Griff Rhys Jones On A Short History Of Everything
Channel 4 have a new 6 part history based panel game show called A Short History of Everything hosted by Griff Rhys Jones starting on Wednesday 13 June and here he spills the beans on the show and just watching Mad Men in the afternoon is the future of TV.
You said in an interview a while back that you were always too busy because you couldn’t say no to things. How’s the work-life balance shaping up these days?
Not bad, actually. The trouble is, a long time ago, I started doing all sorts of different types of programme. I think if a finger had pointed at me and said “You will be brilliant at pulling faces and doing silent, exaggerated comedy, and everyone will admire you for that,” [like former comic partner Rowan Atkinson] I would have stuck doing that. But it didn’t quite work out like that. So I put myself about a bit. I do lots of different things, and that’s rather exciting. It’s given me a new lease of life. I’m happy to do it. But I don’t say ‘no’ very easily, it’s true. In fact, I rather like having work, because it gives me the opportunity to say no to things.
What was the attraction of doing A Short History of Everything Else?
I’ve always quite fancied doing what I’d call a desk job. I’ve spent quite a lot of time on the road. And they sent me a pilot they’d made, and it just worked. There are a lot of these comedy panel games, and many of them, I have to say, are based on false premises. Often they’re too complicated – people get themselves really worked up creating a complicated structure, and the audience doesn’t have the faintest idea what’s going on, and nor does anybody playing it. This is a very simple idea – to revisit fads, moments in our past, look at them again, and answer questions and see what we can remember, about everything from the whole ‘video nasties’ scare to Boris Yeltsin and his extraordinary drunken career. We show clips, and you watch them and go ‘Wow, I’d forgotten all about that!’ And when it all comes flooding back, it really gets people talking. It’s a sort of nostalgia piece. I suppose that’s why they chose an ancient figure, old enough to have forgotten everything, to introduce it.
The programme only deals with very recent history, doesn’t it?
Yes, because we use archive footage. I don’t think we go much further back that the 70s. I’m afraid I suffer from the affliction of being nearly 60, which means I find myself going ‘The 90s? That’s not history!’ They did a recent TV series about the 70s, and I watched it going’Wow! All of these things were going on, with the unions and everything, I don’t remember any of that. I remember it being rather dull and wet and grey for a lot of the 70s.
Who are the guests you have on the show, and who would be your ideal guest?
The guests we had were all ideal guests! Robin Ince was brilliant, we had Kirstie Wark, and she was fantastic, absolutely marvellous. Not only did she have more knowledge about everything, but she was great on what I call the argy-bargy as well. Bob Mortimer was fantastic – very, very funny. And of course each guest brings a slightly different flavour. Bob was surreal, so he’d take the whole thing and push it off in a different direction. And, of course, as team captains, Charlie and Marcus were absolutely fantastic. Marcus is remarkable – his capacity to take the audience with him was really asomething – and he has such strong opinions. And Charlie was just very, very, very funny. But, to be honest, everyone was really good – it’s going to be very difficult to edit. I know it’s quite commonplace for these quiz shows to do long recordings, but we were doing three-and-a-half hour recordings, and they were pretty high energy all the way through. We’d walk off exhausted. I haven’t seen any of it, so I shall wait to see which of my gems has been cut, and then complain furiously.
Does it feel like a comedy gig? Do you get heckled by the audience?
We did a lot of appeals to the studio audience. Actually, I remember Will Self heckling the studio audience, which was a bit frightening. He rounded on them and shouted “You voted for them!” I wondered whether they’d stay for the rest of the programme!
What makes you watch TV at the moment?
I spend most of my time watching films and HBO. I’ll sit down and think ‘Oh good, they’ve made something called The Wire which goes on and on and on. And Mad Men as well. I’ll get annoyed because for some reason it takes a long time for Mad Men to come out on DVD now, which is the only way I can watch shows now. I can’t bear watching things on Sky Atlantic – it’s the principle that bothers me. You’ve paid a subscription and they’re putting in advertisements. If that’s the future of television, we’re all doomed. The future of television is being able to watch a long series one episode after another and have to say ‘Look, we cannot sit here in the middle of the afternoon and watch a fourth episode. We’ve really got to get out.’
A Short History of Everything Else is on Channel 4 on Wednesdays at 10pm from 13th June.
Source: Channel 4 Media Release