Just desserts. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice
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"There’s nothing about today that I would change": The Apprentice blog series 10, episode 10

The candidates shovel saffron into some trifle.

WARNING: This blog is for people watching The Apprentice. Contains spoilers!

Read the episode 9 blog here.


That’s it. The links between Lord Sugar’s chosen locations and the task at hand have plummeted 110 per cent from tenuous to non-existent. Opening this episode, candidates gather solemnly on the Tate Britain’s mighty spiral staircase to be told they have to make “premium puddings”. Does the Grand High Grouch not know that there’s more to this central London art gallery than the overpriced carrot cake in the members’ café?

Anyway, if it has no other value whatsoever, it’s at least a chance for The Apprentice’s perpetually bored voiceover to say things like “just desserts” and “recipe for disaster” with one eye on the application form for Disembodied Voice on next year’s Great British Bake Off.

First, the long-awaited reshuffle. Daniel clenches his way over to Team Summit, and Sanjay bounces along to Team Tenacity, finally splitting up the unholy alliance of boorish bulldozers Daniel and Mark. Roisin leads the former because she’s got big business dreams about ready meals, and Katie becomes project manager for the latter because she wants to open a restaurant that serves healthy food in Sunderland. Dream big.

Supermarketeers. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

“I just want to raise the fact that I don’t drink tea,” is the mea-culpa-non-sequitur from Solomon that means he will be allowed to design Summit’s packaging for its uniquely infused cheesecakes. This leaves Bianca and Daniel to go to a tea-tasting session in Soho, where the latter looks like he's slurping down a glass of wasps when the instructor invites them to, “let the tea roll across all the areas of your palate”.

“That doesn’t resemble tea to me,” he says, shell-shocked. “I’m obviously very uneducated – in the world of tea.”

On the other team, Sanjay and Mark are brainstorming names for their product, which is some sort of ostensibly posh trifle. “Fancy-Full?” chirps Sanjay. “A Trifle Nice?” After frowning in silence, Mark suggests, chillingly, “Sweet Pleasure?”

Eventually, they go for “A Trifle Different”; Sanjay excitedly phones his teammates and informs them of the happy news: “Trifle is also a word for ‘a little bit’”. Also, the trifle has fistfuls of saffron in it.

The premium packaging of this product is a gingham sleeve with words written on it in what looks suspiciously like Curlz MT. “We absolutely smashed it,” booms Mark, high-fiving Sanjay, who chirps, “there’s nothing about today that I would change”. All this enthusiasm, positivity and pride should hint to even the most “obviously very uneducated” viewer at what fate the boardroom will bring for Team Tenacity.

Sipping on some saffron. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Roisin’s team call their product “Tea Pot”, and are also very pleased with themselves. The goodwill doesn’t last, however, as Roisin outrages Daniel by choosing Bianca to pitch the product with her to three different retailers. “I didn’t realise when I joined this team, Roisin’s actually in love with Bianca, by the way,” he fumes, as the two women embark upon their rollercoaster of romantic trysts: standing in a succession of stuffy meeting rooms with contemptuous retail executives.

When the men eventually turn up to a pitch to Waitrose, Roisin insists they shouldn’t interrupt. So five minutes in, Daniel helps out by calling into question the entire concept of being a tea-drinker:

“I'm not a big tea drinker, if you like, but it really did smack me round the face with the idea of having green tea and these kinds of flavours. I'm not even a tea enthusiast, but yet I really did buy into the concept of having these tea cheesecakes.”

Why does no one on this programme drink tea? Isn’t this the most telling sign to Lord Sugar that they would make terrible colleagues? Always smugly filling up for themselves at the water cooler, never burning their knuckles on the return from a five-mug, two-handed tea round.

Pitching goes even worse for the other team, as Mark croaks and grunts his way through a performance for which he’s spent the whole episode preparing. He managed to convince Katie to let him do it, because “do you go to the racetrack and leave your prize stallion in the shed? No.”

Half-baked. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Yet in spite of his catastrophic bout of dry-mouth, it’s not quite time for Mark to face the knacker’s yard. Although his team loses, he is somehow saved. Instead, Katie gets dropped.

Sugar’s objection to her is that she wants to start a restaurant business with him, but can’t possibly know about food because she put too much saffron in a trifle. She protests that she has worked back- and front-of-house in a restaurant since the age of 15. “I’ve been to McDonald’s also, but I wouldn’t claim to understand the infrastructure there,” is Sugar’s reply, who presumably also doesn’t claim to understand the difference between serving and being served in a restaurant.

Sanjay is next to go, because although he’s a banker his ambition is to build an online community to do with fitness. Well, let me tell you something, Sanjay. I’ve been to LA Fitness also, but I wouldn’t claim to understand the internet.

The proof is in the pudding. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

 

Candidates to watch

Mark

When he compared himself to a horse, it sounded dangerously close to Stuart “I'm not a one-trick pony; I have a whole field of ponies” Baggs of Series 6. Who was fired.

Solomon

I think he might just be the work experience boy.

Roisin and Bianca

Will they, won’t they?


I'll be blogging The Apprentice each week. Click here to follow it. Read my blog on the previous episode here. The show will air weekly on Wednesday evenings at 9pm on BBC One. Check back for the next instalments every Thursday morning.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Marc Maron: a conversation with the anxiety co-pilot

Now that the interview-based podcast WTF has had millions of downloads and featured guests from Iggy Pop and Barack Obama, what does its host Marc Maron want to say?

Richard Pryor decided to talk about race. Sam Kinison used his fame and his family history to talk about God. Bill Hicks asked why nothing produced in America seemed quite worthy of the people who consumed it. Now that the intimate, interview-based podcast WTF has had millions of downloads on iTunes and has featured guests from Mel Brooks to Iggy Pop and, this summer, Barack Obama, what does its host, the comedian Marc Maron – adopter of stray cats, recovered addict and vinyl hoarder – feel he has to say?

“I think the type of conversations that I have on the show are something that is missing in our lives,” Maron told me one recent Friday, down the line from the garage in the garden of his home in Highland Park, Los Angeles, where WTF has been recorded twice a week since 2009. “We’ve lost the knowledge that it’s not that hard to have an hour-long conversation with someone. You’re built to carry whatever problems they have. I think it’s good for the heart.”

If the Maron family crest bore a motto, it might be that timeless adage: “Wherever you go, there you are.” Born in 1963, Maron was raised by a real-estate broker mother and an orthopaedic surgeon father, first in New Jersey, then in Alaska, then in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “My father is and was both an overactive hypochondriac and a physician,” he wrote in his 2013 memoir, Attempting Normal, “which is a bad combination.” After studying English at Boston University, he began performing stand-up comedy at the age of 24.

“I don’t think of myself as a joke guy,” he told me. “Most of what I do is creating a dialogue around my own problems. Some people call it ‘navel-gazing’ but I’d prefer to call it ‘compulsive self-awareness’.”

And there have been many problems. Maron, now 51, began his 2013 comedy special Thinky Pain by telling the audience in the basement of the Village Gate nightclub in New York that he didn’t “have a lot of respect for people that don’t have the courage to lose complete control of their life for a few years”.

When Maron was 35, unhappily married, hoovering up booze, weed and cocaine most evenings, he met a beautiful aspiring comedian 12 years his junior, who told him he looked dreadful and offered to help him get sober. And she did, more or less. He divorced his first wife and pinned his hopes on his second. By 2009, he was living on the US west coast, divorced for a second time, barely able to work and newly dismissed from the morning talk show he’d co-hosted on the left-leaning Air America radio network.

“It was a period where I needed to talk a lot,” he said, “but also to sort of re-engage with something I think I had practised as a child: being part of somebody else.” With the former Air America producer Brendan McDonald, Maron began recording conversations with comedian friends, seeking advice, delving into their lives. He asked stock questions, such as “What did your old man do?” and “Who were your guys?”, as if they might provide some clue to where he had gone wrong. Then people started to listen.

“I started getting emails saying somehow or other the dialogue with my guests, or my monologues, were making people feel better or getting them through dark times,” he said. “I never anticipated people would get that type of help from the show.”

In a recent episode with Ian McKellen, Maron explained to the British actor that his listeners were “sensitive, slightly aggravated, usually intelligent people”, not so much “a demographic, more of a disposition”. By 2010, WTF had attracted a cult following. Robin Williams came to the garage and talked about his depression. Maron’s fellow stand-up Todd Glass came out as gay on the show after a string of suicides among young LGBT people. Friends whom Maron had known throughout his career, including David Cross, Sarah Silverman and Bob Odenkirk, joined him to reminisce. His 2010 interview with Louis CK, arguably the best-known US comedian of recent years, was voted the greatest podcast episode ever by the online magazine Slate.

“Comedians in their infancy are generally selfish, irresponsible, emotionally retarded, morally dubious, substance-addicted animals who live out of boxes and milk crates,” Maron wrote in his memoir. Yet, as they mature, they can become “some of the most thoughtful, philosophical, open-minded . . . creative people in the world”.

“The best comics are people that have taken the chance to live a life independent of mainstream culture and expectations,” he told me. “They’re constantly looking for an angle on the information coming in. They write things down. It’s the life of a thinker, or a philosopher, or poet – however you want to put it.”

I suggested that poetry was an ideal analogy for comedy, not only because poets reframe reality in a truthful way but also because they can be savage and resentful, particularly to fellow poets. It’s a fact Maron openly concedes about himself.

“I’m the clown that thought Louis CK’s show Louie should be called F*** You, Marc Maron,” he said at the 2011 Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal. The episode of WTF with Louis CK, a friend since the late 1980s, is remarkable not only for the moment when CK becomes audibly emotional as he discusses the birth of his first child, but for the way in which he unflinchingly airs his grievances with Maron, who confesses to envying CK’s success so much that they lost contact for a time. “You were being a shitty friend by being jealous,” CK says. “I could’ve used you . . . I got divorced. I got a show cancelled. I could’ve used a friend.”

So, in 2015, with a TV series about his life on the IFC cable network concluding its third series, the widely discussed interview in which Obama opened up about parenting, gun control and racism in the US and a series of high-profile appearances in Dublin, London and Sydney booked to showcase new material, surely the glass at last looks half full? “Maybe,” he said. “There are some people whose ego is able to accept the love and adoration of an audience. I’ve always been one to question that.”

Yet the improvements to his life – recognition, financial security, reconciliation with old friends – are undeniable. “Most creative people move through a tremendous amount of insecurity, which can turn to hostility. But the podcast became socially relevant and some of the insecurities dissipated. I could accept myself, for the most part, and realise that all the hard work I’d done for half my life had manifested into something that connects with people.”

Maron’s biggest anxiety today, he explained at the end of our talk, before opening the garage door to face the day, is that he’s “swamped with work all the f***ing time”.

“I beat myself up feeling like I should be out in the world, seeing a play or some art or something. Often, when I do monologues, I think, ‘I’ve got nothing to talk about.’ But then I go on and talk about nothing.”

The truth is that Marc Maron isn’t Richard Pryor or Bill Hicks – but that’s OK. We live in a different time. Perhaps what listeners need most is not more opinions, but a little help getting out of their own way: a co-pilot to navigate the anxieties of living day to day. “That’s exactly right,” he said. “The little things.”

Marc Maron performs at the Southbank Centre, London SE1, on 3 and 4 September

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses