The Conversation: We chat to comic Alexander Armstrong
The 44-year-old English comedian is best known as the host of hit television quiz show Pointless.
Q: Pointless has been a huge success. How do they come up with the ideas for these quiz shows?
A: I think they think of something that's going to be a really 'sticky' concept. They're always trying to find the thing you can't stop watching. Pointless has that thing where you think, 'Oh, hang on, I'll wait and see what my answer might have scored'. Also, they'll pluck out the one thing that works, isolate the DNA, and then keep it and go 'I know, we'll meld it with this', and then they've got a whole other concept.
Q: Any periods in your life when you've watched a lot of daytime TV?
A: Yes, doing Pointless I watch quite a bit. We're there from midday until 7pm so you've got quite a lot of gaps. I always have my lunch watching Tim Wonnacott doing Bargain Hunt. I get quite twitchy if it's not on for whatever reason.
Q: Apparently you said the F-word in front of Mary Berry. Was there something thrilling about committing such a misdeed?
A: It was worse than that: I said the MF-word. Especially when we're filming with celebs, Richard (Osman, co-host) and I will chuck a couple of F-bombs in there to put people at ease. Although not Mary Berry. I got a look from her that would've frosted icing. There was nothing thrilling about it. It really was a terrible thing to do, I still feel awful.
Q: At Cambridge, you and your comedy partner Ben Miller hung out with Mel, Sue and Sacha Baron Cohen. Who was the funniest?
A: God, there were so many funny people. Andy Parsons was always very funny. He was in a double act with a guy called Henry Naylor. Dan Mazer was always a very funny guy. He went on to be a writer and director and has done a lot of funny stuff with Sasha. And Sue! Mel and Sue were always excellent. There was plenty of good stuff around at the time.
Q: What makes you laugh?
A: Very closely-observed comedy of manners. It will be tiny brushstrokes ... what I particularly love is when something is very random but very specific: a detail that's specifically rendered. It's a cough, it's a small gesture, minutely observed. That, for me, is funny.
Q: You recently moved to the country. And you keep llamas. So you're a llama farmer?
A: I am. I wish everything I did rhymed so neatly. But I am, I'm a llama farmer. Do you know what? Alpacas are much more biddable creatures. Llamas are horrible. As a species, it's probably for the best that they're wary of us. But, on a personal level, I find it very hard to come to terms with.
Q: What are their names?
A: We have four: Darren, Delilah, Dennis and Denzel. It's been up the kids to name them. But Delilah, we steered them on to that. Delilah-ma, it kind of works.
Q: Do you have any good Christmas cracker jokes?
A: My dad's a doctor. So when we were little, at our family Christmases, we'd always have a couple of his elderly patients over for lunch. One year, we had lovely old Mrs Cook. But every single cracker that Christmas lunch had the same joke and it wasn't even a joke. It just said: 'The cook was a good cook as cooks went, and as cooks went, she left'. It must have been 12 crackers that all said the same thing, which we all thought was baffling. And then about a fortnight after Christmas Day, Mrs Cook died. I hope she didn't read anything into the crackers. Poor Mrs Cook, she was lovely.
Alexander Armstrong found fame with fellow comedian Ben Miller as one half of Armstrong and Miller, first appearing on television in 1997. Brought up in Northumberland, he read English at Trinity College, Cambridge where he joined the Footlights. He now co-presents BBC game show Pointless with Richard Osman. The Very Pointless Quiz Book by Armstrong and Osman is out now, Coronet, £14.99