UK

Interview: Peep Show Co-Creator Jesse Armstrong

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Jesse Armstrong is one of the co-creators and writers of the BAFTA-winning BBC sitcom Peep Show. (A BAFTA is like a British Emmy.) Now entering its sixth series, with a US version in development at Spike TV, Peep Show is a funny, but cringe-inducing, depiction of the lives of two twenty-something flat mates, played by past TSOYA guest David Mitchell and comedy partner Robert Webb (above). Its first season recently became available in the US on Hulu. No less an authority on UK comedy than Ricky Gervais called it "The only British thing that I was really blown away by in the last few years."

Armstrong has also written for other acclaimed television series, including the sketch series That Mitchell & Web Look and the political satire The Thick of It.

MaxFun Contributor Matthew Phelan spoke with Armstrong from the UK.

Matthew Phelan: You've said that you and co-creator, Sam Bain, and the show's stars [David] Mitchell and [Robert] Webb, met in something called a "writing team experiment" within the BBC …

Jesse Armstrong: Yeah. [laughs] It was fascinating because there is a definite mystique around American writing techniques in the UK--the long runs, the more successful audience figures. We have a problem getting mainstream comedies to work and people often think that it may be something to do with [not using] the team system. I think there are interesting things about having teams of people on a show, but I definitely don't think it's a magic bullet.

So, this was a really ill-thought-through plan to create a British, team-writing situation. The people behind it thought that, to do a team show, you got six people (in this case who didn't know each other) in the room with a producer and a one-line idea--which was, "What if there was house that was squatted and these people all lived together." We wrote the script between the six of us. Each taking, one sixth of the script and we came up with this horrible, kind-of "Frankenstein's monster" as anyone would imagine. Anyone with any knowledge of the US system knows that you still have a show creator who writes the pilot, sets the tone.

So, that was disastrous, but we went into it not knowing David [Mitchell] and Robert [Webb] and came out knowing them quite well, as we sniggered behind our hands and went, "Oh, god. This is terrible what we're doing, isn't it?"

Click "Read More" for more with Peep Show Co-Creator Jesse Armstrong, including audio of the full interview.

David Mitchell is Husslin

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David Mitchell has discovered the ultimate get rich quick scheme.

On the Hour: Now on CD and MP3

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I've gushed in the past about Chris Morris, the brilliant British satirist whose series "The Day Today" and "Brass Eye" are two of the funniest television shows of the past twenty years. They're news parodies -- a bit like the Daily Show, only even funnier. As in many of the best Daily Show bits, the target is the media, not current events. The team behind the shows devolves jargon into nonsense, sports into mental retardation and drama into absurdity. The result is absolutely amazing.

The Day Today and Brass Eye were preceded by a no-less-brilliant radio program, called On the Hour. It's probably the funniest audio comedy I've ever heard, and now it's available on CD and MP3 for the first time, more than 15 years after it first aired.

You can buy each season of the show in a 4-CD box set from the label re-releasing them, Warp Records. Both On the Hour, Vol. 1 and Volume 2 are available on Amazon for $29 each, as well. The real deal, though, is in iTunes, where you can get each series for $11.99:
On the Hour Vol. 1 (iTunes)
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On the Hour Vol. 2 (iTunes)

If you don't believe me, there's also a podcast of (very) short clips from the show, which will run for the duration of this month. Here's an iTunes link, and here's the feed.

Below: Prince Edward's Head, a quick commercial from the show.

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And Alan Partridge on Badminton:

Graham Linehan, Creator of The IT Crowd and Co-Creator of Father Ted Interviewed on The Sound of Young America

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Graham Linehan an Irish comedy writer. His first major series, co-created with writing partner Arthur Mathews, was Father Ted, which is perhaps the single most iconic British sitcom of the 90s. He worked on hilarious shows like Big Train, Brass Eye and The Day Today, and recently created The IT Crowd. The IT Crowd, an office sitcom set in the IT support room of a faceless corporation, is currently running Tuesday nights on IFC.

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Big Train - Wanking

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Graham Linehan is the next guest on TSOYA, and I thought I'd post this hilarious sketch from a show he worked on, the late-90s British sketch series Big Train. That this is like the sixth point on his resume is pretty remarkable.

Jay-Z Documentary from the BBC

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Fascinating BBC documentary on Jay-Z's opus "Reasonable Doubt." Jay is so alarmingly eloquent off record, it's hard to imagine he could be so eloquent on record. And he does it without sounding like he's trying.

Jay has a lot going for him, but his greatest strength is the effortlessness of his flow. It comes so smoothly and easily that, as he points out himself, the secondary and tertiary meanings of his lyrics can fly past. What's special about Reasonable Doubt is that it's a cohesive statement of purpose -- the beats match the effortless expansiveness of Jay's flow. The lyrics do too, but they have an edge to them -- they betray the fear of the hustler's lifestyle.

There are MCs who can portray that dark side as convincingly as Jay. Scarface, for example, rhymes with such amazing weight that he can convey that darkness with just a twist of the pitch of his voice. There aren't any, though, who can convey that fear in such a way that you don't even notice it until you think back on a line, or a verse, and find yourself emotionally sucker-punched.

Sauce Money says something really great in the film, talking about his collaboration with Jay on Bring It On. He says he heard Jay's verse and "started looking for the nearest Subway. Because I'm not gonna top that."

Podcast: Robert Popper, Comedy Writer/Producer

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Episode One of "Look Around You," entitled "Maths"

Robert Popper is a British comedy writer, producer and performer. With Peter Serafinowicz, he co-created the brilliant educational film parody Look Around You, which premiers on Cartoon Network's [adult swim] on October 26th. As "Robin Cooper," he wrote a series of bizarre letters to obscure professional and interest organizations which became the book "The Timewaster Letters," which was a best-seller in the UK, and has just been released in the US.

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