Josh Widdicombe, Alex Brooker and Adam Hills created what began as an irreverent comedy about disability – five years later it’s a political big hitter…
The Last Leg started in 2012 as a spin-off show from Channel 4’s Paralympics coverage. How would you describe it now?
Adam Hills My manager once said, “The beauty of your show is that you can grill Nick Clegg about tuition fees one minute, and then you can throw fruit at Alex’s prosthetic the next.” Early on we’d use the phrase “three blokes with four legs talk about the news” as a joke, but that’s probably the best description. It’s like TFI Friday, but in a lot darker times.
Josh Widdicombe If you took the show to a channel in its present form, it would never get commissioned.
Adam The Paralympics was good training, dealing with something a bit awkward that can be a little bit sad or tragic and finding the joy in it. I think that’s still what we’re doing today.
Adam, you once described your trio as the “three-part harmony of comedy”…
Alex Brooker Blimey, was that when you were still drinking?
Adam That was in the early days when it was all new. Our voices come together well – I’m the crotchety, old, but slightly positive responsible one, and Josh is the more cynical one. Alex is puppylike and enthusiastic.
Do you think it’s changed the way people discuss disability in Britain?
Alex When I was 14 and coming to terms with my disability, I’d have loved to have seen another fella with one leg talking and joking about stuff like that, making it feel like there aren’t two worlds, an able-bodied world and a disabled one. One of the things I’m proudest of is that we’ve blurred it all into one.
Adam It was never really the intention, but it’s a lovely side effect of what we’ve done.
Alex Do you remember when we first met, Adam? No one said to us, “Do you two fancy talking about your legs?” But the only other people I’d met with prosthetics were the old boys down at the hospital, and I didn’t have a lot in common with them.
Important people send themselves up on your show. Jeremy Corbyn in a limo in a fur coat, Ed Miliband performing Take On Me, Ed Balls doing Gangnam Style…
Alex Miliband’s set his sights a lot lower now, hasn’t he? At one point he wanted to be Prime Minister…
Josh He didn’t need much coaxing. And Corbyn – that will be the one bit of the show that will be remembered, and it’s the bit we’re not in! You think, “There’s no way he’s going to do it,” and then he turns up at seven, we’re busy in our dressing rooms writing, and we get a message saying, “Corbyn’s done it!”
Adam We’d made a couple of pops at Ed Balls before he came on the show but he was so lovely afterwards and told us he was a big fan, and that he’d grown up with a stammer. He said although he didn’t class it as a disability, he got where we were coming from. It was a moment when you look at a politician and go, “Ah, that’s right, you’re a real person!”
Why do you think politicians are so willing to appear on the show?
Adam We don’t make cheap, overly personal jokes about anyone. Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, Jeremy Corbyn – they all walked away feeling good.
Josh A lot of that comes from Hillsy. Adam, you’re always looking for the positive from a situation, which isn’t always easy. It’s rare in satirical comedy not just to be cynical. Maybe it’s a non-British attitude, from growing up in the sunshine in Australia.
It would be bizarre if we turned into Jeremy Paxman and attacked people. It’s a warm and inclusive show. When we have people on who have actually said stuff that’s made the headlines, it’s come from asking cheekier, funnier questions – like when Corbyn said he cared “seven out of ten” about the EU or Nick Clegg felt “nine-and-a-half out of ten” guilty about tuition fees. The Nick Clegg interview was the moment it all changed because people saw the human side of him, and from then on, people have trusted that we’re not out to humiliate them.
Adam Recently, we had the Tory MP Anna Soubry on. I walked into the make-up room and she looked at me with a joking sour face and said, “What are you going to do to me?” I said, “We’re not here to humiliate you, you’re here because you tore strips off Boris Johnson this week.”
Alex Tory MPs think we’ll have a pop at them, but that’s not the case. I’d love to see more Tories [on the show]. I’d love to see Theresa May come on. We might get her involved in the closing number, singing and dancing.
Adam We’ve got a really good green room afterwards. That doesn’t happen on Newsnight.
Josh Well, I don’t know, I’ve never been on Newsnight.
Adam Me neither, but considering Ed Miliband stayed around until 3am after his first appearance on The Last Leg, I’m assuming we offered more than they do. Jeremy Corbyn’s wife made sure she got a photograph with Russell Crowe. It’s not often politicians come on shows and are treated like rock stars.
Josh They get all the free San Miguels they want. Yes, have a slice of lime, Jeremy. Enjoy yourself.
You also got in a lift with Tony Blair…
Alex He actually filmed on a different day – I don’t think there was enough room in the lift for both of our consciences.
Josh It was all camera trickery.
Alex And while we’re talking about camera trickery, I might as well reveal it now – I’m not actually disabled!
Blair featured in your Reunited Kingdom special last summer, marking a year since Jo Cox’s murder. Was that a big responsibility?
Adam It was huge. It was exactly what we do – take something that’s serious and find the light in it. I felt a responsibility to Jo’s family – her sister had been in touch, and her husband, Brendan, had been on the show the week before. The number of influential people who jumped on board was incredible.
Josh It was a strange experience – the show celebrated and remembered Jo Cox, but then you think, “Is that the one where I was in a paddling pool with Alex with our tops off playing an inflatable guitar?”