Hypothetical returns for a fourth series on Dave on Wednesday 18th May. Here, we talk to Josh Widdicombe about why James Acaster is "perfect" to present with, why he's not giving Ed Gamble any satisfaction, which comedian delivers the best Widdicombe whinge and what he's been up to with Nish Kumar.
Were you able to film this series of Hypothetical without any Covid restrictions?
There were small audience restrictions compared to the previous series. We kept the long table because we liked it, it just made us feel like big men. The series before it was almost impossible. You couldn't go within two metres of anyone, understandably.
So this time was a bit more physical, with a few more act outs?
There's definitely more freedom. And booking it was so easy because everyone wanted to work, they'd all had eighteen months off. So you've got loads of great people excited to be back in a TV studio. It was brilliant.
It feels like Dave is dominated by your generation of comedians now. Is it odd to glance around the studios and see all the acts you started out with?
Yeah, that is odd. I don't appreciate it enough. It's such a shame I don't stop and go "isn't it brilliant that James and I get to do this because we were once driving to Northampton to do a gig to two people?" You don't get enough time. It's a real achievement, an amazing thing to have happened which maybe I'll only realise after I've stopped doing comedy.
But the great thing about the guests is the mix we have. You have my generation. But you've also got new people like Josh Pugh and Rose Johnson. Then really established people that you always want to have, like Ross Noble or Bill Bailey. It's really exciting.
How important are the hypothetical situations for creating the chemistry of the teams? Do you tailor them to who's on?
It's always fun if there's a team where they know each other and they're friends. Or, if it's two really different people, because then it's an interesting mix. I'll always remember Guz Khan and Angela Barnes was one of my favourite teams because it was such a strange combination of people.
All they hypotheticals are written generally, there's none written for specific people. But obviously, when the series is being planned, you're like, who'd be good at this? Who would we like to see do this? Often it's a case of who would you like to see humiliate themselves in this way.
Weirdly, all of my jobs are quite separate. The Last Leg is topical, stand-up is stand-up, Parenting Hell is talking about parenting. They all operate in these different areas of my life. Nothing crosses over as much as you'd think. You find yourself wondering if anyone watching is into all of the stuff I do? Or whether they just pick and choose? It's very rare you get to use a Hypothetical situation as a bit of stand-up or as something that'll come up on The Last Leg. They're all very separate. Which is nice, because you're never bored. You're never doing the same stuff.
When did you decide to get James involved? Why do you work well together?
It's really nice to work with your friends and James is one of my best friends. So it's lovely. We needed someone strong and I don't recall ever having a discussion where it was anyone other than him. I remember texting him about it really early on, before we did our first run throughs. He's just so perfect for this kind of thing. Really, he's perfect for everything. "Why wouldn't you think of James?" is more the question. I can't imagine it being anyone else at all.
The improv element of the show isn't talked about that much, considering how big a part it is. Do you think more conventional stand-ups appreciate the chance to flex that different muscle?
Yeah, definitely. They really enjoy it, you don't tend to have that on TV in the UK. You also can't underestimate how nice it is for comics to not to have to prepare, it's an absolute joy for them. You just turn up and do it. They're at their funniest when they're not worried about getting in a joke they've thought of beforehand. They're just engaging in the room.
James does a less-than-flattering impression of you in the new series' first episode. Quite a few other comedians have their take on you too. Whose is the best and how do you feel about it? I guess it's a backhanded compliment.
Well, that's what you tell yourself isn't it? Seann Walsh's is really good, he's such a great impressionist. He can do a brilliant Michael McIntyre, Kevin Bridges. He could be an impressionist if he wanted to but he doesn't really use it. You don't tend to see him do it in comedy. He's got hidden depths.
As you allude to in that first episode, it's always nip and tuck between your Parenting Hell podcast [with Rob Beckett] and James' Off Menu [with Ed Gamble] as to who's topping the podcast charts. Are you constantly checking to see who's winning?
Ed Gamble's constantly putting it up on his Instagram, knowing I'll see it. It's only for my benefit that Ed Gamble would put that up on his Instagram stories. But they come out on a Wednesday and we're out on a Tuesday, so of course on Thursday they're number one. I don't know what he's trying to prove. And if he's reading this ... Ed, it's in no way annoying me. The fact I'm bringing it up now isn't a reflection that it annoys me when I see it on your Instagram every Thursday morning.
Why do you think Parenting Hell has struck such a chord? Are you and Rob surprised to be doing live shows with it now?
It would have been insane to ever imagine it would be as successful as it is. You'd certainly be setting yourself up for a fall if you ever thought 'I really want this to be big enough that we get to play the O2 [in London]'. You're going to leave yourself disappointed with 99% of the things you do.
We didn't set out to do this, it's unintentional. But I think its success is based on the fact that you don't often hear comics, or just people in the public eye, being as honest about the mundanities of life. People respond to that. It's not just about having kids either because so many people without kids have come up to me and told me they listen. Which is mad. It's become a soap opera. We've unintentionally created a podcast that's also a soap opera.
Recording the pilot was so much fun, I love working with Nish. And now we're filming the full series this summer. I'm really excited about doing it because I'm so pleased with how the pilot came out. People really responded to it.
Your memoir, Watching Neighbours Twice A Day ... How '90s TV (Almost) Prepared Me For Life, has garnered a very positive reaction. Television schedules are filled with 90s nostalgia but has the book led to any other work?
I'd love to do something like that. I've had various meetings and yeah, I would love to turn it into something on television. You never know what will happen. But yes, fingers crossed.