He’s earned his stripes at the helm of various panel shows – but now Dara O Briain is taking on the younger generation as the host of Comedy Central UK’s Blockbusters reboot. Gemma Dunn finds out more.
If anyone can revive cult quiz show Blockbusters, it’s Dara O Briain.
On a mission to inject some comedy into the nostalgic family hit, the Mock The Week star will follow in the footsteps of various presenters – from original host Bob Holness, to Michael Aspel, Liza Tarbuck, and most recently Simon Mayo.
And like his predecessors, O Briain, 47, certainly has fond memories of the 80s-90s TV staple.
“It was your tea time thing, wasn’t it?” quips the County Wicklow-born comedian. “It was on, Bob [Holness] was on asking the questions, and occasionally there would be an Irish person on it.
“That caused a ripple of, ‘Oh somebody’s made a foray into British telly’,” he recalls with a smile. “But we had our own legendary quiz shows back in Ireland that you’d apply to go on – Blockbusters was in a different world!”
Now within reach, the brand new Comedy Central UK series will once again see its contestants – a team of two students pitted against a solo player – answering trivia questions to light up hexagonal segments across a playing board, with the aim being to find a route from one side to the other.
The lucky winner will then have the chance to take on the Gold Run to bag themselves a fantastic prize.
But while the logistics remain the same, the modern reboot has naturally had a contemporary facelift.
So what can O Briain tell us?
ON… THE GAME SHOW’S WINNING FORMULA
“[It’s] the simplicity of it. Now quizzes have to have a mechanic to work – we can’t just ask what the capital of Sweden is any more, we have to have something involving answers in a series of envelopes or whatever. Blockbusters is straightforward general knowledge, but the board is an easy thing to get. Obviously now we have a shinier computer version of it [but] there’s something about the sheer play-along-ability.”
ON… MODERNISING THE FORMAT
“So it’s slightly different because we’re not doing it five days a week at tea time [20 weekly episodes will be broadcast over two series] and so the narrative can’t be people coming back for five gold runs. Each show has to be more of a standalone event, so there’s more messing around at the start and more chat with the contestants. It should be more gag heavy because [it’s Comedy Central]. It was a case of can we do it? Can you make it funny?”
ON… THE INEVITABLE COMPARISONS
“Since Bob, there has been four attempts to bring it back, each of which has lasted for one series. So there’s a distance and this feels like we’ve shifted the emphasis – we’ve made it more about the jokes than the quiz, and we’re coasting on the goodwill of the memory of it and the simplicity of the format. But as a comic when you get asked to do a quiz show you think, ‘Oh am I there now?’ When are the cruise ships and panto coming?'”
ON… SETTING THE TONE
“Possibly my only concern was because contestants would uniformly be 16 to 19, keeping it as a young person’s quiz, you’ve got to make sure that the tone is OK so it doesn’t turn into roasting some kids and you, as a 47-year-old man, are bullying people from across the room. So I was slightly worried I wouldn’t find some sort of comedy ground with them but they were lovely. They just took it really well, messed around, and offered things back.”
ON… WORKING WITH TEENS
“It was great because we tend to think of this generation in a relatively negative way. We stick them on a beach and tell them to fall in love with each other in a reality show or it’s avocado and toast and complaining about them… But they’re bright and do tonnes of things, and their confidence was lovely to watch. Somebody at one stage did a Rubik’s Cube while telling a joke and you’re going, ‘Bravo.’ It was grand.”
ON… THE GENERATIONAL GAP
“You get to a point in your life where you have to accept that you cannot engage with them in any way – there’s no universe in which they’re looking at me like, ‘You get it. You totally get it.’ Therefore you don’t just slip into fogeydom about the whole thing and certainly not disapproving fogeydom. There’s a running joke that we ran through all the pre-titles, which said ‘Hi, I’m Dara, but you know me as the Godfather of grime’.”
ON… THE ICONIC ‘CAN I HAVE A ‘P’ PLEASE, BOB?’ PUN
“It was as disappointing as I thought it would be [when I first heard it] because I would like to think that we’ve evolved as a humanity. That we’re able to get over a ‘P’. As a general rule in comedy you don’t do jokes about pee and poo because they’re not a thing.
And so I would have expected a greater level of sophistication than for every single time somebody said, ‘Can I have a ‘P’ please, Dara?’ the audience laughed and applauded. Forty times!”
ON… PUTTING A STOP TO THE CATCHPHRASE
“Every time I had a new way of being disappointed. So I had a new face pan or a shrug or an ‘I’m so unhappy with you’ – and I found 40 different permutations of chastising the audience. Honestly the format is eternal but that joke is of its time. I will never laugh at it, I will never smile at it, I will never approve it, I endure it. Having my name at the end of that sentence – ‘I’ll have a P please, Dara?’ – didn’t feel like the end of a wonderful journey.”
Blockbusters launches on Comedy Central UK on Thursday March 21.