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.”