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-by Ken Plume

Chances are, to most Americans, the name David Mitchell means very little… unless, of course, they have a friend, relation, or acquaintance by that name. I speak, however, of a brilliant comedian by that sobriquet who currently plies his trade in the sceptred isle of England.

A cursory glance at the offerings on YouTube will bring you up to speed on Mr. Mitchell, as well as his comedy partner Robert Webb - both of which, since their Cambridge Footlights days, have written and starred in Edinburgh Fringe productions, radio (That Mitchell & Webb Sound), a live tour, and a trio of sketch shows (Bruiser, The Mitchell & Webb Situation, and That Mitchell & Webb Look, which is about to begin its third season). They’re also the stars of the Britcom Peep Show, the feature film Magicians, and were cast as PC (Mitchell) & Mac (Webb) in the British versions of the popular Macintosh ads.

As a solo, Mitchell is quick-witted, erudite guest on such UK panel shows as QI, Have I Got News For You, and 8 Out Of 10 Cats, serves as team captain on Would I Lie To You, and is the host of BBC Radio 4’s The Unbelievable Truth.

I urge anyone smart enough to own a region free DVD player to hunt down everything listed above from your online UK DVD emporium of choice, or at the very least scrounge the internet and YouTube for a splendid sampler.

And, if this intro is evoking a sense of déjà vu, it’s because I’ve used it in the past - for my first in-depth interview with David (I believe strongly in recycling). I recently sat down in my very comfy desk chair and rang him for a follow-up chat, catching up on the new series of That Mitchell & Webb Look, his reaction to recent comedy scandals in the UK press, and more…

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KEN PLUME: Is this still a good time?

DAVID MITCHELL: Yes, absolutely.

KP: Ah, excellent.

MITCHELL: I’ve got about an hour. Is that enough?

KP: That should be more than enough.

MITCHELL: Brilliant.

KP: Unless this completely derails and we’re off into territory that we probably shouldn’t have gone into.

MITCHELL: Well, I don’t have any more horrific, sick jokes to admit to. And it would be unwise of me to do in the current comic climate over here, anyway.

KP: I’m wondering if you should apologize for something, just to get it out of the way…

MITCHELL: Yes, just for everything I’ve ever thought or done.

KP: Yes. Now you’re going to have to apologize for concepts you may not have even had yet.

MITCHELL: Yes, (laughing) just an open letter of abject apologies to The Daily Mail.

KP: I’m actually surprised that the BBC hasn’t forwarded you a form letter…

MITCHELL: (laughing) Yes.

KP: Just in case you’re thinking of actually doing something that might be a bit beyond the pale.

MITCHELL: Mmm.

KP: That way, they have something on file that they can issue immediately, so they can’t be accused of having a slow response…

MITCHELL: Yes. (laughing)

KP: I read your Observer piece about the whole brouhaha. Was it a bit of a surprise to see exactly how that blew up?

MITCHELL: Yeah, it was, totally… I think the reason is, it was fundamentally a fun story at a miserable time. And I think all the press latched onto it because it was what people were wanting to read about. But the effect of that just would allow The Daily Mail in particular to turn it into sort of a witch hunt. Because I don’t think anyone really thought that what was broadcast should have been broadcast - but at the same time, it wasn’t the end of the world. It was a bit rude, they apologized, end of story. But I think there has been so much credit crunch stuff and all that, that the people really like the story where you can point the finger at two people for having been rude.

KP: Two people who I’m assuming that, particularly Daily Mail readers, would have seen as smug and deserving of some kind of slap.

MITCHELL: Well yes, I mean, I’m sure… yes. Because of the publicized salary of Jonathan Ross, and Russell Brand’s general style, I think they’re likely targets for The Daily Mail.

KP: Is there anything that’s in the third series of That Mitchell & Webb Look that you might have done differently?

MITCHELL: Well we did, obviously, because we were shooting the studio bit when the story broke. You do immediately look at something a bit different. I think there are probably a couple of things that we were glad we weren’t trying to broadcast in the same week, but I don’t think there’s anything that - you know, by the time the show goes out in February, I’m assuming things will be more or less back to normal, and there’s nothing too bad. Although The Daily Mail did pick up on something in the repeat of our second series that’s been on BBC4 over here. They picked up on something in that - the “Dame Rape” sketch - as an example of the filth that the BBC are broadcasting.

KP: Oh really? I noticed that they’re starting to troll through repeats. Didn’t they pick up something out of a Mock The Week repeat as well?

MITCHELL: They did, yeah. They clearly set several journalists to watching TV for a week and if they heard the word fuck or similar, putting it down on a list. That’s how you get a list of things, many of which had been broadcast a long time before and had no complaints, and none of which involved ringing up anyone and saying they fucked their granddaughter, and sort of taken them in a list as examples of why the BBC is just a load of liberal pornographers.

KP: All I can see right now is just an entire room of Daily Mail employees, a la Clockwork Orange, watching Dave.

MITCHELL: Yeah! Daily Mail employees who, I’m willing to bet, 99% of are not remotely offended and don’t object to any of the things they’re seeing, that are just subscribing to that paper’s grim, depressing sort of envious editorial style.

KP: From this side of the pond, it certainly seemed a little beyond the pale how quickly that became absurd.

MITCHELL: Yeah, reading the… because I’ve been doing this column in The Observer, I’ve been reading the papers more than previously, and reading The Daily Mail infinitely more than previously, and it’s just eye watering some of the stuff they had… Like, the week before - Rememberance Sunday - they were talking about the Ross-Brand thing, and they had the text of the whole thing, under the headline “Lest We Forget”. And you sort of think, it’s offensive, allying one bit of slightly objectionable broadcasting on Radio 2 to the phrase of remembrance that’s used to recall to mind all the millions of people who were slaughtered during the first World War.

KP: Well, I’m surprised they didn’t just issue little poppies with Andrew Sach’s picture on them.

MITCHELL: You’re talking about something, about how people are offended by things who shouldn’t be offended. You can’t get much more offensive than that, I would have thought.

KP: Well, no… Besides backing Hitler.

MITCHELL: Yes, of course.

KP: On a slightly different tangent, going into the third series after having two series under your belt, did you take a different tack going in?

MITCHELL: I think not much of a different tack. I think the key with a sketch show is to write in volume and with an open mind, and then sort of pick it from strength. I think we thought we should try and have a couple more things that recurred, because in the way the first series was we had probably two or three things that were in every week or returned three or four times. In the second series we had virtually none. And I think the make-up of the first series was better - because we want to have loads of standalone sketches, but I think it’s nice to have one or two things that come back each week. So that was the only thing we thought, “Well, we definitely want to write a couple of strands like that. But otherwise just stick to our guns. Lots of standalone sketches and just write more stuff than we need, so we know we’re gonna not be able to shoot some things we love. And then we know that everything in the show is something you’re proud of, if that makes sense.

KP: Is there a worry going in, when you have recurring pieces, that there’s a threshold you might reach where you’ve reoccurred them too many times?

MITCHELL: Oh always, yes. At the momen,t I’m still happy with the two things that run for six pieces, and I think they both hold good for all six - but you never know. Obviously, with every sketch there are some people who aren’t gonna like it, and the advantage of a sketch show is that’s over in a minute or two and then there’s something else that hopefully they will like. But obviously, the people who don’t like the recurring things, we risk disappointing six times. But yes, I do think then that’s why the show isn’t all recurring things or even mainly recurring things, but I think having a couple, it gives each episode a bit of shape. It’s helpful.

KP: Now, are you someone who, post-record, suffers from comedian’s remorse?

MITCHELL: In terms of worrying about whether things are funny?

KP: Yes.

MITCHELL: Yes, always. Always. And I think the process of making a television show is that the moment it’s commissioned is the best moment, because at that point it can be the new Fawlty Towers. It can be the funniest thing anyone has ever done ever. And with every decision you subsequently make, you limit it. I suppose the skill is to fuck up as little as possible, so at the end you’re still left with something reasonable. So yeah, the point before broadcast, I will be more worried and most down about the material. And then hopefully if we get some good response and nice reviews, then I’ll come up about it and feel proud. But yeah, the process of making the program from commission to transmission is, I think, a process of leaking confidence. Having said that, the two studio recordings we did in front of the audience went very well and they laughed at everything, and that always gives you a bit of a boost.

KP: Does that compare or contrast with Robert’s mindset during the records?

MITCHELL: I think he finds the actual moments of shooting more stressful than me, and I think he’s less stressed overall. I have more of an even stress graph, and he has peaks.

KP: So, afterwards, would you say that he’s more reflective or less reflective than you are?

MITCHELL: I think afterwards he’s, “That’s fine. Great. Done that.” Before he’s more panicky. Beforehand I’m kind of, “Well, I’m concerned, but I think this will be alright.” And afterwards it’s, “Mmmm, I’m a bit concerned.” (laughing)

KP: And how does it feel when you have something that is going to be sitting in the can for three months before it even airs?

MITCHELL: Well that’s always a worry, because you never know what things will happen in the news that will suddenly randomly make a difference… It might be as simple as a name you’ve chosen in a sketch - someone of that name becomes a serial killer, and then there’s nothing you can do. You have to reshoot the sketch. So there’s always, yeah, concern when comedy’s left in the can, and obviously it also leaves time for other shows to do similar jokes.

KP: Have you had issues with that in the past?

MITCHELL: We haven’t yet. We’ve been lucky. But, you know, lots of people thinking of jokes, they’re going to overlap sometimes. But I’m thinking we’re sort of alright now. We’ve only just finished shooting. We’ll be out in February. I don’t think there’ll be many new things airing between now and then. So hopefully it’s not too bad a gap. The first year with Peep Show, it was almost a year between shooting and transmission, and that was a very nail biting time. I kept telling people, “I’m in this TV show,” and they still hadn’t been on.

KP: Yes, “Prove it.” So you went around with a little portable DVD player…

MITCHELL: (laughing)

KP: “Just come over here and watch this…”

MITCHELL: Yes.

KP: Your own private screenings of your career.

MITCHELL: Especially, being Peep Show, it just looked a bit homemade.

KP: Are there plans, then, to try and go into another series as quickly as possible, or are you in a down period right now?

MITCHELL: I think they will decide on the recommission when we transmit, so we won’t know about that until February. In the meantime, we’ve got a pilot commissioned from the BBC that we’re shooting in early December, and we’re doing Peep Show again next summer, and we’ve got to write a Christmas book for next Christmas.

KP: I heard about the book deal…

MITCHELL: Yeah, it’s the thing I’m most sort of concerned about at the moment, in that I’ve never written a book before, so I don’t know what it feels like to have finished it. I know what it’s like to finish a script, I know what it’s like to finish shooting something - I know the size of those jobs - but the job “Write a Book” is an absolute mystery to me currently. Although, obviously, this is going to be a comedy book with lots of little items, so it’s more akin to the book version of a sketch show. But still, I’m intimidated by the scale of that task. But we have to get that done by early March, because that seems to be the speed at which publishing works. I’ll need the time in-between to design it and make it look glossy and also add the jokes.

KP: And run it by the Daily Mail audience. That’s really where you should serialize it.

MITCHELL: Yes. Oh definitely. I’m sure they’ll be very interested. More filth from the pornographers. (laughing)

KP: Yes. You know, you’ve been involved in so many filthy programs. I’m surprised they haven’t started picking apart Would I Lie to You.

MITCHELL: (laughing) “All that duplicity? What are you telling our kids to do!?!”

KP: “It’s rather unfortunate that that’s what Britain today has come to. Lying to entertain.”

MITCHELL: Yeah. “Or so-called entertained. These so-called comedians.”

KP: Has that been recommissioned yet?

MITCHELL: No, we’re waiting to hear about that. I think there’s a lot of… they’re being very slow with those decisions at the moment.

KP: I wonder why.

MITCHELL: Yeah… (laughing)

KP: I don’t know what they could possibly rethink on some of these things.

MITCHELL: But I really enjoy doing Would I Lie to You, and I really hope it comes back.

KP: You certainly look like you had more of an enjoyable time in the second series than the first.

MITCHELL: Mmm. Yeah, I got sort of settled in. We knew where we were and they simplified it slightly. During the first series, I had a terribly bad back.

KP: Oh really?

MITCHELL: Yeah. Throughout most of last year I had a bad back, which is now, fortunately, much, much better. But my memory of those studio recordings is sort of by the end my back is in agony and I’m forcing a grin onto my face and thinking, “I really want to stand up and walk around, although I know if I do stand up and walk around I’ll look like I’m 90.” Or when you’re just trying to be light and make jokes and this sort of thing, and you don’t feel that anything is funny because your back hurts, it’s very, very annoying.

KP: Do you think that might have added to your reaction to some of the presentations? You certainly were quick to argue.

MITCHELL: Was I? Probably the grouchiness of the back. It wasn’t Ann Robinson that annoyed me at all - it was just my back. Or as I call it - Ann Robinson.

KP: There were a couple of times that you looked like you were going to, if you could get up, fist fight with Lee (Mack).

MITCHELL: Right… (laughing)

KP: And I think Lee started to realize, during the second series, that there was a line he could cross with you.

MITCHELL: (laughing) You’ve gotta keep Lee in line.

KP: Lee certainly seems like he feels a little bit vulnerable to certain things. But I was surprised by, I’m not sure which episode it was, where Lee was threatening to throw something at you. And you would have none of that.

MITCHELL: Yeah - what was it? The coconut…

KP: Yes. You seemed genuinely worried that he was going to lob it at you. Just for comedic effect. I’ve never seen someone be abandoned so quickly by his teammates…

MITCHELL: I think that was the thing that was most hurtful, to be left alone on the sinking ship.

KP: That, and you can almost see the panic of a schoolboy in the yard knowing that something was about to go down and there was no one around. And the teacher was laughing.

MITCHELL: Yeah, absolutely.

KP: Do you still find the panel shows enjoyable?

MITCHELL: Oh absolutely, yeah. I love them. I’ve managed - well, touch wood - I’m sort of in a state where I can go into them with quite a relaxed state. Some, actually, of what I do with Peep Show and the sketch show, it’s very - you know, there’s a lot of preparation, a lot of hard work. It’s very satisfying, I’m very glad to do those shows, but it’s nice to do a show where my part of it is quite brief and quite frivolous, and all the planning and the headaches are obviously involved in the structure and writing the whole script and everything, but I can essentially swan along, pontificate for a bit, and go home. And while people are willing to pay me to do that, I will be a very happy man.

KP: Would you ever want to front your own panel show on TV?

MITCHELL: Oh, I think, yeah, I’d be interested if it was the right thing. But at the same time, I think that would be much harder and less of a breeze, but very satisfying if it worked. Because those shows, when they click in a way Have I Got News For You has, then they can run and run and become a real beloved fixture in the schedule.

KP: What do you think would be the panel show that you would front? What type of panel show do you think would be…

MITCHELL: The difficult thing, I sort of vaguely pitched an idea, with the company who make Peep Show, for the BBC - which they’re mulling over - which was a sort of panel of people who’d try and answer random questions, was the vague idea. That seemed quite a nice idea, because it was loose and lots of topics could come up. But I think there’s a balance to strike with something that’s not too restricting, but also something that has enough of a structure to seem like it’s not just people sitting around shooting their mouths off. It’s a delicate balance to strike, and with something like Would I Lie to You, it’s very heavily structured. It’s a parlor game. And I think that really helps it, because there’s clear competition and it’s clear what people are trying to do and why they’re there. On the other side of it, QI is much looser, but also works very well because there’s the sort of mission to inform, and from the panelists a sort of mission to be facetiously ignorant. And that works very well. But I think it’s the sort of thing you never really know when you’ve got it right until you’ve had the idea and had a bit of a go with it.

KP: Well, you’ve always struck me as someone who would be perfect also with a current affairs show.

MITCHELL: A sort of topical comedy thing?

KP: Yes.

MITCHELL: Yeah, that was… you know, the best ones of those are great.

KP: I’ve never understood… obviously we have something like The Daily Show in the US, which airs about 300 times a year. I’ve never understood where you could have Have I Got News For You air for 20 episodes a year and that’s seen as being as topical as it could be. It’s off the air so much. Even Mock the Week is only about 20 weeks a year…

MITCHELL: About 10 a year, 12 a year maybe.

KP: And obviously news is happening all the time.

MITCHELL: Yeah. We’ve never had this idea that any show should be year-round. Our television has always been differently structured so that to us, Have I Got News For You is on a huge amount of the year. Because a show usually runs for six weeks and has one series a year. And instead of that, Have I Got News For You is running for 20 weeks of the 52 rather than six. So yeah. But you’re quite right - there’s absolutely no reason other than I think Ian Hislop and Paul Merton probably wouldn’t want to.

KP: Which is bizarre, because news certainly happens all the time…

MITCHELL: It definitely happens all the time, although it has to be said less of it happens in the summer - I can say, as someone who’s been on once a week in the summer. It’s the kind of thing, I’m sure - I mean, things must have happened, but actually in the summer, all it is is silly stories and then the occasional massive tragedy, which you can’t go into a topical show saying, “I’ve got all these great gags about some terrible thing that happened in Indonesia.” There’s no jokes about that. What you need is MPs saying embarrassing things or Gordon Brown looking like a twat. That’s the area that it’s serious enough to matter, but trivial enough to make jokes about - and that seems to never happen between July and September.

KP: Or you just realized that, going in, all of those awkward jokes have got to be told by Frankie Boyle.

MITCHELL: (laughing) Yeah! Frankie Boyle must be… you know, it’s a difficult season for him at the moment. His whole genre of comedy is under attack. (laughing)

KP: I just heard that replacing, Jonathan Ross’s show on Friday nights, is going to be Live at the Apollo, with the first episode featuring Frankie.

MITCHELL: (laughing) That’s asking for trouble. They should be showing Howard’s End, or something.

KP: It was a sort of “What?” kind of moment. I think Michael McIntyre is fronting it for this series, but yeah, the first spotlighted comedian is Frankie. What commissioner put that forward?

MITCHELL: Yeah, right. That’s a risk, ’cause he’s gonna…

KP: How can he not?

MITCHELL: Yeah, his mainstay is stuff about rape and necrophilia.

KP: And this entire controversy. I’m wondering who’s gonna be vetting that tape.

MITCHELL: Yeah… (laughing)

KP: Surely there must be safer comedians to go with.

MITCHELL: Yeah. He’s very funny, Frankie.

KP: I think you need that comedic voice.

MITCHELL: Oh definitely, definitely. But yes I wouldn’t necessarily agree with sticking him on BBC1 on a Friday night this week.

KP: That brings up an interesting thing that you participated in in the past - has there been any word how Channel 4’s Big Fat Quiz is going to be this year?

MITCHELL: I’ve not heard any word. I assume it’s happening, but I think I was vaguely approached about it and I think it might be a time I can’t really do. I’ve heard it’s happening, but that’s all. I’ve no idea who’s on it.

KP: Because last year you did it, and Jonathan and Russell both did it.

MITCHELL: Yeah. I don’t know whether… I imagine… Well, I mean, there’s nothing to stop Jonathan being on Channel 4, but at the same time… he’ll probably keep his head down, I think, until after Christmas.

KP: I can see Russell doing it.

MITCHELL: Yeah. Well, I think the thing that would make him do it is the thought that some people thought he shouldn’t.

KP: Well, not just that - I guess, what, his Channel 4 show is getting great ratings.

MITCHELL: Yeah. Yeah, he might do it if he’s not in L.A.

KP: Yes, hanging out with his future career.

MITCHELL: (laughing)

KP: So, when do those records normally happen? Is that early December?

MITCHELL: Yes, I think last year it was the first week in December kinda time.

KP: So you’ll be fully engrossed back in work at that point.

MITCHELL: Yes, I think so. I can’t remember the date they gave me. The first week of December I’m actually hosting Have I Got News For You, which I’ve never done before.

KP: Well, congratulations on that.

MITCHELL: And I’m looking forward to that. And I do this Radio 4 show called Unbelievable Truth.

KP: That was recommissioned…

MITCHELL: That’s been recommissioned, but we’re doing… the series will be next year, but we’re doing a Christmas special. And then the week after that, I go into this pilot thing.

KP: Really, there needs to be some sort of outlet where people can find out all the things that you’re actually doing.

MITCHELL: If I was a technical wiz kid I might even have a website.

KP: You don’t have to be a technical wiz kid to have a website at this point.

MITCHELL: No, I know. But what you do have to do is remotely get your shit together. I’m blaming technical knowledge when in fact I should be blaming overall human competence.

KP: And you just did. At the very least you could have a Twitter account.

MITCHELL: A what?

KP: Oh, that’s good. I was hoping for that response. Twitter is essentially a micro blog. It’s MySpace for lazy people. So people can friend you and you can friend people, so people can follow what you say. But you’re limited in your postings to 140 characters. Essentially a text message.

MITCHELL: Oh right. Oh, that’s quite nice. Yes, so every so often just remember to put, “Doing this show on this day, please watch.”

KP: Exactly. And it goes out to people via their cell phones, RSS feeds. Stephen Fry just got a Twitter account and has been Twittering from Africa.

MITCHELL: Oh. Where is he in Africa?

KP: Well, let’s see where he is right now. “Oh my sainted pants. Held a golden orb spider in my hand. They’re huge, they’re horrid, damn they can produce silk though. Photos when I can.” Next post: “Golden orb spider’s bum’s poking out. 24 spinning silk which is twisted into threads. Four threads are strong.” And he’s posting links to pictures in these things as well. “Sorry it’s blurry. Fear. I took some better ones with another camera but I haven’t got the card reader.”

MITCHELL: (laughing) That’s sort of nice. It’s like getting personal text messages from Stephen Fry.

KP: It is exactly that. And occasionally he’s actually replying back to people that are replying to him. So whenever he’s got a signal, he’s sending these sort of messages. But certainly, when you have a Christmas special up you want to get the word out about, you can say, “Be sure to tune in.” Or, “Be sure to illegally download it from the net when it hits.”

MITCHELL: Oh, of course. (laughing)

KP: Which people do, of course.

MITCHELL: What Rob and I should really do is get that website that’s under construction for longer than any Olympic stadium, we should get just something on it - just what we’re doing. It’s a simple thing. At least there’ll be something there.

KP: I mean, really - if Wembley could be finished, so could your website.

MITCHELL: (laughing) Yes.

KP: I don’t know what builders you hired for it.

MITCHELL: I haven’t heard back from them for a while. Well the trouble is it was James Bartman that was doing, but we just didn’t give him any content. But also, now I think he’s too busy with his own career to bother setting up our website, which is completely fair enough. We should probably just approach someone who does that as a job, pay them some money, and all the things that normal professional institutions do. We are supposed to be a business, after all.

KP: I’ve had this very same conversation, it seems, with many British comedians now about getting web presences.

MITCHELL: I think the trouble is we’re just sort of feckless and unprofessional as a nation.

KP: Well, really, all you need is someone who just puts up these various little news bits. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to sit on the site going, “Oh, I’ve got to do another blog entry.”

MITCHELL: Yeah yeah. No, exactly. Somewhere where we can stick something up like that, but we don’t have to…

KP: Actually do content for it.

MITCHELL: Or worry about doing another 500 words a week, or something.

KP: Yes. Although it does pay dividends in the end.

MITCHELL: Yeah, it makes people look at it, doesn’t it, if you change things.

KP: And even with the Twitter thing, I think that probably would have been beneficial and still could be beneficial to the US promotion.

MITCHELL: Yeah.

KP: You know, so that you can easily deploy people and get a nice little base built up.

MITCHELL: I’m going to write myself a note. That’s how serious this is.

KP: I think it’s only a year or two that separates you and I - do you think there’s a threshold for technical aptitude?

MITCHELL: I don’t know. I think if I was a couple years younger, I’d probably be more likely to be competent at it, or see it as just a part of life. But at the same time, I think it’s partly what I’m like anyway. I’m always going to be among the least technically savvy of my generation, but obviously younger generations are more technically savvy and I would be more so if I were in those generations - if this sentence now makes sense.

KP: It does. What do you think plays into that? Do you think you just don’t have the patience to sit down and mess with it?

MITCHELL: Yeah, I think partly that. I do things out of necessity. That’s now I motivate myself to do things I want to do, is by turning them into a necessity. So the only way I ever did shows was by booking a venue, so we’ve got to do it. Without those deadlines I don’t tend to get things done, in a pottery way.

KP: So do you think if a website did fully exist and needed to be fed, it would be different than just an “under construction” or “coming soon” being there for you?

MITCHELL: Yes, I think so. Yeah. I think once it’s there, once it’s become part of my system, I can service my system. But I’m very bad at… “One of these days, I should set up a website…” is just the same as saying, “I will never do this.” But if somebody says, “You’ve got to do it next Thursday,” I go, “All right, fucking hell, next Thursday, here we go,” and then I might do it.

KP: Yes. “Where’s your Christmas message for the website?!?”

MITCHELL: Yeah, exactly. If I had a website, I’d realize that at Christmas I’d better put something up there. Or we’ve got a new show coming out; I’d better put something up there. And yes, it would be part of… yes. I’ve written myself a note now, so this is serious.

KP: I’m glad I’ve forced you into note mode. I feel like I’ve deployed you. But I would definitely recommend at least looking into it because it’s so simple and easy and quick to launch the Twitter account, at least as an interim step before an actual website launch.

MITCHELL: Right.

KP: I mean, Stephen’s doing it - how can you not have that seal of approval prompt you to action?

MITCHELL: No, exactly. The thing is, though, he’s brilliant at everything. He’s incredibly technically savvy and all these things. He’s a renaissance man. I’m not. I’m a medieval man.

KP: But it’s purely by choice.

MITCHELL: I suppose so. You’re just making it worse! You won’t let me attribute my failings to something sort of genetic that I can’t help.

KP: This is almost a sketch. Someone who is just clinging onto the idea that they’re a medieval man and refuses all modern technology.

MITCHELL: Yes, “There is nothing I can do! I would like to wipe my ass - it’s just not in my nature!”

KP: “You cannot drag me into your modernity. I refuse. In fact, I would be largely incompetent and will not even try!” There’s certainly a place in the world for someone like that, just for the sake of comparison.

MITCHELL: (laughing)

KP: Now I feel I’ve pushed you into something. I’ve forced you to cook with fire.

MITCHELL: Yes. “I’m very happy with raw mammoth.”

KP: There’s always got to be a technology dissenter.

MITCHELL: Yeah.

KP: You’re a neo-luddite.

MITCHELL: Yes. I’m a luddite who can’t actually be bothered to smash things. I’m the new, very 21st century apathetic take on Luddism.

KP: I feel bad. I just want to make that perfectly clear.

MITCHELL: I feel guilty for not having a website; you feel bad for having pushed me - it’s great. A free and frank exchange of vague guilt and self-loathing.

KP: It pretty much is what our relationship’s comes down to. Speaking of which, what exactly happened with the US? I guess the show is no longer being aired on BBC America.

MITCHELL: Oh, it’s not?

KP: No, I checked their schedule and you are not on it.

MITCHELL: But they showed it, didn’t they?

KP: I think they did what they normally do with shows, and showed it once in the middle of the night, and didn’t let it actually build an audience through repeats.

MITCHELL: We have hardly any contact with them. I should try and hassle them to stick it all on again.

KP: It would be, what, one less rerun of Ground Force?

MITCHELL: Yeah. It’s not like they’re paying us for putting it on, so it’s pretty much free.

KP: You would think that they would utilize that a bit more.

MITCHELL: Yeah. It got some nice press, I think.

KP: I thought you got a good deal of good press over here.

MITCHELL: Yeah, but then you’ve got to give people the opportunity, having read the press, to see the show.

KP: BBC America refuses to advertise anything or show it where people can see it, so you’re pretty much just throwing it out there and no one’s really going to see it. BBC America just throws it against the wall, largely because I think they do get it for free, and what incentive do they have for it to take off?

MITCHELL: Yeah.

KP: There’s not that pressure as if they developed it in house. So I think it’s an awful shame that they do this, but they do it again and again. They killed Black Books over here. They have the option to pick up stuff like Spaced and make it run, and it took the internet and cult audiences for it to take off. You’ve probably had more viewers on YouTube than you had on BBC America.

MITCHELL: Yeah, sure.

KP: And did they only pick up the first series, or both series?

MITCHELL: BBC America?

KP: Yeah.

MITCHELL: They picked up both.

KP: That’s at least 12 days that they ran you.

MITCHELL: Yeah.

KP: I see this block runoff in the middle of the night…

MITCHELL: Well, maybe now that there’s a third series, they could show them all for a magnificent 18 days next year.

KP: In fact, they should call it that - “18 Magnificent Days of Mitchell and Webb”. Or, “Hey! Look! It’s Mitchell and Webb!” Or, “We’re BBC America and We’re Here”. Again, I think to leave the marketing in their hands is not the best thing to do to make sure that people see it. And I don’t think that they really anticipate that artists will contact them and go, “What the hell?”…

MITCHELL: No.

KP: So it certainly might be worth your while, or the while of someone on your behalf, to find out what their deal is.

MITCHELL: Yeah.

KP: You thought you had a good response press wise, right?

MITCHELL: Definitely.

KP: Are there any plans to come over? You had mentioned, at one point, the possibility of coming over and doing a show or two in the US…

MITCHELL: To be honest, there’s not going to be any time. We’re not going to have any time for that in the next six to nine months, but I think after that we might put together a stage show and do a tour here, and I think that would be the point at which to do a couple of gigs over with you at the same time, when we’ve got a show that we feel we’ve worked in and is slick and would represent us well.

KP: How do you view doing stage work at this point? Is it just a matter of not having the time to mount something like that?

MITCHELL: At the moment we’re pretty booked up until next autumn doing TV stuff and this book.

KP: The last live thing you did was, what, The Secret Policeman’s Ball?

MITCHELL: Yeah, which was just one sketch.

KP: It seemed like a very odd room.

MITCHELL: Yeah. It’s not a theater, really - it’s a big concert hall. And I think the priority was to garner publicity rather than for it to be a great comedy night. I think the output reflected those priorities. But, in the end, it’s for a charity, so they’ve got to do what they think is best. You hear about the Secret Policeman’s Balls, and when they started you felt it was really something that was creatively led by the comedians, and it isn’t now.

KP: And it seemed like an odd reaction in the room to the various comedy pieces…

MITCHELL: Yeah.

KP: Almost a very subdued reaction. I don’t know if that was the mic-ing of the audience or if there was a lot of silence on the night for the comedians…

MITCHELL: Well, people seemed to be laughing to me, but I think it’s such a big room there’s no atmosphere. Because it’s not built in that way.

KP: So it was like playing in a vacuum.

MITCHELL: They could have probably done the sound mix on the TV show a bit better.

KP: It certainly makes it an awkward viewing experience for someone at home, going, “Well, I find it funny…”

MITCHELL: (laughing) Yes, exactly.

KP: “Surely *someone* in the audience must be laughing…”

MITCHELL: Yeah.

KP: Then you just feel sorry for the performers - “Just run - run from the stage. Don’t look back. Don’t ever do this again.”

MITCHELL: The bit we did felt like it had gone down well, but I never saw the TV version.

KP: It was an interesting viewing experience, if you wanted to see an exercise in awkward silence. For everyone. I’m not pointing out you specifically.

MITCHELL: “You died on your ass…”

KP: You should have been more self-aware in the moment. You’re hearing all these imaginary laughs in your head. But yeah, it was interesting. Although, on that note, we should wind down… Don’t forget about the website…

MITCHELL: It depends on whether I finally get my shit together on this occasion or not. It will have to happen at some point.

KP: Or someone will just start an account called “TheFakeDavidMitchell” on Twitter and just start posting all of your information…

MITCHELL: Yeah.

KP: In an attempt to lure you out…

MITCHELL: (laughing) Right.

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Comments:

5 Responses to “Holiday Havoc: David Mitchell Interview”

  1. R Says:

    I’m in the UK and I have loved the depth of both your interviews with David Mitchell, which you tend not to get in any sort of media here.

    Also, thank you for mentioning the idea of a Twitter account or something similar. I think fans would definitely appreciate one place where they could find out what Mitchell and Webb were up to and whether there were any shows that they could watch or even attend the recording of.

    Anyway, thanks again for the excellent interview.

  2. Helpful Henriette Says:

    there’s already a site like the one you describe, it’s called That Mitchell and Webb Log: http://tmwl.project76.tv/

    xx

  3. Beth Says:

    Surprisingly, a really good interview. You seem cool (mysterious journalist whose name I do not know) and I LOVE David Mitchell. He’s adorable, I wish some of his stuff was shown on BBC America- but they don’t always pick the best stuff to show there.

  4. hoosay Says:

    Good interview, and good foresight too, given someone did set up a fake twitter account for him and he has now been lured out and joined too

  5. thadrakat Says:

    Thank you very much for this interview, and for representing us (Mitchell and Webb’s American audience) so well… you bring up so many cogent points in both this interview and the last one you did with David Mitchell, small things that he could possibly change that would make a big difference - like the whole web presence thing, and BBC America. Crossing my fingers hard that the touring-in-America seed you’ve planted takes hold and blooms. That would be PHENOMENAL.

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