Funny games

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Meet the co­me­di­ans bring­ing videogames back to na­tional TV

How a new videogame panel show is try­ing to kick­start an en­light­ened age of TV gam­ing g “We got co­me­di­ans drunk and got them to be rude to each other while they played Mario Kart”

Videogame-trig­gered out­bursts on main­stream TV ar­guably peaked back in the ’90s with Dave Perry’s in­fa­mous GamesMaster hissy fit. But com­edy duo Steve McNeil and Sam Pam­philon are de­ter­mined to top his stroppy ef­fort with Go 8-Bit, a TV ver­sion (com­mis­sioned by UK chan­nel Dave) of their Ed­in­burgh live show in which ine­bri­ated co­me­di­ans play games against each other. The live show was orig­i­nally de­vel­oped in 2013 while the pair were work­ing on a sit­com to­gether.

“We had this other idea for a show where we got co­me­di­ans drunk and got them to be rude to each other while they played Mario Kart,” McNeil tells us. “We fig­ured we could prob­a­bly charge drunken Scot­tish peo­ple £10 to watch that, so we just did it for fun. And then it be­came far more suc­cess­ful than any of the jokes we’d been writ­ing for the past five years, so we kept do­ing it!”

Though the pair call its early it­er­a­tion an “un­broad­castable, base, drunken mess”, the TV show, which has been two-and-a-half years in the mak­ing, re­tains the spirit of the Fringe ex­pe­ri­ence. McNeil and Pam­philon re­tain their team cap­tain roles, with fel­low co­me­dian Dara Ó Bri­ain join­ing the lineup as host, and it still pits guest co­me­di­ans against each other on a va­ri­ety of games. But the live show’s for­feits, which saw los­ing teams drink hor­ren­dous savoury cock­tails or play Snake with a real 14-foot python draped over them, have gone in favour of a greater fo­cus on the games them­selves.

Each hour-long episode is split into five rounds across four parts. “The first part is a clas­sic game that your mum’s heard of, like Pac-Man or Space In­vaders,” McNeil ex­plains. “In part two we let all the guest co­me­di­ans pick their favourite game and do two mini chal­lenges on that. In part three we do a mod­ern ti­tle, so maybe some­thing on the Rift or an in­die ti­tle like Gang Beasts. Then in part four we’re cre­at­ing a phys­i­cal­i­sa­tion of a clas­sic videogame that in some way en­hances and grows it. That might be new ways to use con­trols where the en­tire au­di­ence play each other at Pong or Track & Field, but we’re also talk­ing about phys­i­cal ver­sions of games that we can some­how con­trol us­ing videogame tech. [Dave is] let­ting us get away with it, so it seems silly not to waste all their money on some shenani­gans.”

Broad­cast­ers have had a dif­fi­cult time with games, strug­gling to rep­re­sent them in a way that works within es­tab­lished TV for­mats with­out alien­at­ing broader au­di­ences, or turn­ing play­ers off by be­ing pa­tro­n­is­ing. It’s a dif­fi­cult bal­ance to strike. “We’ve been talk­ing about this a lot,” McNail says. “It was sur­pris­ing to see the amount of cov­er­age [the show’s] got and the amount of con­ver­sa­tion that’s been go­ing on about it. And it’s taken us years to get any sort of videogame thing on a large chan­nel. Telly is funny: we came from com­edy, and maybe five years ago the re­ceived wis­dom was that sit­coms were sin­gle-cam­era things shot with­out an au­di­ence – things like The Of­fice – and that stu­dio sit­coms were rub­bish 1970s things. And then Mi­randa was in­cred­i­ble and all of a sud­den it be­came the re­ceived wis­dom that stu­dio sit­coms were funny and ac­tu­ally sin­gle-cam­era stuff wasn’t the way to do it any more.

“I think what we hope is that if we get this right, rather than the re­ceived wis­dom be­ing that you can’t put games on telly be­cause it’s not fun to watch other peo­ple do a thing, all of sud­den every­body will want to make their own videogam­ing show – and ob­vi­ously that will be a won­der­ful thing be­cause with Twitch, Youtube etc and all of the peo­ple putting their stuff on­line and draw­ing in mas­sive au­di­ences and mak­ing far more money than any­one on telly, we know that peo­ple want to see this.“

“Telly does want that au­di­ence,” Pam­philon says, “and it does recog­nise the scale of the gam­ing com­mu­nity. But if you’re a com­mis­sion­ing ed­i­tor just try­ing to pay for your house in Kent, you’ve got to be pretty brave to put your neck on the line if no­body else has had the balls. So we’d best not screw it up.”

De­spite the ter­ri­tory be­ing del­i­cate, McNeil and Pam­philon thank­fully have no in­ten­tion of play­ing it safe with Go 8-Bit. “In this show we’re not go­ing to be afraid to talk about games, and we’re not go­ing to apol­o­gise for it,” Pam­philon says. “The show will be com­pet­i­tive, it will have co­me­di­ans in it – ones that we re­ally like and know are go­ing to be re­ally funny – and so the topic al­most doesn’t mat­ter. Ex­cept it does mat­ter be­cause it’s a topic we feel very strongly about, so we don’t need to worry about how niche it can get. I mean, we’re prob­a­bly not go­ing get into a 30-minute con­ver­sa­tion about

Shen­mue be­cause that would prob­a­bly alien­ate… well, nearly every­body. But top­ics are in­ter­est­ing if they’re dis­cussed by in­ter­est­ing peo­ple, so I don’t think it’s go­ing to be a prob­lem.”

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