I recently had the chance to talk to the wonderful comedian Rob Beckett, all about his new show Playing for Time, starting on Channel 4 on March 30. We talked about the show, his favourite games of all time, and his obsession with Super Mario Odyssey.
There has been a fair few video game shows over the years, like GamesMaster and Bad Influence back in the 90s, and more recently Dara O’ Briain’s Go 8 Bit, but Playing for Time is different. It’s a chat show of sorts, with a loose narrative bringing it all together. In the first episode, Rob is joined by Gogglebox star Scarlett Moffatt, and it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s funny for starters, but it also features games from our youths, and not to mention our present. It’s entertaining, and I’m looking forward to seeing more. I asked Rob where the idea came from.
“I did a Youtube channel because I love games and I had a kid, so I couldn’t really play games with a kid, so I invented a Youtube channel to convince my wife it was work. I did that for a bit, then I had a chat with a few production companies, then put a show together, with the ideas being more theirs than mine.”
It’s a very natural rapport Rob had with Scarlett, and it made for great viewing. When they were chatting about games they played growing up, Scarlett brought up Tekken 3, which was completely out of the blue, but equally fantastic. I wondered if it was always the intention to have that organic feel to it. “Yeah definitely. It was so high concept with all the outfits and travelling through time, so I wanted it to be organic, like a relaxed chat so around my house with no audience. It’s not prescribed like ‘I’m gonna ask you this, and this is gonna be your funny answer’. It was all relaxed to make it feel more real.”
Now, if you’ve ever seen Derek with Ricky Gervais, you’ll probably know who Kerry Godliman is. She was the main female role in it, and she also features as the woman creating the challenges for Rob and his guests. She’s great in it, and it was interesting to find out how she got involved. “We needed a character to make it a real thing, and she’s a great actress and very funny. We needed someone who could deliver the lines and was good enough to improvise.
She’s more of a comedy character and not being herself – she’s playing more of a sitcom character. She was a perfect person really. She pulls me up on things and that’s really good fun. She’s a bit like that geezer in Quantum Leap, you know, the one with that controller.”
Rob had quite a say in the game choice for the show as well. “We sat down and went through all the games I liked and didn’t like, but because we had to do so many different outfits and years, we couldn’t line them up in the same show. I was a bit of a maths equation for the production team to work out. A Dog’s Life is the only one I really wanted to do because I really like it, and it’s a bit niche, but we wanted to have games that people were aware of.
We wanted to avoid games like FIFA and Call of Duty, but we still kept games that people had heard of like The Last of Us.” I was pretty happy to see The Last of Us, and I said that I loved the game. “Yeah, it’s good innit? Watching two 40-year old men chuck a young girl in the back of a lorry.”
Obviously, we were here to chat about the show, but I wanted to know about the games Rob played growing up. “I remember waiting for mum to bring home Ecco the Dolphin from the high street and playing Duck Hunt at a friend’s house. I had all the consoles, playing Mario Kart on the SNES. N64, Dreamcast, Game Gear – I had four brothers. You know when you’re 16 and you get a job at a supermarket, and you’re then the richest man in the world.” Rob had plenty of reasons to play games as a kid, but it must be different now he’s doing a lot of different work now, so I asked if he played much nowadays.
“Not that much in the last couple of years because works got busy, and I’ve had a couple of kids, but since the Switch has come out I’ve played loads more. I travel a lot more on planes, trains, and in the back of cabs – going all around the country and on tour, so it’s perfect just to whip out and play on the move.”
Rob and I had spoken a bit about the Switch, and he revealed how much he loved Super Mario Odyssey. “I’m obsessed by it. I’ve got 500 moons – I’m a little bit embarrassed by that.” I laughed, but told him it’s not embarrassing, it’s impressive. “It’s a lot of moons though, mate. There’s only 800 to get, but I’m gonna do it mate.”
For the next few minutes, we attempted to find out how many hours he’d spent playing it. He turned on the Switch, navigated a few menus, but couldn’t find it. Answers on a postcard if you know, and I’ll pass it on. Whilst he was trying to find it, I asked him the final question. What was Rob’s favourite game of all time?
“Don’t know if it’s my best game ever, but Pro Evo and FIFA back in the day. That’s been the biggest constant in my life, other than my wife and children. They will win eventually, but I’ve spent 20 years with Pro Evo. But games like Grand Theft Auto, and No Mercy on the N64, Metal Gear Solid. I’m really excited about that Jurassic Park game coming out. I love all those Zoo Tycoon type games”.
Rob Beckett’s Playing for time starts on 30th March at 11.15pm on Channel 4