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Funny men

As Hypothetical returns to Dave for a third series, Danielle de Wolfe catches up with comedians James Acaster and Josh Widdicombe to find out more

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James Acaster and Josh Widdicombe

James Acaster and Josh Widdicombe

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James Acaster and Josh Widdicombe

What would hypothetically be the prize that would bring out the competitive side of me?" ponders comedian Josh Widdicombe.

"I think it would probably be some really, really rubbish, niche memorabilia from something that happened in my childhood."

As if a lightbulb had just turned on, the comedian abruptly stands up from his desk, wanders over to a nearby shelf and proudly grasps a blue cat sealed within a clear plastic bag.

"Harry Hill gave me this Stouffer," he grins, somewhat appropriately resembling a Cheshire cat.

"He had a thousand made and he struggled to sell them and he said he found it in the garage.

"Stuff like that genuinely means far more to me than anything that would be of actual worth. That's probably worth about 10p."

It's precisely the kind of off-kilter subject matter that guest comedians can expect as they battle it out as part of returning Dave comedy panel show, Hypothetical. Best known independently for their stand-up prowess, The Last Leg's Josh Widdicombe and Off Menu podcast host and all-round funny man James Acaster step forth to immerse viewers in a world filled with improvisation, absurdity and the who's-who of the comedy circuit.

"I think what's fun about the show, in a way, is the variety of people that come on," continues co-presenter, Widdicombe (37) of Hypothetical.

"You get like our mates, which is always fun, and then you get the people you watched on TV when you were growing up and that's always a thrill.

"The most enjoyable thing is you know Tom Allen is going to be good or you know that Jo Brand is going to be good, but the most exciting thing is when you see someone who you've only seen do stand-up once do as well, if not better, than these people and that's kind of thrilling to watch I think."

The Hypothetical changes

Resurrecting standout tasks from across the previous two series, series three sees Acaster and Widdicombe serve up an increasing number of head-to-head questions for the rotating panels of guest comedians.

That being said, audiences can also expect plenty of change when it comes to the forthcoming instalment.

"I don't do sign-offs at the end of each segment anymore," notes Acaster (36) with a hint of relief.

"For some reason, we thought it was necessary after Josh would say 'we're gonna go to a break now' for me to shout some random phrases and it would always confuse the studio audience.

"We liked our long desk though, we're going to try and keep that moving on," he notes of the newly elongated, Covid-compliant bureau behind which the pair sit.

"It's a bit wacky and a bit la-dee-dah at the same time and so, I think it suits the show."

The show's changing dynamic

With Covid having a sizable impact across television production, the reintroduction of live audiences (albeit temporarily between lockdowns) came as both a positive and a negative for the performers.

"It had different impacts on the series because I think with a smaller audience, it allows the acts to relax a bit more, it made it more chatty and I think that's always really good on an improvised show," notes Widdicombe. "(The audience) was 60 people spaced out, which, I wouldn't say is the way you would traditionally do an audience, unless it was quite an unpopular TV show.

"It's good to think this was Covid-related and not because me and James are on the way down, big style."

But despite shrinking audiences, Acaster hopes that the show will continue to draw in the comedy heavyweights. "Series one had been great but certain people had held back and watched it and were like 'yeah, we'll do it now' and then we were getting some people we didn't expect to say yes - people like Charlie Brooker or Richard Ayoade or Jonathan Ross," says Acaster.

"You do sort of think in that situation, 'OK, it's great that we've got these people, but how are they going to do on the show in amongst newer faces and things like that'.

"Will the dynamic be shifted too much now? Will they be intimidated by this person? Will that person maybe sit down and realise this show is absolutely stupid and not say anything.

"Actually, because of the improvisational nature of the show, everyone is on a level playing field. There's no hierarchy at all, so that was a nice surprise during series two."

Dream comedy guests

Between their independent ventures into podcasting - Rob Beckett and Josh Widdicombe's Lockdown Parenting Hell and James Acaster's deep-dive into 2016 albums courtesy of Perfect Sounds - the comedians appear to have an extensive list of names that they're still hoping to collaborate with.

"You sort of get the impression that everyone's kicking around a bit more and you can find some space in their diary and make something work," says Widdicombe of working during lockdown.

"It's very difficult to come up with an excuse when someone says 'could you do this?' and you're like 'you literally know I have no option here'.

"There was one person, when it came to podcasts, who told me he hadn't bought a mic because it was his way of getting out of doing them during lockdown."

It's very much a view seconded by Acaster, who notes, "there are big people, big improvisational comics - Eddie Izzard and people like that, where you go, I'd really like to see how they would respond to anything that we threw at them.

"Kemah Bob, oh yeah, Kemah Bob! I've wanted to get Kemah Bob on it for a long time. We haven't been able to make the dates work and stuff and I think she would be so good, she's so funny and she's someone I've always wanted to get on the show."

The impact of lockdown

"I didn't realise how much the commute was actually something that was really good for my mental health," asserts Widdicombe.

"It was really good for forcing me to just read a book or listen to music or be on my own.

"When you're just in your house and your commute is from the kettle to the laptop, you can't read a book in that time - or listen to a song. So, I think that actually I didn't realise how much I really needed and enjoyed that enforced downtime."

"I need to find some structure in the still," chimes in Acaster, "but it doesn't have to be productive.

"It can be to get some exercise done, do some cooking, you know. I'm trying to get back to being able to read a book but my attention is so bad."

And yet, it's the pressure of productivity that appears to have hit Acaster the hardest.

"I think the worst way to approach lockdown was this feeling that at the start that you had to be achieving, you had to be doing something, the 'I need to write a novel' or 'I need to learn how to play the saxophone in this or it's a waste of my life'.

"Actually, just relaxing and being with people that you want to be with and enjoying yourself isn't actually a bad way of spending your time.

"Life isn't about getting things done."

Hypothetical returns to Dave on February 10

Belfast Telegraph


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