With The Last Leg returning to Channel 4 this week we caught up with comedian and host Adam Hills to find out exactly what goes into the making of the live satirical news show. After all, there aren’t many shows that can boast former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Russell Crowe and Piers Morgan among its guests, while also covering topics as far-reaching as the Charlie Hebdo shootings and Katie Hopkins’ latest ramblings.
Hills returns with co-hosts Josh Widdicombe and Alex Brooker and, as well as admitting the show can come together as close as half an hour before broadcast, he dished on everything from his bromance with guest and former Deputy PM Nick Clegg, to almost unbooking Piers Morgan…
Of almost unbooking Piers Morgan and Ed Miliband saying no
“We’d had so many negative tweets about Piers Morgan in the week leading up to him coming on the show – more negative tweets than anybody else we’ve ever had on the show – I remember being in the office saying to everyone else: ‘Should we unbook him? Why are we booking someone who’s this unpopular?’ Then of course the producer said ‘You can’t unbook a guest, that’s just rude’. I said, ‘Can we at least read out the negative tweets about him?’ And they said yes, we totally should.”
Which they did and you can see below, albeit with a big swearing and adult content warning…
Morgan’s appearance only adds to Hills’ love of live TV. “If that was a prerecorded show, it might have been edited out, or his people would have said ‘Could you please edit it out?’ I’m sure that’s why a few politicians wouldn’t come on in the lead up to the election, because they didn’t want to have an awkward moment on live TV. We begged Ed Miliband to come on, but there was no way he was going to come on. He turned it down a lot. David Cameron was considering coming on, but only because he knew if he went on Ed Miliband would have to and there’d be more of a chance of Ed Miliband making a fool of himself than David Cameron.”
On his “bromance” with Nick Clegg
One politician who didn’t say no was former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, with whom Hills has kept in contact with since his appearance. In fact, they attended a Prince concert together. “I knew that Nick Clegg was a huge Prince fan through researching him for the show,” Hills explained. “I just said, ‘This is going to sound like the dumbest thing ever but do you want to come and see Prince with me?’ And he was bang up for it. No one else in the office was old enough to love Prince or was available on the night. It was hilarious.”
And, after a good old sing-along to Purple Rain, they’ve kept in contact. “We still text each other. We chatted a lot about music generally on the night and we’ve got a couple of friends in common. I think when you’re in your mid-forties, especially when you’re a bloke, you don’t make many new friends. When you do meet someone you bond with, you think alright, let’s keep in touch. I saw his resignation speech on TV and I sent him a text saying I was gutted for him. He said, ‘Thanks lets catch up for a beer’. I think it’s officially a bromance.”
On whether Clegg will return to The Last Leg this series, Hills teased: “I’ve already got ideas for getting him back on the show. It would be like spoiling the last episode of Game of Thrones if I told you, but I’ve got some ideas. After the election we had so many tweets from fans saying you’ve got to get him back on the show.”
On dream guests
Hills said he’s been lucky enough to have a lot of the guests he’d like on the show already, but added: “I’d love to have Dawn French on the show and Billy Connelly. Recently we were on Alan Carr’s Chatty Man with Noel Gallagher and he was funnier than anyone that I’ve ever met on a TV show, so he’d be a dream guest as well.
“We’re allowed to put forward the guests that we want to see on the show and we’re probably allowed to veto anyone if we really wanted,” Hills added.
When it comes to who he’d veto, those who’ve been the topic of the Rant of the Year – including Katie Hopkins – are presumably on the list.
“I don’t think we would ever have Katie Hopkins on the show. I just don’t want to give her oxygen,” Hills admitted. “The people we want on the show are the people that are going to be funny, have opinions and have something intelligent to say about the news. All of those three things count Katie Hopkins out.”
On guest comedians
Stephen Merchant is the show’s first guest on this series of the show. But does having a comedian offer up competition, or just more banter? “It’s really exciting, because no matter how many more jokes we write about a news item, he’s going to have three or four more, which are possibly going to be funnier than anything we’re going to come out with. It forces you to up your game a little bit. It’s not a competition, we’re all talking about the same thing…” Hills explained before adding: “To be honest, I’ve actually avoided telling the truth: when there’s a comedian on you tend to slack of a bit because you know they’re going to bring the laughs. You get a bit lazy and go, ‘Oh well, this show will write itself.’”
On tackling the big, serious subjects
“On days like Charlie Hebdo [The Last Legg aired the day the shootings at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices in Paris had occurred) and election night, it’s a lot of pressure. When we were on air on election night, we were probably at our best. I think we had two million people watching us. The irony was we were on before the polls close so we couldn’t actually talk about it. [But] tension breeds comedy. Tension breeds really good comedy. The scarier the subject the more likely it is we’ll come up with the goods.”
Of whether tackling such subjects live means producers are in Hills’s ear telling him to move on, wrap up or get off the thread of conversation Hills admitted: “If anything, it’s probably go a bit further on this topic.”
In fact, Hills said that one of the most pivotal moments of his time on The Last Leg followed hours of meetings with lawyers before going on air to discuss South African athlete Oscar Pistorius, who was found guilty of culpable homicide last year. “Just before we went on air, our commissioning editor said to me, ‘You know we have to do these meetings for legal reasons.’ I got quite grumpy about it and she was like, ‘Let me finish. Once you’re on the air, you’re live and I can’t stop you saying anything.’ And I kind of looked at her and went, ‘I know… are you saying what I think you’re saying?’ and she said: ‘Not just tonight, but any night. I can’t stop you once you’re on the air.’ It was a lovely little way of saying, looking we’ve got cover our a****, we’ve got to make sure you’re briefed and everything is covered off, but cut loose dude, you’re on live TV, you can say whatever you want.”
“I think it’s the best piece of advice she could have given me, because I don’t hold back on air now. I’d rather go too far and have to issue an apology, than hold back because I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing, or because someone has told me not to say the wrong thing. That’s what live TV is about. There’s no point playing it safe if you’re on live TV.”
The wall of joke shame
Ahead of the show, the three hosts, producers and writers sit around a table to pull parts of the show together, which gives them a chance to try out some of their jokes. Jokes that aren’t always successful:
“There’s always at least four or five people to go, ‘No that’s gone too far’. We have a board of jokes that really don’t work. If someone comes up with a suggestion or something everyone else goes, ‘Are you kidding?’ that goes up on the board.
We should make outtakes of them. [Although] there’s probably a reason those things don’t go anywhere…”