'Too many satirists are taking the path of least resistance' | Armando Iannucci says comics should tackle contentious topics

'Too many satirists are taking the path of least resistance'

Armando Iannucci says comics should tackle contentious topics

Too many satirists take 'the path of least resistance' and avoid properly tackling contentious political topics, Armando Iannucci has said.

The Thick Of It creator says that at its best comedy should ‘offer a surprising or fresh perspective’ and that comics ‘shouldn't feel that someone is telling us what to say or what not to say’.

And he added that comedy on difficult issues should not be seen as ‘belittling a subject’  but instead as ‘offering a way into it’.

Speaking at the BBC Comedy Festival in his native Glasgow, Iannucci went on to say that politicians have 'taken a dislike to jokes because they don't like the fact that the reaction to a joke is spontaneous.They can't control how you will respond to humour about them or you. They hate that inability to shut down.’

He also decried  'the dangerous point we've reached’ in politics where the narrative is that 'words, if they feel true, they are true’ – that facts aren't required to back them up.

And, somewhat ominously, he concluded: 'How you make that funny, I don't know?

Speaking of what interests him in satire, he said it was ‘how decisions are made and what are the consequences of those decisions?'

Nevertheless, when asked if he excited about the next six weeks of campaigning after Rishi Sunak’s surprise announcement of a July 4 election, he said: ‘In a word, "no".’

Perhaps surprisingly, he sought to downplay the importance of politics in his career, even if the biggest news of his session was that Pandemonium, his mock Shakespearean, theatrical treatment of the Johnson-Truss-Sunak era is being taken on tour soon. 'I enjoy that immediacy and getting that sense of it happening in the room' he enthused.

Frustratingly, journalist Siobhan Synnot, who interviewed him, didn’t  inquire about two of his other current projects: HBO comedy The Franchise, about the issues faced by a superhero film production, starring Jessica Hynes, Lolly Adefope, Richard E. Grant and Himesh Patel, and his upcoming stage adaptation of Dr Strangelove with Steve Coogan in the title role.

Synnot first got to know Iannucci in 1988 when they worked on Radio Scotland's 1988 show No The Archie Macpherson Show, together. That familiarity elicited an all-too-rare glimpse of Iannucci the performer, as he dusted down his old impression of Pope John Paul II doing Julie Andrews singing Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – originally a semi-audition piece that helped him land a place with BBC Scotland.`

Comedy's gain was also bureaucracy's loss, as Iannucci recalled that he'd applied to join the civil service at roughly the same time, where he would have been involved in implementing the poll tax.  Happily, the Treasury official who interviewed him intuited that he 'wouldn't have taken it seriously'.

Endearingly, the writer-producer also disclosed that while he may not have been directly involved with Alan Partridge for a while, he has an open invitation to rejoin the creative team if he feels withdrawal symptoms. He illustrated this with a striking metaphor in which he likened himself to a grandparent who had thoroughly enjoyed their time with their progeny but 'can hand back a baby that's shit its nappy’.

During his session, Iannucci repeated some favourite anecdotes, such as how spoof policies improvised during one scene of The Thick Of It generated three ideas that later turned into genuine government policies.

He also recalled the solitary line censored by the BBC's lawyers from The Thick Of It – merciless spin doctor Malcolm Tucker saying: 'That's inevitable. It's as inevitable as what they'll find in Jimmy Savile's basement after he's dead.'

Meanwhile, Iannucci appropriated some of Tucker's withering scorn, when he dismissed GB News as 'people from a party interviewing other people in a party about how that party is falling apart'.

Prompted to recall an early stint producing the comedy show Loose Talk for Radio 1, he revealed that the only complaint they ever received came from the Bishop of Oxford about a reference to the Resurrection. Which prompted the not unreasonable response: what was the Bishop doing listening to Radio 1?

Iannucci also suggested that television audiences have become more international, citing Baby Reindeer and Fleabag as examples of British shows that have enjoyed global acclaim.

But as someone who was running writers’ room even before he enjoyed success in the US with Veep, Iannucci isn't entirely enamoured with the American model, criticising its 'horribly' competitive nature of pitching writers against each other, and says he preferring his approach of ensuring egos are left 'at the door'.

'It's much more enjoyable, creatively freeing and surprising to collaborate,’ he said. 'I want to be surprised … to read something different from [his own ideas].’

With his writers, his advice is to 'write it as fast as possible', producing 'a physical thing you can play with … it's the rewrites that are the detailed, hard work.'

- by Jay Richardson

Thanks for reading. If you find Chortle’s coverage of the comedy scene useful or interesting, please consider supporting us with a monthly or one-off ko-fi donation.
Any money you contribute will directly fund more reviews, interviews and features – the sort of in-depth coverage that is increasingly difficult to fund from ever-squeezed advertising income, but which we think the UK’s vibrant comedy scene deserves.

Published: 24 May 2024

Live comedy picks

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.