“The first rule is to de­stroy any sense of learn­ing at school. You don’t want to ap­pear to be a smartarse. That’s a fast track to a beat­ing

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

mer­ci­lessly beaten. The first rule is to de­stroy any sense of learn­ing at school. You don’t want to ap­pear to be a smartarse. That’s a fast track to a beat­ing.”

At any rate, he was smart enough to se­cure a place at Cam­bridge. He stud­ied law but, like so many other fu­ture celebri­ties at that univer­sity, quickly got lured to­wards the Foot­lights com­edy club. In­deed, he even­tu­ally be­came pres­i­dent of the so­ci­ety. Decades pass, com­edy fash­ions change, but, in the years since Peter Cook and Jonathan Miller emerged from Foot­lights, the or­gan­i­sa­tion has con­tin­ued to ex­ert a weirdly dis­pro­por­tion­ate in­flu­ence on Bri­tish show busi­ness. Other prom­i­nent Foot­lights pres­i­dents in­clude Clive James, Clive An­der­son, Eric Idle, Hugh Laurie, Sue Perkins, and (more un­ex­pect­edly) Peter Brad­shaw, chief film critic for the Guardian.

“I can’t say why that per­sists. Enough peo­ple go through it for there to be some sort of num­bers game. You might get the sim­i­lar cor­re­la­tions if you look at all the peo­ple com­ing out of Brad­ford. There are many who go through and don’t do any­thing later. But yes, there are un­fair priv­i­leges and ad­van­tages in be­ing in a com­edy club that has some rep­u­ta­tion. You can get book­ings.”

So how do you get to be pres­i­dent? “No­body else stood. No­body else wanted to do it. Com­edy is what you do when ev­ery­thing else fails. David Beck­ham doesn’t go around say­ing ‘I wish I was a co­me­dian’.”

He is over­stat­ing the case, surely. Aside from any­thing else, he hadn’t had time to fail as a lawyer.

“Well, I wasn’t do­ing that well at law ei­ther. If you’re good at school you can, with­out think­ing, end up in that sort of stream. There’s never a no­tion you won’t do A-lev­els. I was – and re­main – mas­sively un­re­bel­lious. I’d seen Perry Ma­son on TV and thought: why not?”

Buoyed up by his Foot­lights ex­pe­ri­ences, Ayoade dab­bled in stand-up, but his heart was never quite in it. Fur­row­ing his brow, he ex­plains that he couldn’t quite deal with the way a comic must both be him­self and live out a man­u­fac­tured on­stage per­sona. Ever the but­toned-up English­man, he couldn’t quite cope with the need to de­con­struct his own char­ac­ter.

Still, he fast found his feet as a writer and a comic ac­tor. Many com­edy fans will have first en­coun­tered him as a sup­port­ing player in the com­edy re­vue Garth Marenghi (var­i­ously sub­ti­tled Fright Knight, Nether­head and Dark­place). Later an ex­cel­lent TV show, the un­clas­si­fi­able comic odd­ity that won the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fes­ti­val, starred Matthew Hol­ness as a su­per­nat­u­rally pompous hor­ror writer mod­elled – I’m guess­ing here – on such pon­tif­i­ca­tors as Clive Barker and James Her­bert.

“The strange thing is we’ve never done in­ter­views about that show,” he says cau­tiously. “I know this sounds Johnny Dep­pish and ar­sey, but it feels im­proper to talk about it. Not least be­cause it would be ridicu­lous to talk about a show that shows how ridicu­lous peo­ple are when they talk about them­selves.”

In the early part of last decade, Ayoade es­tab­lished him­self as one of those comic ac­tors you like, but to whom you can’t quite put a name. He lurked in Char­lie Brooker and Chris Morris’s se­ries Nathan Bar­ley. He played var­i­ous roles in var­i­ous in­car­na­tions – ra­dio, stage, telly – of The Mighty Boosh.

But it took The IT Crowd for him to be­come prop­erly (if not ma­jorly) fa­mous. The se­ries was not an im­me­di­ate hit. But, over the past five years, it has grad­u­ally de­vel­oped a fa­nat­i­cal fol­low­ing. If you were be­ing per­nick­ety, you could ar­gue that the se­ries of­fers an un­fairly cliched por­trait of IT. Moss and Roy (the su­perb Chris O’Dowd) ham­mer away at video games, fail with women and spend day­time in a dingy base­ment. The IT com­mu­nity must be out­raged. “I think it has never, ever re­ally tried to present it­self as a doc­u­men­tary,” he says with a straight face. “It tends very squarely to­wards silli­ness. From what I can tell peo­ple do­ing these jobs like it more than most. I don’t think any of them are los­ing sleep over it.” That’s a re­lief. It wouldn’t do if IT work­ers were or­gan­is­ing hate cam­paigns against such an agree­able fel­low. But the suc­cess must, surely, have caused him some prob­lems. I would imag­ine he now gets gaw­ped at when buy­ing milk. Ran­dom strangers must ex­pect him to be funny.

“The worst thing in the world is be­ing asked to tell a joke. Ac­tu­ally, for some rea­son I think peo­ple don’t ex­pect me to be funny. So we’re on the same page.”

And he can walk the streets un­mo­lested? “I can get out of my house fairly eas­ily,” he jokes. “I am not Justin Bieber. That’s some­thing I have to re­mind my­self of daily.” (In­fec­tious) Heav­enly pop hits from our new favourite band from Oz, who won the Aus­tralian Mu­sic Prize for this al­bum last week­end. (LL) The more we hear it, the more we dig it. Block­buster, emo­tional pop from the pout­ing Swede. (Young & Lost Club) Bump­ing, bo­da­cious sin­gle from the Ox­ford, Mis­sis­sipi act who we ex­pect to make a big splash at SXSW next week.

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