"We've tried not to really hammer any agendas over people's heads. Ultimately, I wanted to make a show that was funny and entertaining. And I think we've done that."
Comedian Chris McCausland is a firm favourite amongst panel show fans, thanks to memorable appearances on the likes of Would I Lie to You? and Have I Got News for You as well as QI and 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown.
He has also appeared on Live at the Apollo three times and most recently shared a house with the likes of Paul Gascoigne and Chris Eubank for Scared of the Dark, in which they all had to live in a completely pitch-black reality space for 8 days.
Now, Chris has been given his own four-part travel show by Channel 4, The Wonders of the World I Can't See, in which he gets to explore some of the world’s most iconic, unforgettable world landmarks. However, Chris is blind and lost his sight gradually due to a genetic condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa, so he's hoping to discover things that the ordinary traveller might miss.
Each episode sees Chris joined by a different special celebrity guest as his travelling companion, whose job will be to bring these magnificent places to life with their words alone, Hopefully proving to Chris that there’s much more to visiting these places than just what they look like. But will they manage to convince him that it was worth getting off his couch after all?
In the opening episode, Chris explores The Acropolis in Athens with legendary comedian Harry Hill before visiting The Colosseum in Rome with Tom Allen in episode 2, the ancient city of Petra in Jordan with Guz Khan in episode 3 and Niagara Falls in Canada with Liza Tarbuck in episode 4.
I recently caught up with Chris to discuss the origins of this series, whether his mind has been changed about going abroad as well as what it was really like taking part in Scared of the Dark and much more!
First of all, I've seen the episode with Harry Hill and loved it. So I just wanted to congratulate you on what I'm sure is going to be a fantastic series.
Oh good. Thank you. Hopefully, it strikes a good balance between not taking itself too seriously, but also being respectful of where we are and what we're doing and being a bit daft as well as having a bit of a unique angle on it.
I know you joke at the start of episode one that when Channel 4 offered you a travel show, you thought they were taking the piss. But how did this series come about?
The show came about really from Open Mike. I make it with Open Mike and they make Live At The Apollo, which I've done a few times, so the idea really came from them.
The good thing about the show, first of all, is that the premise of it is genuine. It's not fabricated for comedy or for a gimmick or whatever. It's a genuine premise. I'm not a big traveller and what is the point?
So it kind of came from stand-up that I'd done at the Apollo while filming Live At The Apollo, I've done stuff about travel and about my experiences of going to places and when you can't see what you're looking at, it's just odd.
My wife's from Brazil and sometimes it's just her trying to keep me alive and trying to keep me in the shade and me trying to stay alive and not knowing where the bloody shade is.
That kind of thing sparked this idea with Open Mike who went to Channel 4 and said "Chris has been talking about how much he hates travel. Shall we do a travel show?" so I thought, well if we're going to do it, let's do the wonders of the world.
The actual premise of it, the idea of me not really seeing the point of going to places that are just known for what they look like, and making all that effort to say I've gone and stood there is kind of a genuine feeling, really.
When they first came to you with this idea, did you take much convincing?
I did find the idea quite daunting in terms of just going to these places because I'm not a massive flier. I can't stand long-haul flights. I can't relax on them and they drain the will to live out of me.
But.... you'd be mad not to. That's the thing. You've got this opportunity to make a TV show for Channel 4 and go and spend some time with people like Liza Tarbuck in Niagra Falls and Harry Hill in Greece.
So even if the places we go to aren't worth the effort from my perspective, and that's quite a pessimistic way of looking at it, the experience of going to these places with these people is quite appetising.
What you'll see in the series as well is that I'm quite honest about what works and what doesn't work and what was worth the effort and what wasn't worth the effort.
And was it?
Yeah. All in all, the whole series was definitely worth the effort. But there are moments in it, for example in Jordan, I think the wonder that we go to look at is probably the most underwhelming part of the whole trip, from my point of view.
Whereas in Niagara Falls, the wonder itself with the most overpowering, magnificent part of that trip. But everything that surrounded it was cack.
What was it then about Niagra Falls then, that made it so magnificent for you compared to some of the other wonders?
It's the only one that makes a noise, I suppose. It's the only one that hits you in all the senses. You can really feel and hear and even smell it. Everything about it hits you in the face. Whereas the others, you are just having something described to you from a distance.
The Colosseum was a little bit more than that because you do get to go inside it and you are massively aware of everything that went on there. We all love those stories in history so you're aware that you're somewhere where a lot of shit went down. Where a lot of stuff happened. It just felt different being in there than just having it described to you.
They all had their own benefits and their own place within each episode. Actually, not all, in Jordan, I don't even think Guz (Khan) knew what it was when he was describing it to me.
How well did you know each of your travel guides before embarking on this journey?
I knew Tom (Allen) really well from just being on the circuit together. I didn't know the others at all personally, obviously, I knew Harry and Liza in terms of who they are, really well, in terms of their personalities and work. But I didn't know them personally.
Guz, although I knew him from what he's done, he's remarkably new to the scene for how much he's exploded onto the scene. But with every single one of them, we just hit it off straight away.
What people will see by the end of the series, is that myself, Harry, Tom and Guzall got on really well because we're comics, having a good time together, so it's funny. We are stand-up comedians and we are chasing the jokes. We're going for the punchline.
It was a slightly different chemistry with Liza, really. We're more just having fun together in a slightly different way and it's lovely how it comes across really.
What were some of the activities that you enjoyed the most?
Some of them were good and some of them were more worthwhile than others. So for example, the pottery was good fun. We had fun doing that. I was new to the pottery, Harry's got an O-Level in it, so he should have been a little bit better really, shouldn't he?
Getting to do the Greek theatre with Harry was great because Harry as a comedian on stage is a different character to Harry in person. When we were making the episode, it was very much Harry the person that we got. He's so funny. He's so warm. And we got on so well on the same wavelength. But doing the Greek theatre with him, was almost like getting to perform with Harry the character a little bit more.
In Rome, me and Tom go to this Gladiator training and we also got to do opera at the Rome Opera House, which was astonishing. At the moment of doing it, I genuinely thought I sounded amazing. I remember thinking - this opera thing's not as hard as they make out, is it? But then I watched the edit back and it is horrific! Inside my own head, I was like Pavarotti and then in the film, my God it's shocking.
What has filming this series taught you?
In some ways, it cemented what I believed beforehand which is that there isn't a lot of point in going somewhere to look at the thing. I didn't get much out of the trip to Jordan in terms of going and standing there whilst Guz described a massive door - "Listen bruv, it's a massive door. I can't put into words how massive this door is." - Well give it a go mate. That's why you're here!
If I was going to go on holiday now to Greece with my daughter, or somewhere else, I never would have thought of going and doing some lessons in things. An afternoon learning how to do something. It never would have crossed my mind that that was a way of immersing yourself in the place that you're going to.
It's the sightseeing and the adrenaline that you kind of look for in these places. Tourist attractions. It never would have crossed my mind to go "What's this place known for?" "Let's go and do some Greek theatre and have a laugh."
I think going forward, that's something that I would specifically hunt out, especially with my daughter. Doing things that will be memorable. More off-the-beaten-track experiences.
Any memorable moments?
In terms of stuff that made it into the edit... we did the fishing trip, myself and Harry, and I found it so hilarious, and so did Harry. How we were there making a TV show on this fishing boat with these real Greek fishermen and just how much they didn't really seem to want us there.
It was quite funny how out of our depth we were in all aspects of being on that boat. It was like, this is our chance to be fishermen and they were like "No it's not." This is your chance to be in the way of fishermen who are on a boat. That was really good fun.
Me and Liza got to do some axe-throwing and we got to do some diving into the rapids and things like that.
How good were you at the axe-throwing?
Do you know what, we were there a while and they've edited it down, so you see me hit the target, but you only see a fraction of the carnage. I hit the ceiling, mate. I hit the ceiling. It wasn't even like I missed the target, I hit the floor, I hit the ceiling! It's one of those things I'd like to have another go at, I think.
It's very popular, isn't it? I'd never heard of it as a thing until I was there. Since I've been back, I hear about it all the time now. There seem to be axe-throwing places everywhere.
If you go again, who would your dream travel partner be?
If we did another series, I would love to go somewhere with Judi Love. I would love to go somewhere with Mel Giedroyc. I think they'd definitely be top of the list.
And to go into a heightened world of comedy as well, maybe me and Lee Mack could do something! Although Lee's more scared of flying than I am and I'm terrified of flying! We might have to do Grimsby or something.
What are you hoping those who watch will get out of this series?
We've tried not to really hammer any agendas over people's heads. Ultimately, I wanted to make a show that was funny and entertaining. And I think we've done that.
What I'd like people to kind of take away from it on top of that, is a little bit more of an insight into doing these things from a different perspective. Without being able to see what you're looking at and things like that.
I think if you try and hit people over the head with that, it kind of loses its... hopefully people dig that out from under the surface themselves. Rather than it being rammed down their throat all the time.
And hopefully, people take from it that they really want to see me on tour and go online and buy tickets.
I also have to mention Scared of the Dark, which I thought was superb and I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting it to be. What was that experience like for you? Because you were such an important figure in that house.
To be honest, neither was I. As you say, you were surprised by how good it was and I think everyone was surprised by what it was. I don't think any of us knew what we were making.
Certainly, none of us did, who were going into it. And I think even the guys making it were probably surprised with what they ended up with in terms of the level of depth and emotion to it. Mixed with that level of slapstick and chaos and humour. I think it was so much more than anyone expected.
But it was astonishing. What they did putting it together was phenomenal really from all the footage they must have had. But for me, going into it, I saw it as a bit of a control group. In that, how are these guys going to cope in the dark? And it was going to be interesting to be a part of that.
I didn't expect them to struggle so much, emotionally, with it. I expected them to struggle practically. But really, from a psychological point of view, they all suffered quite a lot with it.
I expected it to be more superficial and slapstick, so to be in that and have the opportunity to help them through it - you didn't see a lot of that, a lot of the day-to-day trying to help them with the food and the mess everybody made. It surprised me, how hard the show was for them, for all different reasons.
First of all, it was a real privilege to be part of it, but it was about three days in, I think, and I thought, you know what, the awareness that this show is going to create, in terms of what it is like to live with sight loss, is going to be phenomenal. And I don't think that's what they set out to make. If they had, it would have been crass. But they didn't, it just became that.
Like my travel show, if people take things away from it about sight loss or anything, hopefully, that's something they pick out themselves and not something we've hit them over the head with, which is more impactful.
And when you see it as well (Scared of the Dark), you watch the edit and let's be honest, when you're filming for 24 hours a day, and you're in it, you've got no idea what they're making. They could make any one of a thousand shows and it could be any level of shit to amazing.
If you do Have I Got News for You, you know that if you do a funny hour-and-a-half, they're going to tighten that up to an even funnier 30 minutes and you kind of know what it is you've created. Until I'd watched episode one (of Scared of the Dark), I didn't know what it was.
Are you still in touch with anyone from Scared of the Dark?
Yeah. With all of them although I'll be honest, I haven't spoken to Chris (Eubank), but you know what, I'd love to. I was so happy I'd done it with him and the man, honestly, he is chiselled like you would not believe. I had a proper feel of him and I've never felt a body like it. And he's in his fifties.
I was so happy he was part of it and to get to do that with him. I'm still in touch with Gazza and the rest of the guys. As a stand-up, if you've got an audience sitting there in the light, they're going to laugh less than if you turn the light off. You're less self-aware.
Everyone became vulnerable and it accelerated that bonding. It was like microwaving a group of people together. The bonding that you had over those eight days was far more accelerated because of the darkness than if we were in a house doing things.
You're best known of course for your stand-up, but also your panel show appearances, are you enjoying trying something new with The Wonders fo the World I Can't See?
Absolutely, yeah. And the good thing about it is everything seems to open doors to new things. I love doing stand-up. But once I've got material that works. Once I've got a show that works. I don't have those nerves because I'm in control of it all. I'm not out of my comfort zone. I'm very much in my comfort zone.
So getting to do things that are new experiences gets the nerves going and is quite thrilling, really. I still get that with Have I Got News for You because you don't know what's coming up. The best you can do is read the papers. I still get that with the panel shows when you don't know what's coming up. and you have to wing it in the moment.
These new shows are new experiences really, so I hope they keep on coming!
What's next for you? I know you're touring with Yonks! in 2024.
Yeah, that's right. I'm just starting to get my new tour together. We'll see if there's going to be a series two of the travel show. And I'll be filming all the panel stuff again and we'll see what else comes up really.
What's something you'd really love to do that you haven't had the opportunity to do yet?
I'd love to do a talk show. But I think I need to earn my stripes for that, don't I? Get me a couple of comfy couches and some people who like talking about themselves and a house band and I'll be away!
The Wonders of the World I Can't See launches Monday 19th June at 10pm on Channel 4