Alex Horne interview: ‘Taskmaster has taken over my life and I’m extremely grateful’

The Horne Section SUS-190129-093952001
The Horne Section SUS-190129-093952001

Alex Horne may appear on TV’s Taskmaster as the long-suffering minion of Greg Davies, but he is in fact the creator and mastermind behind Dave’s most popular show – and the frontman of The Horne Section, a music/comedy group coming to Eastbourne’s Royal Hippodrome Theatre next month.

If you haven’t caught the Horne Section’s live shows or podcast you may have seen them popping up on Eight out of 10 Cats does Countdown or on the recent Royal Variety Show.

SUS-140430-103657001

SUS-140430-103657001

Before Alex started on his road to comedy, he spent part of his gap year working at Sussex Newspapers as a trainee reporter (and even managed to do the obligatory ‘dead donkey’ story).

After university, he started gigging as a comedian and performed a (slightly drunk) show with his friends in Edinburgh packed with challenges – a kernel of an idea that would then develop into the international hit Taskmaster.

He has also penned two books, including one about neologism – the invention of new words (a couple of which he has snuck into this interview) – and Alex’s efforts to get them into the dictionary.

Alex and the Horne Section will be doing three gigs in Sussex as part of their 2019 tour, kicking off in Eastbourne on March 14 before appearing at Crawley’s The Hawth on June 12 and Brighton’s Theatre Royal on December 4.

Taskmaster - Greg Davies and Alex Horne

Taskmaster - Greg Davies and Alex Horne

See thehornesection.com for more information.

Q: You’re kicking off your tour with a visit to the Royal Hippodrome in Eastbourne: do you know Eastbourne at all and if so what do you think of it?

A: I have been to Eastbourne at least a dozen times and I can’t say that about all that many towns, so I must like it at least a bit. I grew up in West Sussex so not a million miles away (about 60), I had a couple of nights out there in my late teens, a few stand up spots in my twenties and now I can’t wait to be back. As far as I can remember it had an excellent seafront, a good café and the friendliest audiences in the world who always welcome you back and laugh at all your jokes.

Q: If you could win a fabulous shiny award for the Horne Section or Taskmaster, which would you prefer and why?

Taskmaster series 6

Taskmaster series 6

A: Please can I have one for the Horne Section because we’re the ones who tour the country and Ben has to get all his drums in and out of his car, and Will has to drag his bass around and we’re all really sweaty after the gigs and then have to drive home the length of our motorways in the middle of the night and we don’t have runners bringing us cups of tea and telling us we’re excellent so, yes, an award for the Horne Section please.

Q: The Horne Section Podcast seems an incredibly positive, whimsical bit of escapism - do you think people prefer that kind of comedy when the real world is so incredibly bonkers at the moment?

A: I know I do. It certainly feels positive when we’re doing it. Apart from the thrill of a live show, the podcast is our favourite thing to do because we can muck around in our own little cocoon and hearing that people actually enjoy listening to us do it is both surprising and lovely. The world is bonkers and I don’t know why so I know I personally prefer to concentrate on doing the things I find fun rather than getting bogged down in nonsense.

Q: People seem to relate to Taskmaster in a very personal way (eg throwing themselves into your Advent Twitter challenge) - did you expect that sort of reaction when you first started the show and do you enjoy it?

A: I do enjoy it and I didn’t expect it. When I started the show up at the Edinburgh Fringe I realised very quickly that the comedians would throw themselves into it. They’re all competitive people who like showing off and being tested. I hoped that people would enjoy watching them take part but when viewers started joining in, staging their own events and even setting up Taskmaster clubs in schools I was slightly overwhelmed. It’s taken over my life and I’m extremely grateful.

Q: Any plans to take the show back to its Edinburgh roots and, in the light of the popularity of Drunk History, do a one-off drunk version? A drunk Champions special, perhaps?

A: Ha! I didn’t, but that is an excellent idea. I don’t think they need to be drunk to go on a mental safari and make some spectacularly bad choices, but why not? I do always think the Fringe is the most special environment to try things out and, above all, have a laugh, so you never know.

Q: Have you made any progress on efforts to get Jack Dee on Taskmaster?

A: Not yet, but I shall keep trying. Jack Dee is, for me, the ideal contestant. When I watched him try to escape from the Big Brother house by digging a hole with a spoon that may well have been when, subconsciously, the idea of Taskmaster was born. So, yes, I shall keep trying.

Q: Do you enjoy watching other comedians or is it a bit of a busman’s holiday? If so, who’s your current favourite? (apart from yourself, obviously)

A: I often think I don’t enjoy watching other comedians, but when I do find myself watching them it almost always turns out that I do. There’s not much better than being blindsided by a brilliant comic who is saying things you yourself could never think of. Tommy Tiernan is my absolute favourite and has been for some time. He can make me gasp with laughter.

Q: How is your neologism going? I noticed a couple in the Taskmaster book after a quick flick through, but are you still actively trying to get them into the dictionary?

A: Thank you for spotting them! I would say I’m now passively trying to get them into the dictionary. I do always try to slip them into interviews such as this, and books such as that, in the hope that one day they’ll just catch on, but it’s now more of a hobby than a mission. I’ve heard that kids are now using the word ‘games’ to mean a bit rubbish, but who knows if that was anything to do with me.

Q: Since you spent time at the West Sussex Gazette, do you think it’s important for people to support their local papers, especially in this era of fake news and search engines tailoring results to reinforce people’s own views?

A: I absolutely do. I live in a town in Buckinghamshire and have kids at the local school and can see now, more than ever, how important a local paper is to the community. They help each other and a well-supported local paper can do as much and more good than any national.

Q: And...what was the dead donkey story about? Had it served as mayor or done something glorious during the war?

Oh, I wish I could remember. I know for sure that I have the article in a box somewhere as I never throw anything away. I can tell you that it was 1998 and I also had to do an article about a giant ostrich egg that someone had painted red and white turned into a makeshift England football hat for the World Cup. That was a cracking story.