TV.com: How does it feel to have your very own TV show?
Rhod Gilbert: I suppose it feels how you imagine it would feel: exciting and privileged and all that stuff. I’ve got all the good stuff on one hand, and then all the panic, terror, pressure and responsibility on the other.
And it’s on BBC One, the flagship BBC channel...
Yeah, it’s straight into a big one, isn’t it? I’ve got mixed emotions about that. I tend to look at the negatives and go: “Oh, God, too much pressure! Why can’t we start small? Why can’t we try the idea out on a small little channel with a few people watching and develop it there?” But I should be saying: “Well, look at this, what a thrill!” You know.
I take it you’re glad it’s not live, then?
I think it was an idea originally to do it live, but thank goodness it’s not.
What’s different about Ask Rhod Gilbert to other panel shows?
For starters, there’s no points or teams, which is a slightly different approach to things; it’s more of a discussion show. It’s got a Dictionary Corner, which brings facts in live from the Internet.
And it’s got live phone calls as well...
Oh yes. See, that’s another thing it’s got--live phone calls, I forgot about that.
Who are these calls to?
Well, we’ve got this authenticator person in the corner. We’ll be having a debate about something--whether dogs can blow or whatever it is--and the authenticator or the producers, will just get somebody on the phone. In the pilot I ended up talking to some bloke who had a celebrity hair collection from the States. We also spoke to a dog behavioural specialist about dog eyebrows--it’s quite silly in that way. We get information coming through and we will gloat, do live interviews and stuff.
Who is the authenticator?
The authenticator changes every week. In the run-throughs we’ve had Gabby Logan and Kate Silverton; you need presenting skills to do it. The BBC think it’s important that they have some kind of authority and credibility if they’re gonna be giving us facts.
You’ve also got panel show sidekicks. How did you go about picking them?
Well, little comedy families emerge everywhere, don’t they? Whether it’s Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie or Ben Elton. When I started out in comedy, eight years ago, I did a comedy course, and on my course there was a guy called Greg Davies from We Are Klang and The Inbetweeners--he wasn’t from them then, obviously. He was a teacher who was thinking about getting into comedy on exactly the same day as I did. We met there, we became firm friends, and now I try and get him on everything I do. I think it really helps if you have friends. In a lot of pilot shows you wish the people on them would just get on better or were friends, or whatever. I think you can tell.
So you wanted natural chemistry?
Exactly. You banter best with your mates, and so I said, you know, “can I get him on there?”, and they said, “yes”, and then I said: “what about my flatmate? Lloyd (Langford), who is also a comedian.” He’s an emerging Welsh comedian, and again, I use him whenever I can. I use him on my radio show, he’s my tour support act. And they basically said: “We don’t know him, so we’re not going to put him on TV. It’s BBC1, this is a massive show. We can’t just put on someone nobody’s ever heard of.” I said: “Well, get him in as a writer”, because he writes on Never Mind the Buzzcocks. And they said: “Yeah, okay, we’ll get him in as a writer.” We got him in, and Greg, myself, and him were sat there just bantering, and the BBC went: “Hey, this is great! Let’s stick him on!” So, he’s in the show, which is great.
What kind of guests can we expect to see on the show?
Do you know what, I don’t know. The production team is out there, I imagine, desperately running around. In the pilot we had Louis Walsh. Hopefully it’ll be people who don’t take themselves too seriously--it’s not going to be a bitchy show at all. It’s going to be a cheeky show.
It’s filmed fairly close to its air date. Does that mean you cover current topics?
It’s fairly current, but it’s not a topical show. It’s not another Mock the Week or 8 Out of 10 Cats. We’ll broadly hook it in the present day by, for instance, covering the topic “can dogs blow” and replying: “Did you see that dog on Britain’s Got Talent last night?” And then go: “Do you reckon he can blow?” And we’re not talking about Britain’s Got Talent, we’re off on a more random surreal conversation that just happens to be current.
Who comes up with the questions?
It’s a mixture. We (the panelists) come up with some--the kind of things that keep us awake at night. And I quite often find myself having these kinds of conversations with mates. So some of them come from us, and then some of them come from the audience. Some also come from celebrity guests, although quite often they just re-do the ones that we’d given them. It’s a variety.
How much involvement do the audience have on the show?
They also help with experiments. One of the features of the show is a debate, and quite often to resolve a debate, what you need really is to do some kind of little experiment to prove your point. I’m quite keen to grab audience members and experiment on them, but television producers don’t like you moving around too much because of the cameras--I’m used to stage. I can just do whatever I want in a live environment, but on TV it’s a bit different. But we are going to be doing one or two experiments per show, I imagine.
How much of the show is planned, then?
Some are more spontaneous than others. I would say--given my experience of having done Mock the Week and 8 Out of 10 Cats--that this one is up there with the more spontaneous ones. You do need a degree of preparation, because it’s been proved that if you just turn up with absolutely no preparation then you’re not gonna get a good show. So, we do a little bit of preparation and then trust our wits and instincts to get out there and improvise. I’m very keen to improvise experiments with an audience to prove my point.
What question has been your favourite so far?
It’s surprising sometimes; you think a question is gonna be really good, and then you don’t get much out of it. Then, sometimes, you don’t think one’s going be very good and you get loads out of it. We had one in the pilot--why do birds sing?--and it sounds like quite a dry sort of question, really, but we had tremendous fun because the authenticator helps us on the way to the answer by lobbing in facts and stuff. But basically, they keep us distracted. So they would stick “birds” and “singing” into the Internet and then see what comes up. But you get all sorts of weird and wonderful things on the Internet obviously, and then they just throw that into the discussion. So we had a lot of fun doing that one.
Then there’s more random questions, like: “if you gathered up all the hairs in the world, off the world’s hair salons, could you make wigs for all the bald people in the world?” It’s odd sometimes; you come up with a question that really makes you laugh and you don’t necessarily get much out of it. There’s room for all sorts of questions in there. I think the interesting questions are human potential; evolution is always interesting. And animal questions are always good.
On the subject of animals, you voiced some of the Walk on the Wild Side stuff. What was that like?
It was good fun actually. I’ve stopped doing it now because I just don’t think I’m good at it. I’d be in the studio with all these different people and they could change their voice when: you’d show them a clip of a hamster, and they’d come up with one character’s voice, and then they show them a clip of something else, and they’ll come up with something else. Everything I voiced all sounded like fairly grumpy, aggressive Welsh people. I thought I’d step aside and let somebody with more character voice skills come in.
At least you’ve got more time for your show that way...
Exactly. To be honest, you have to start going: “I don’t think I can do that”. It’s like Never Mind The Buzzcocks. I desperately wanted to host Buzzcocks again--I loved it--and they asked me to come back and host this series, but I couldn’t, I just haven’t got time.
What do you prefer then: TV shows or stand-ups?
It’s so difficult. At the moment I would say live work, because I’m used to live work--that’s what I know. I’m used to writing, script editing, producing, directing, and performing my own work without any interference from anyone. And now, coming onto TV, there’s script editors, producers, directors... everybody’s having a say in what we do and that takes a lot of getting used to. Suddenly, I’m not in control anymore, so it’s really difficult. But I think once you get used to that--if you ask me again in a year’s time or six months’ time--then I might have a different answer, but at the moment, I’m still getting to grips with things being out of my control. I don’t have the final word on everything, which I do in stand-up.
Is the show likely to impact on your stand-up tours?
We’ve had to move some touring dates, but I don’t think we’ve cancelled anything. We’ve just postponed some, because of the filming on this. They said: “Right, we want to film every Monday for eight weeks”, so the gigs on a Monday or a Sunday night, that are too far away to get to, have had to be moved. I’ve just extended my tour so it rolls on to January.