Tom Gleeson lists the ways he’s better than the UK Taskmaster

You’re a Gold Logie winner, host of two TV shows right now, but you’re still touring and performing live – you haven’t lost that drive for live gigs at all?

Yeah, it’s the thing I enjoy the most. When I started doing stand-up, I just really, really wanted to perform, but I had no idea what I was going to say when I got there. I just had to make up material to give me an excuse to perform.

Tom Gleeson

You’re now Australia’s Taskmaster, a role made famous in the UK by Greg Davies. Can you elaborate on all the ways in which you are better than him?

Gee, there’s so many. Just trying to narrow it down for your article … Well, I have created my own show, in Hard Quiz. He didn’t create the format of Taskmaster. On the first night of the Montreal Comedy Festival, when we performed together, he pretty much died on his arse and I didn’t, I killed. So that means I’m probably better at stand-up. Oh, and all the comedians who come on our show, I actually hang out with and know them, whereas I think he’s so aloof that he’s out of touch with the comedy community.

You’re a man of the people.

I’m a bit of a man of the people, I just have to pretend to grind them into the ground for the sake of entertainment.

Oh, so that’s all an act? You don’t insult people just for fun.

I mean, it’s not an act, all I’m doing is speaking the truth. I’m just honest and tell them how they’re doing. And I just say it in a way so as not to protect their feelings. It’s not being an act, I’m just removing a few manners, that’s all.

Has any Hard Quiz contestant ever been broken by you? Has anyone ever cried on the set?

One of the children in the children’s special almost came to tears because I called their teacher an arsehole. I said, “This child’s teacher’s an arsehole,” just as a joke. And rather than seeing it as humour, this particular student was deeply concerned that their teacher might be watching and think that I think they’re an arsehole. So I retracted and said, “It’s OK, we’ll edit it out.” This child was deeply concerned because this child really loved their teacher.

That’s just bad luck, to find a child who loves their teacher. There can’t be many.

Yeah, if the child was bit more devilish, they’d be like, oh this is a bit naughty and fun. But this one genuinely enjoyed the favour of their teacher, and was hoping the teacher would be watching and be proud of how well they were doing in the quiz.

Do you think you would enjoy being a task-doer, instead of Taskmaster?

It’s funny, when I was asked to host I was like, thank god for that, because if they’d asked me to be a contestant I probably would’ve said no. Because it sounds like a lot of bother. You have to go on location, you have to wander round. You’ve probably got to get up at 6am, iron your shirt. So to not have to do the task is a bonus. But having said that, I often look at them and think, ooh I reckon I’d know how to do that. I’m quite a lateral thinker, so I think I’d be quite good at it. But that is completely untested.

When you started in comedy, did you foresee yourself taking on the public persona that you’ve developed now?

No. It’s what I’m really like … A friend of mine I used to do radio with, Subby Valentine, he used to think I was funnier off stage when I was just ranting and raving about other comedians that I didn’t like, or ragging on the audience that I didn’t think was up to standard. So I’ve always been quite arrogant, so I think I tempered that when I was on stage because I wanted to be like Carl Barron or Jimeoin and have everyone like me and think that I was relatable. But it just kept eking into my sets. A mate of mine told me he saw me at the Comedy Store, about 20 years ago, and apparently I said a joke and the audience laughed after a fairly long pause. And I said to the audience that you are the stupidest audience I’ve ever performed to because I can scientifically tell you that’s the longest gap between me saying that punchline and a reaction that I have ever had. And he said he couldn’t believe it, because the audience laughed – they laughed at how dumb they were. So it was always eking into my set, but I managed to put it in there in a far more productive way. I just gave in to my dark side.

And it’s worked quite well for you.

Yeah, because it comes from a real place. It’s not like I’m bunging it on: I am deeply cynical. I think I thought that was unattractive. If anything, I was censoring myself, and then one day I thought, oh how about I just say all the things I think and see how that goes?

Taskmaster Australia screens at 7.30pm on Ten.

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