Back in 2013, comedy double-act Steve McNeil and Sam Pamphilon had failed to write anything for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
The duo had performed sketch shows in previous years, but they had been busy writing a sitcom so hadn't prepared anything. In fact, they weren't going to go until they hit upon a simple idea.
We thought if we took a SNES, got our comedian friends drunk, got them to play Mario Kart and swear at each other, that would probably be entertaining enough to charge people money,” explains McNeil (pictured, far right). It was really just a bit of dicking around. But it actually became more successful than the stuff we had spent years writing.”
Now, three years later, Go 8-Bit is making the transition from stage to TV, with the first episode going out on Monday, September 5th.
It's going to be less about drunk comedians punching each other into a cupboard, and more tele,” says McNeil.
"This isn't eSports. It's not about being the best in the world.
It's about re-creating the spirit of booting up a console with mates and dicking around in a game."
Steve McNeil, Go 8-Bit
The live version of Go 8-Bit did manage to attract fans within the games industry, most notably Eurogamer journalist and stand-up comic Ellie Gibson (pictured, above left), who has joined the cast for the TV version.
I like video games, I like comedy, and I heard about this show that combined these things, so I went to see it,” she says. I had expected to have a nice night, but honestly, it blew my mind.
So I went up after the show, and said: ‘Hi, I'm Ellie, I'm from Eurogamer. I want to help.' That led to Go 8-Bit appearing at EGX. Then the TV show happened and they asked me to audition, and I apparently was not completely shit.”
As McNeil suggested, the TV show will be toned down from the more chaotic live version.
The TV show still has the heart and spirit of the live show,” he continues.
But it was designed to be performed and watched blind drunk, to the sort of audience that goes to midnight Fringe hows, which are raucous, reprehensible but wonderful people. Sam and I would have to do forfeits if we lost, which half the time involved drinking tuna. It was maybe a bit laddie. The TV show has shaved that edge off of it. There are no punishments. Which is great, because I don't know if you've ever drunk fish, but it's not nice.”
However, the biggest addition to the TV version is the inclusion of its headline star, Dara O'Briain.
He has been an absolutely nightmare. He's a liability,” jokes McNeil.
No, it's absolutely wonderful. Some people have gone: ‘This was McNeil and Pamphilon's show, why is Dara involved?' But Dave is a commercial TV channel, and by the best will in the world, McNeil and Pamphilon's Go 8-Bit is not going to get as many viewers as Dara O'Briain's Go 8-Bit.
And frankly, it wouldn't have been as good. Dara is passionate about video games and he is also the best panel show host in the country. So, the fact that we were able to get him on our show, and guide us through what was a big step for myself and Sam... it's been brilliant. He was so generous to us.
Same with Ellie, Dara is someone everybody's heard of, but Ellie was also someone who wasn't part of the live version. The show that exists now is one that wouldn't work without those two.”
Dara O'Briain's Go 8-Bit will see celebrity gamers go head-to-head, including the likes of David James, Bob Mortimer, Jason Manford, Rachel Riley and a host of others.
Some people appear to be worried by the celebrity thing,” says McNeil. Yet we have
gamers. Ex-England goalkeeper David James, who might look like a curveball booking, is a passionate gamer. He's completed Tetris.”
Gibson adds that the celebrity element, and the silly nature of the show, will hopefully make Go 8-Bit reach beyond core gamers.
It's the thing I liked first time I saw the stage show with this huge room of people,” she says. They cannot all have been hardcore gamers. There was a complete mix of genders and backgrounds. There were all these people screaming obscenities at comedians playing video games. It was about the sheer fun of play.”
McNeil adds: This isn't eSports. It's not about being the best in the world. It's about re-creating the spirit of booting up a console with mates and dicking around in a game.”
Gibson again: It's like playing games around your house with people who are funny, and Dara O'Briain is your dad. Or something.”
"The best shows are the ones that don't take games
too seriously, and just have a laugh with them."
Ellie Gibson, Go 8-Bit
Inevitably, we can't talk about a video game TV show without discussing their high failure rate.
Today, the video game TV programmes that appear to work are more niche shows, or one-off specials. The glory days of GamesMaster are a distant memory.
It is difficult to get games on TV right,” begins Gibson. Video games is an interactive medium. I interviewed one of the people behind GamesMaster, and they said: ‘We weren't trying to be cool, because if you try to be cool, it's just rubbish'. So we thought we would just try for funny. This is obviously very different from GamesMaster in many ways, but the same spirit is there. The best shows are the ones that don't take games too seriously, and just have a laugh with them. And also doesn't patronise people.”
Things are made harder, McNeil concludes, by the sometimes-aggressive behaviour from gamers on social media. Unfortunately with gaming, the most vocal portion of the community is this small minority of people that just seem to exist to be angry and hate everything. When the TV show airs, there will be people being dreadful about it.
He pauses: This is for people who love games and have never written in all-caps on a web forum.
But the thing that I've tried to say to gamers when they've raised concerns, I've said: ‘If Go 8-Bit is positively received, then every channel is going to want to make a video game TV show'. The current view is that games on TV don't work, so if the community doesn't get behind it, it'll be another 15 years before anyone else gets a go. It took me three years to convince anyone to make the bloody thing. TV is conservative. That's why the BBC is just making ‘70s sitcoms again rather than anything new. Although Fleabag is good. Watch Fleabag.”
Gibson quips: Dara O'Briain's Fleabag.”