The Island. Image shows from L to R: Kemah Bob, Tom Allen, Jason Forbes
The Island

The Island

  • TV comedy
  • Dave
  • 2022
  • 8 episodes (1 series)

Tom Allen invites guests to invent their own island in this unique Dave panel game. Also features Ninia Benjamin, Sara Pascoe, Ahir Shah, Johnny Vegas, Kemah Bob and Jason Forbes

Tom Allen interview

The Island. Tom Allen

Tom Allen fronts Dave's comedy format, The Island. Across eight episodes, Allen takes on the role of Captain of the SS Unsinkable which has run aground. Here, he explains more.

Tom - what is The Island?

We're on a fabulous cruise ship, but it's run aground and the captain and most of the crew have fled. In the distance we spotted four uninhabited islands we're going to populate and, as I've decided I'm now the captain, I've found four comedians on board to each run one of the four islands.

Over the course of the series Ahir Shah, Sara Pascoe, Ninia Benjamin, and Johnny Vegas devise their plans for how they're going to run their society through a series of questions and challenges. The passengers, otherwise known as the audience, decide whose island they'd most like to live on, and that's how we decide our winner. It's the fun game for all the family which talks about both humour and sociology.

Where did the idea of the show come from?

James Acaster, Ed Gamble, Lloyd Langford and John Robins were all stuck in New York City because of a snowstorm and they tried to entertain themselves in a tiki bar while they were waiting to find a plane home. So they started asking themselves questions about what they would do if they ran their own island, questions like: "What would you have as your mode of transport?", "Who would you have as your head of state?", and "What would be your favourite toast?" It's a very playable game.

Is it just you aboard this stricken vessel or are there any crew left to help?

There are two co-hosts on the show; Jason Forbes and Kemah Bob, who are brilliant and two of my favourite comedians working today. They play the remaining crew members left to run the ship, and they announce the challenges and each challenge's winner. They're so sharp and surreal, and we have a lot of fun playing around with them. There are lots of ridiculous sketches and silliness, which adds to the charm and creates a sort of magical world.

The Island. Image shows from L to R: Kemah Bob, Tom Allen, Jason Forbes

Did you have any clue as to what Jason and Kemah were going to say during their sketches?

No, not really. That was what was so brilliant; they were so imaginative and creative in how they delivered those sketches. It was such a delight and added to the richness of The Island. Every time they appear, you ask yourself, "What are they going to do now?"...

...Kemah and Jason have such razor sharp senses of humour. They're not afraid to talk about anything, or to go anywhere, or to be quite shocking in an intelligent way. I loved working with them and found it inspiring, because I really like working with other comedians. I've always felt very lucky to work in comedy, because you have the opportunity to work with these lovely people who make you laugh and I like the way different people manage to do it in different ways.

Apart from having a natty hat, what else appealed about becoming the captain on The Island?

Apart from the outfits, I do quite like bossing people around and I like the camp Carry On Cruising energy we all have. Making a new show appealed too, because it's a totally new concept. It's an original and accessible piece of telly and a really fun game.

As you say, Sara Pascoe, Ahir Shah, Ninia Benjamin, and Johnny Vegas are competing to have the most popular island - what does having the four present for all eight episodes bring to the show?

All four are given space to have their own moment and for the audience to really get to know them. What I loved was the contrast between all our players. Johnny Vegas is always going to have a certain kind of answer, Ahir Shah often has intellectual and very funny choices, Ninia Benjamin is wonderful and random, and Sara Pascoe brings an intellectual but playful and silly approach. The beauty of the game is that it engages people's improv style, their imagination, and their intellect.

The Island. Image shows from L to R: Ninia Benjamin, Sara Pascoe, Johnny Vegas, Ahir Shah, Tom Allen

You have to juggle those four comedians while keeping the show moving, so there's a lot of plate-spinning...

Thank you for noticing that! In a way, that was one of my favourite aspects of the show - it did feel raucous and anarchic. Sometimes shows can feel quite safe, while ours felt anarchic and a little bit off the wall, which is one of its charming qualities.

What sort of questions must the comedians answer as they build their island society and try to convince passengers theirs is the best place to live?

There are big ones like, 'Who would you have as your chief of police?', then there are the more ridiculous ones like, 'What would you have flowing from a third tap in every home?' You have a hot water tap, a cold water tap, but what would flow from a third tap next to it? That really gets people thinking - champagne was one answer.

Did any of the four comedians vying to attract the most passengers to their island show a real aptitude for persuading strangers to entrust them with their future? Were any of them promising demagogues?

They all do. As comedians, we like controlling a roomful of people and getting them to laugh, so that's only a small example of how we like to control people. They were all persuasive in their own way.

Sara, for example, was very thoughtful in all of her choices to make her island as safe and as happy for everyone as possible. At the same time, Johnny would say the most ridiculous things but, because at one point he led everyone in a singalong, audience members were convinced they'd enjoy life on Johnny's Island. To see people choose the person who's encouraging them to sing as their leader was a very interesting insight into human nature.

The Island. Tom Allen

Is the show a knockabout Lord Of The Flies or is it less dangerous than that?

It's less upsetting than Lord of the Flies, and nobody is eaten or decapitated. It's much more light-hearted fun and chatty - we have a laugh sitting around the table, but there are also lots of physical games. For example, they have to craft a bust of themselves to be placed in their town hall, and they have to showcase their athletic capability so their island is chosen to host the Olympics. Those competitions add to the anarchy of the whole experience.

What one word would you use to describe each of the four comedians/Island leaders?

Sara, thoughtful; Ninia, eccentric; Ahir, intellectual; Johnny... fucking ridiculous.

And the game all takes place on this impressive set...

It's the most breathtaking and fabulous set I've ever seen. The set budget must be akin to the Titanic film budget. They created this amazing and intricate cruise ship in the studio, where the audience is sat on different levels.

How much does that set play in bringing The Island to life?

The Island is really imaginative and it feels like you're playing a game again, like when you're a child and you imagine your own world and how you'd run it. Young people will naturally be good at that, but us older people, we forget the importance of imagination and the importance of using our brains in that way to be creative. It is a very creative show.

I love telly and I believe it's still the best medium for providing people with escapism in a way that makes them laugh together. This show is escapist - wouldn't it be fun to live on a desert island? But, also, wouldn't it be stressful as well? Particularly as you've stupidly chosen Mystic Meg to be your chief of police.

The Island. Tom Allen

Do you have any nautical credibility to back up your role as captain?

About 10 years ago, I was booked to do some gigs on a gay cruise around the Mediterranean and I didn't know what to expect. It was so fun and I absolutely loved it. There is something quite thrilling about being stuck in a little bubble of a world when you're on a cruise ship. I do know a bit about how these things work.

Finally, would you survive on a remote island?

No, I'd be terrible. I was in the Cubs but I only had the badges for things like cookery, first aid, and washing up. I never went to camp; if anything, camp came to me. I have my bossy captain way in the show, but I have no right to be bossy. I'd have no idea what I was doing, as ever with any leader. They wouldn't be able to do it themselves.

Published: Sunday 20th March 2022

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