “I don’t know if that’s deliberately to wind me up, but it’s working”.
With prizes on the TV show including such delights as “most awkward item for somebody else to take home” and “most unusual autograph of the most unusual vegetable”, the winner could be in for a treat.
Horne says: “They will get something money can’t buy. Something personal rather than physical. Greg and I will come round and cook them dinner or we’ll give them a Taskmaster experience they’ll never forget.”
However, if the winner’s heart is set on something a little more tangible, Horne adds: “My dad’s got an old Saab, which I think’s broken so I could chuck that into it too.”
Alex Horne will be setting new challenges every week on Twitter @AlexHorne and on the Taskmaster YouTube page.
Series nine of Taskmaster is set to come to Channel 4 later this year, despite the outbreak.
Horne promises fans: “We have recorded loads of brilliant and useless task attempts so we can’t wait to show people the results…”