Three pairs of comedians must fend for themselves in the wild in David Mitchell’s new show

Only David Mitchell could make his deep-seated aversion to nature and the great outdoors uproarious. 

So it seems apt that the Would I Lie To You? team captain should host a new six-part series where he challenges three pairs of comedians to spend a week surviving in a forest while choosing to return to his own home comforts in leafy north London each night. 

Not only does he believe he’s not remotely equipped to survive a post-apocalypse scenario, but he’s also sceptical that any of his comedians will thrive either. 

Can they prove him wrong?

‘The great outdoors – picturesque, peaceful, unspoiled. 

Only David Mitchell could make his deep-seated aversion to nature and the great outdoors uproarious.

Well, it’s not for me. It’s all very pleasant, viewed through a gastropub window, but without the buildings it gets disgusting very quickly. Just look at Glastonbury. 

Still, some people love it, and I’m challenging six comedians to prove they can survive in it,’ says David, 47.  

‘Comedians wouldn’t know one end of an axe from the other. Which with axes, I believe, is absolutely key. I don’t think they’ll last ten minutes without ordering a pizza.’

At the end of each day in Outsiders, David summons the teams to his HQ – a large teepee in the woods – to review the day’s three survival challenges and award badges for successfully completed tasks. 

The results lead to some anarchic moments as the six survivalists – Ed Gamble and Lou Sanders, Kerry Godliman and Toussaint Douglass, and Jessica Knappett and Jamali Maddix – gradually turn increasingly feral.

‘When the show was first presented to me, it was basically comedians do Scout badges. 

Left to right: Jamali Maddix, Jessica Knappett, Toussaint Douglass, Kerry Godliman, Lou Sanders and Ed Gamble

Left to right: Jamali Maddix, Jessica Knappett, Toussaint Douglass, Kerry Godliman, Lou Sanders and Ed Gamble

‘But I’m a big believer that things are at their funniest when there’s something sort of serious underlying it. 

‘I was thinking that with the best sitcoms, whether it’s Fawlty Towers or Dad’s Army, there’s the serious sadness and disappointment of feeling trapped,’ explains David, who’s enjoyed huge success with Robert Webb in That Mitchell And Webb Look, Peep Show and Back.

‘Because this was presented to me in the middle of the pandemic, where everyone was thinking, ‘How do we survive? What happens if there’s no food in the supermarkets or loo roll?’ I thought what it needs is that sense of human jeopardy. 

‘The underlying theme needs to be how would we survive without all that stuff?’

Could David, who’s often been described (by himself included) as a young fogey, cope in the wilderness without the essentials to hand? 

‘I don’t think so. For me, the whole point of money is so that you don’t have to live in the wild and fend for yourself. 

 ‘I did stay in a tent once… when I was about 11’

I don’t mind a country walk, but I want to end up in a building. A nice pub, with a decent 4G signal.’

As David can neither drive nor cook there would be challenges from the outset, although he concedes he could have taken a taxi to the forest, which isn’t far from London. 

As it was, he had a driver to ferry him back and forth from the home he shares with his wife Victoria Coren Mitchell, host of quiz show Only Connect, and their six-year-old daughter Barbara. 

And he even had a golf buggy to take him from the car to the campers. ‘I can do basic cooking, if I follow instructions,’ he says. 

Kerry Godliman (below) getting to grips with the great outdoors in  a fetching orange tent

Kerry Godliman (below) getting to grips with the great outdoors in  a fetching orange tent

‘Most of my cooking could actually be done over a campfire, apart from the cheese on toast.’

Did he feel guilty deserting the campsite at night? ‘No, I was perfectly happy to leave.

‘I got to go home every evening and no one else did, and in most contexts getting to go home every evening is what you expect. 

‘But suddenly in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. Look at these people, they’re in tents, I’m not and I feel better off. It’s like Henry VIII didn’t have a DVD player but he felt rich because he had more venison.

‘I believe we need buildings in a complex society, and they’re trying to prove otherwise. 

‘And I just kept ruining it by reminding everyone that we’re all going to die. A lot of people want to survive and do the whole Bear Grylls thing. 

Go on Strictly like Rob? Absolutely not.. 

Despite having appeared on pretty much every panel show going, David rules out signing up to a reality show such as I’m A Celebrity. 

‘No, I would never do that. Why, if you needed the money, why wouldn’t you just temp?’ he says without hesitation. 

His long-running comedy partner in crime Robert Webb has done just that though, appearing on this year’s Strictly Come Dancing.

‘I absolutely wouldn’t,’ insists David. ‘On a dance floor, if I’m not careful, I just fall still. 

‘But it’s a great show. I love watching it and my daughter loves it and I’m very, very proud of Rob for doing it. 

‘He’s good at it, but I think he’ll get bored with practising dancing. My optimum amount of dance practice in a given week is zero hours, except for a few weeks when I was rehearsing for Upstart Crow [the stage version of his sitcom about William Shakespeare] in the West End last year, when we did a dance at the end. 

‘Those bits of dance practice were the bad bits.’

‘How do you find a bit of bark you can eat, or ‘This beetle’s blood is a great antibiotic’ or whatever. 

‘In a way they’ve done that in The Great British Bake Off. The fact that it’s made in a tent in a garden, rather than a studio, gives it a different aesthetic. 

 ‘Watching it you slightly feel like you’ve had a bit of fresh air, even though you haven’t,’ he explains.

Just like Outsiders then? ‘It’s literally tents and boots and mud and a bit of lighting. Actually one of the fires in the tent was a gas fire,’ he admits.

He also admits he’d take Barbara on a camping trip if she wanted to go. ‘I’d try to mitigate the discomfort as far as I could, but I hope I’d do what a good father should do – and then spend the next 18 months congratulating myself,’ he smiles.

 ‘I did once stay in a tent in my friend Stephen’s garden. I think we were about 11. I think I probably got about four hours’ sleep. 

‘They did a thing at my school where you could go and climb Ten Tors on Dartmoor over a weekend. You didn’t have to do it, so I didn’t.’

What does he like to do then? 

‘I read books, watch TV. But I don’t know, genuinely, I don’t know. I fall asleep halfway through episodes of dramas in the evening. 

‘It’s ridiculous how I don’t know where the time goes.’

In Outsiders he does get to be the leader of the camp and award the all-important badges, the first of which is the lumberjack badge.

‘I tried to be a sort of inconsistent, irascible and feeble authority figure, because that amuses me. 

‘I think an authority figure who doesn’t really have much authority is a good area. I don’t like telling anyone what to do. 

‘I like letting them do what they want and then commenting sarcastically afterwards. But as a parent, I’m aware I sometimes have to exercise authority.

‘I remember saying to my daughter when she was two, ‘You’d better do what I say, or there’s absolutely nothing I can do.’

 ‘I don’t think she quite got what I was saying, but it was just the sort of absurdity of saying it to someone. 

‘Because ultimately what I’ve learnt in working with people and interacting with them, is if you stop someone doing what they want, you’ll never hear the end of it.’

David’s comic and personal personas aren’t far apart. 

Comedian Ed Gamble round up chickens as part of the new show which starts on Wednesdays on Dave

Comedian Ed Gamble round up chickens as part of the new show which starts on Wednesdays on Dave

His real persona is spontaneously funny and sober in a Blackadder-esque way that is apparent in Outsiders. 

His brief conversational pauses as he makes lightning assessments of people and situations behind shrewd, unblinking eyes make him irresistibly waggish. 

‘It’s definitely me, as it doesn’t work if it’s not you,’ he says. ‘You can’t just be someone different, but it’s a sort of slightly souped-up, heightened you.’

Today David enjoys a family life he could never have envisioned when he was in his mid-30s, single and lonely. 

When he met Victoria – daughter of broadcaster and satirist Alan Coren and sister of restaurant critic Giles – at a party in 2007, he was smitten. 

When she started seeing someone else he was heartbroken, but he waited for her and they eventually married in 2012. 

 ‘The great outdoors is lovely – seen from a pub’

Now life couldn’t be better. 

‘I’m happy with my job and I’d like to keep doing it, and that’s how I’ve felt for quite a few years. 

‘I’m not looking to break into Hollywood or anything like that. I work a lot as a comedian and I write, I perform and I act. 

‘The things that make me laugh are things that I think are illogical. That’s where I find my material from, things that don’t quite add up. 

‘This was the job I dreamt of when I was a teenager. I had aspirations and ambitions to do what I’m doing now. But now I’ve got there, I don’t have them.’

But he’s still a worrier.

‘I worry about lots of things. I worry about it all going wrong, I worry about something happening to someone I love. 

‘I worry about the normal things. I’m not in striving mode. I’m in defensive mode. Hold-it-all-together mode.’

Filming Outsiders was a tonic as he was among his own kind. 

‘They were very funny and it was a nice environment. They’re all very talented. People assume comedians are slightly nasty but they’re quite fun and supportive in general – apart from me.’

Which is obviously a joke since David himself is clearly kind. 

As well as farcical.

 ‘Comedy is a serious thing. And ultimately, there is nothing trivial about being daft,’ he says, in all seriousness. 

Outsiders starts on Wednesday at 10pm on Dave.