TV

Taskmaster Tom tells: ‘I don’t care what you think’

The veteran Aussie comedian says ignoring emotions saves him time
Taskmaster host Tom sitting in his throne

If there’s one thing Tom Gleeson knows how to do well, it’s to make people squirm with laughter. From the TVNZ shows Taskmaster Australia and Hard Quiz, to his stand-up comedy gigs, the veteran star’s winning formula of whip-smart jibes and deadpan delivery has kept audiences entertained for nearly 30 years.

But does it come naturally? “Look, I just think about things I see and I say them out loud,” insists the 50-year-old, who was born in rural New South Wales and now lives 60km north of Melbourne. “I guess the normal thing to do in polite society is to screen what you say – you think, ‘Oh, maybe I won’t say that because it might hurt their feelings.’ Whereas when I’m on set, when I think of something, I just say it.”

It’s a persona that has perhaps bled through to his everyday life too. “I’m pretty much the same,” Tom admits. “Part of it is just an act and making it work for TV, but a huge part of it is just honesty.”

Tom says this schtick allows him to not “waste any time being polite”. He explains, “Hosting a show is so much easier when you’re not having to pander to other people’s feelings because you can waste a lot of time on a TV show making sure that everybody’s happy.”

On the red carpet with wife Ellie
Tom and wife Ellie Parker have two children.

And ensuring everyone is happy and comfortable is definitely not on the agenda on the second season of Taskmaster Australia, where a new batch of brave comedic contestants – Wil Anderson, Josh Thomas, Anne Edmonds, Lloyd Langford and Jenny Tian – are battling it out over a series of random tasks set by host Tom and his assistant, Tom “Lesser Tom” Cashman.

It’s all fun and games

It’s filmed in Riverhead, north of Auckland, on the same site where Taskmaster New Zealand is shot, and it’s so funny, Tom has been known to ruin scenes by bursting into laughter.

“I mean, I try not to,” he tells. “I don’t like it when some people do panel shows and it feels like they’re laughing at anything. My deal is I try to hold it in until something genuinely funny happens. But I find it really funny when the comedians start to turn on each other. There’s a bit of that this season.”

While he loves to witness the degradation of other comedians, Tom has been on the receiving end of criticism throughout his career, but he’s been around long enough to take it on the chin.

A screenshot of the show
Will (left) attacks a task in NZ, supervised by “Lesser Tom”.

“Everyone says you shouldn’t read the comments, but I’ve found those people are really soft,” he says. “They can’t handle the critique, whereas I don’t care. If people go online and tell me I’m not funny, first of all, that’s patently not true. I’ve been doing it full-time for 30 years – it’s not a fluke.

“But you’ve got to take it with a grain of salt because if I’m giving everyone a poke in the eye, sometimes people are doing the same to me because they think it’s part of the fun!”

Tom notes that while he’s “happy to correct” any trolls on social media, he doesn’t bat an eyelid when it comes to “flat-out abuse”.

He jokes, “It’s also pretty hard to be hurt when you’re dead inside. I’ve been doing it too long to be upset.”

Who will be the ultimate Taskmaster?

Taskmaster Australia star Wil

Wil Anderson

Tom says he loved being able to “turn the tables” on fellow veteran funnyman Wil, 50, who is best known for his stand-up comedy and appearing on The Project in Oz. “I think people will enjoy seeing him under the pump,” Tom adds.

Taskmaster Australia star Anne

Anne Edmonds

After working in mental health, Anne, 44, began her career in comedy at age 29 and quickly became known for creating hilariously bizarre suburban characters, including the unhinged Helen Bidou from the show Get Krack!n.

Taskmaster Australia star Josh

Josh Thomas

“He takes the tasks very seriously,” Tom says of Josh, 37, the autistic star and creator of the acclaimed comedy Please Like Me. “He wants to win and is very concerned about major injustices, especially when they apply to Josh Thomas.”

Taskmaster Australia star Lloyd

Lloyd Langford

The Welsh comedian, 40, has appeared on game shows worldwide, including Have You Been Paying Attention? in NZ, and now faces going up against wife Anne. “I’m not convinced their relationship will survive this series,” Tom notes.

Taskmaster Australia star Jenny

Jenny Tian

The freshest face of the group, Jenny, 28, has a huge fan base on TikTok, which Tom believes could prove to be a hindrance. “She’s in a situation where someone else is filming her and she doesn’t get to edit the bits she likes,” he points out.

Taskmaster Australia is streaming now on TVNZ+.

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