Celebrity Benchmark is coming up on Channel 4. Explain a bit about the show for those who have never seen it.
Basically it’s all about the questions – the questions are the star of the show. We never ask questions that people will be certain of knowing the exact answer to. So it might be “If your partner leaves their mobile phone in the house and goes out, what percentage of the UK population would have a look at the phone?” Or “What’s the average weight of a cloud?” They’re nice little talking points. The person playing the game must try and get as close to the correct answer as they can. And the answers are often really good ones to discuss with people at work the day after. When you’re filming any show off a live audience, you get a feedback straightaway about how it’s going, and the audience always enjoyed it.
Are you allowed to reveal anything about the guests you had on the show?
Yeah. Playing the game, we had Phil Tufnell, Alex Brooker, Vic Reeves, Jimmy Carr, Joey Essex – that was interesting. What is really interesting – and I reminded him of this on the show – is that Joey Essex does better than Jimmy Carr. They all played the game. But we also had celebrities making up the benchmark. We had comedians, actors, sportspeople, presenters – we had a really good mixture of people on.
You even had Edwina Currie on!
Yeah, we had Edwina Currie on! The thing about Edwina was, there comes a point in the game where you can ask for advice, and she got asked a lot, because she’s obviously an intelligent lady.
Any show with both Edwina Currie and Joey Essex on it has something going for it!
It’s win-win. Yin and yang!
Did you have any favourite guests, who really threw themselves into proceedings?
They all really got into it. People like Phil Tufnell, a sportsman, brought a certain sort of competitive flavour to the show, and then you’ve got Jimmy, who’s a really funny comedian, just really witty, good banter. And then you’ve got Joey, who’s a young lad who really brings his own dynamic. Everyone was good in their own right, really. Vic Reeves’ answers were so bloody surreal, so his show was a lot of fun to do.
You’ve also got James Haskell on the show, who will be playing for England in the Rugby World Cup while the series is on air.
We might be up against him in the ratings. James Haskell on every channel – that’ll be interesting! He’s a really bright fella, but bloody hell, he’s big. You see them on the telly, these rugby lads, you think “They’re quite big,” and then you meet them in the flesh, and they’re massive. He was like a wall with a beard.
Showbiz is quite a small world. Were some of the guys on the show your mates?
Not really. I purposely said not to get anyone on that I knew really well. It becomes a bit too familiar then. I mean, obviously I knew half of them through being on shows with them over the years, or seeing them at the odd party or what have you. But I didn’t ‘know them’ know them. I enjoyed that.
Did anyone particularly impress you or particularly disgrace themselves with their performance?
Joey Essex impressed! The thing about Joey is, he’ll give you an answer, and everyone in the room’s going “That’s never going to be right,” and then it would be right, and then he’d tell you how he’d worked it out, and his workings out were just absolute madness – but he seemed to get to the right answer.
Does it feel different, presenting the celebrity version of the show? Do you have to spend less time putting them at ease in front of the cameras?
Yeah, it’s different in that sense. And you’re not worried about what answer they’re going to give when you go to chat to them. With the general public, they might understandably be nervous, and not be able to think of what to say, whereas with a celebrity, you know you’re likely to get a good soundbite.
So can you afford to feel a bit more relaxed presenting the celebrity version?
No, because you’ve got to be on the ball in case they need reining in a bit as well. I felt more relaxed presenting with the members of the public in the sense that, because they were nervous, if I was really relaxed it would help them to feel at ease. The celebrities are not nervous, and they like talking, so it’s more me trying to bloody stop them talking!
You enjoy talking to the public anyway, don’t you? You seem to get a kick outr of interactions on Benchmark and on Take Me Out.
Yeah, I think so. I’ve been touring this year, and when you’re on a stage with an audience, and you’re just talking to them, and they’re laughing and responding, it’s quite seductive. I’ve always enjoyed that, but funnily enough I’d never really thought of pursuing a career in the entertainment industry. I was just like that anyhow – wherever I used to work, jobs-wise, I’d always be in the canteen talking to people and laughing and everything.
Do you now find that whenever you read a survey or hear a statistic, you’re wondering if you can use it in the show?
Yeah, all the time. And we get stuff on the show, when the questions come up, when I think “Who’s done this survey?” And I’ve actually had meetings with the producers where I’ve had to get them to prove to me that it’s a real answer, because some of the answers seem so ridiculous. There was one about “How many seconds after somebody yawns in a room does somebody else yawn.” And the answer was “It never happens.” And I said “But it always happens,” and they said “No, it’s a myth.” So I had to actually be shown the paperwork on this. So I get swept up in it all. I probably shouldn’t get that involved! There’s another one – if you put a Rich Tea in a cup of tea, how long before it breaks off? And people were saying three seconds, or four seconds, and the actual answer was 18 seconds. I couldn’t believe that. But they did a proper test at some university.
Does it ever make you feel like there are researchers out there with too much time on their hands?
No, because without them, we wouldn’t have a quiz show!
Do you play along in your head, when you’re presenting, or are you too busy concentrating on the job in hand?
The one thing I made a point of doing, when we were sat with the producers rehearsing, is I’d never see the answers. I never wanted to know the answers, because (one) you’d be tempted to lead someone, to win some money, and (two) I used to like being shocked by some of the answers myself, having the same reaction as everyone else in the room. If I’d already have known the answers to the yawning or the rich tea questions, it wouldn’t have been the same.
Were the specials all filmed quite close together?
We did them all in a week.
Is that quite exhausting, doing an intense schedule like that?
There’s different levels of exhaustion. I’m pretty sure if I go “Yeah, I was exhausted,” someone reading this interview just coming off tarmac-ing a road will go “Ooh yeah, I bet it were tiring, that! Laughing in a studio.” So you’ve got to put it in context.
It’s filmed up in Manchester – did you have a hotel where all the celebrities stayed when they filmed this?
I’m not sure where they stayed, to be honest. I’m sure they were all round at the Premier Inn with Lenny Henry. All in the bath with that rubber duck he has.
Do you think at the end of every day’s filming, they waited for you to go home and then all nipped off to the pub together?
Yeah, they all go “We’re all tired, we’re going to get an early night,” and then I leave and they all go “Right, let’s go out, he’s gone!”
Who would be your ideal celebrity guest to have on the show?
There are loads of people I’d love to have on the show, but I remember talking to Danny Baker and thinking “He’d be good to come on.” Because Danny Baker is one of them people who has that kind of knowledge where you just think “How the hell does he know that?” So he’d be good – just to see what he comes up with and how he works an answer out. Him or Stephen Fry.
How do you think you’d do, if you went on the show yourself?
I think I wouldn’t win the top money, but I definitely wouldn’t leave empty-handed. I’d be up in the top end, I think, but I wouldn’t get the jackpot.
Celebrity Benchmark starts on Saturday 26th September at 7pm on Channel 4