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28 October 2014

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Chris Addison

Chris Addison

Chris Addison is our friend. He tells us the latest news on his shows before anyone else. We hear from him all the time. Sometimes we don't go a day without hearing from him. He probably lists us among his top 20 friends. If not higher.

Here's an interview we did with him on 11 July 2005.

Chris Addison in The Thick of It

You were a bit of a revelation in The Thick of It. Did you surprise yourself or did you know you could act?

Oh, you, with your words... Well, thank you. That was the first time I've acted, really, so I had no idea whether I could do it or not. I'm still not that sure. It's difficult to think you're any use at acting when you're standing next to people like Capaldi and Langham who are so ridiculously good at what they do.

I'm not really acting that much, since my character Ollie rather helpfully tends to be a little bemused and in over his head, which is more or less how I felt.

Did Armando come after you for the part? How did you get involved?

He asked me to go in and do a screen test, which involved improvising a scene with Adam Tandy, the producer, in this weird, slightly tiki-lounge room in a casting studio.

We were pretending to be at lunch on Whitehall, discussing the fate of a Minister and we were surrounded by these life-size, fake palm trees and this fibreglass stone-cladding effect wall. I half expected Bing Crosby to come in and start singing 'The Little Drummer Boy'. He didn't, though. Slightly disappointing.

Chris Addison in The Thick of It

It's only partially written isn't it? You are improvising, like Curb Your Enthusiasm. How does that work, practically?

We always say that it's about 80% written and 20% improvised. The writers (Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche) working alongside Armando, produce these excellent scripts, which we then improvise around and ruin in rehearsals. There are rewrites and re-rewrites and then we go and film it.

When we're filming, we often do several takes - some sticking to the script, some messing around with it, trying different things out under Armando's direction - and then we all have a nice sit down. We shoot the shows in chronological order, as far as possible, so that if something comes up in an improvisation in one scene, it can be referred back to.

BBC Four seem very proud of it. We hear more shows are coming. When can we expect those, and do you see it running and running, like Yes Minister?

There are three more on their way. We've just started filming them. As far as I understand it, they should be on BBC Four in the Autumn, and then the full series of six will be repeated on BBC Two. Which is too late for my parents, who've already bought a digibox. I expect they've kept the receipt, though. They're very good like that.

I do hope it runs and runs, yes. And I speak as a license payer. It's such a rich seam of subject matter and there's so much more to get out of the characters and their various relationships that I can't see it running out of steam anytime soon.

Whether or not it goes on is up to other people, though, which I see as a flaw in the BBC charter, quite frankly. Apart from anything else, it's so much fun to do that I'd rather it didn't stop just yet.

And you're taking a one man show up to Edinburgh this year?

I am, yes. It's called Atomicity and it's going to be a trawl through The Very Fabric of The Universe Itself™. At least that's the plan. I may decide to take everyone out for cake, instead. I doubt it, but it's good to leave your options open, isn't it? Anyway, it's on from the 5th to the 28th of August at The Assembly Rooms at 7.45pm.

You're at the very cerebral end of stand-up, is that reasonable to say? And as such is it a lonely road you travel?

I'm never sure about this 'cerebral' thing. I always worry that makes it sound as though the shows I do are dry and inaccessible, which I work really hard not to make them. The thing is that for the last few shows I've used these really big subjects as starting points - 2004's show was about what elements go to make up a civilisation, and the one before was about human evolution - so there's a tendency to describe them as cerebral, but the most important thing I'm aiming towards when I'm writing them is creating a really funny show.

Chris Addison in The Department

They're full of daft jokes about high-fallutin' subjects, stories, stupid tangents, lots of lies... It's not like they require any previously-acquired knowledge about the subjects, any more than you need to understand intimately the home life of comedians who talk about their families before you go and see their shows.

I just think that there's comedy in these ideas and I still have that gleeful, little boy fascination with finding stuff out, and it's so much easier to be funny about things you're enthusiastic about.

I hope that the shows are intelligent, though - I never assume that my audience are stupid. I can't stand watching comics pretending to be dumber than they are, or that they don't like 'clever' stuff, just to curry favour with an audience.

It's such a lie, and so patronising to the people who've paid to watch them - as though they were just this raucous, bestial mass with no brains or opinions which they've devised for themselves.

Still, I don't think it is a lonely road, really. There are plenty of people creating intelligent, interesting comedy: Jeremy Hardy, Mark Steel, Dan Antopolski, Sarah Kendall, Paul Foot, John Oliver, Andy Zaltzman, Daniel Kitson, Demetri Martin, David O'Doherty, Mark Thomas, Stewart Lee, Alex Horne, Robin Ince, Simon Munnery, Robert Newman... and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

The Department is back on Radio 4 for a second series. Tell us a bit out that and who else is in it.

Yes it is. Well, it's a show which I've made with the over-talented John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman. It's set in the secret, non-governmental organisation that you always suspected existed, which really runs the country. We play a three-man think-tank who have to solve one of the nation's pressing problems each week.

Chris Addison in The Department

We're very proud of it, I have to say, so I hope people like it. It's another good example of taking really big ideas and then being stupid with them. I tell you, you'll never see anything like John Oliver alone in a room with a microphone, thinking himself into the part of a giant, mechanical moth, arms flapping, eyes closed, cawing.

Do you love radio, or is it a stepping stone to a TV show?

I do love radio. I was brought up with it, really. My first proper memories of comedy are all of radio. In the early eighties, Radio 4 used to repeat classic shows at half twelve on a Sunday - I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, Round The Horne, The Goon Show - and I used to listen religiously. I loved it. I can even remember listening to Week Ending when I was supposed to be asleep. So it's a real joy doing radio.

The Department's odd, because we make it over the course of a day in a sound studio in Shepherd's Bush, but earlier this year I recorded my own series called The Ape That Got Lucky, based on an old Edinburgh show, at the Almeida theatre with an audience and a cast and everyone standing at mics with scripts and everything. I got a bit giddy.

What else might we see / hear you in over the coming months?

Well, that about covers it, really: Edinburgh, The Thick of It, The Department and The Ape That Got Lucky, which is being broadcast on Radio 4 through August. I'm also touring Atomicity after Edinburgh, from September to December. That'll do me for the year, to be quite honest. You might also catch me wandering about in Ikea. I like the meatballs.

Finally, a random question. Are you pro-Europe or would you have voted "Non"?

I am fiercely pro-European. I would very much have liked to see this country join the Euro a few years back. Not least because it would greatly annoy the kind of people that I don't generally like.

I think if we just point out to these idiots that having the same currency as everyone else is simply one more excuse for not having to bother to learn anyone else's language, they would see things in a very different light. 'Eurosceptic', indeed. I hate that phrase, because within the language of philosophy, the term 'sceptic' implies that you've actually thought about it. I could go on. I generally do.

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