Satirist, 53

Esquire (UK) - - Contents - In­ter­view by Ben Mitchell

The award-fes­tooned com­edy ge­nius re­veals what he’s learned in three decades on ra­dio and TV

I’m not recog­nised that of­ten but I’d say once ev­ery cou­ple of weeks some­body sticks their thumb up and goes, “Thank you very much. Thanks for the laughs.” So that’s good.

Peo­ple within com­edy just need to say my first name and they know who it is. I kind of like that. Short­hand. My friends call me Arm, which I’ve never re­ally thought of as be­ing strange un­til we were at a din­ner party and one of the peo­ple there only had one arm. At the end I re­alised that all evening he’d heard peo­ple go­ing, “Arm… Arm… Arm… Arm…”

I went through school think­ing, “They’ll find me out. I can’t be­lieve they haven’t found me out yet.” It was the same when I was a ra­dio pro­ducer and then a TV pro­ducer. I used to fret and be very anx­ious. Then, when I was about 33, 34, I sud­denly stopped be­ing anx­ious and I don’t know why other than the rev­e­la­tion that it’s just not go­ing to help. So don’t worry.

Steve Coogan al­ways jokes about how tacky my cars are. I re­mem­ber him say­ing to me, “If you’re not go­ing to buy your­self a sports car then get a bog-stan­dard fam­ily MercedesBenz be­cause then at least peo­ple know where you’re com­ing from.” I’m just not in­ter­ested. The only things I have a weak­ness for are books and mu­sic.

The big change comes when you have a fam­ily be­cause that’s when you re­think your pri­or­i­ties. Un­til it hap­pens to them, a lot of peo­ple are wor­ried that it will de­stroy their lives — and their so­cial life — but it just al­lows you to start afresh with how you ap­proach things be­cause you have to.

Mozart’s taken a long while to get into. Some bits I still find a bit twee. Peo­ple within the clas­si­cal mu­sic com­mu­nity have taken um­brage at that. I’ve got a book on clas­si­cal mu­sic about to come out. It’s a col­lec­tion of stuff that I’ve writ­ten over the last 15 years. There hasn’t been hu­man ex­cre­ment through the let­ter­box but, you know, metaphor­i­cally there has. At the risk of sound­ing pre­ten­tious, I find com­ing up with the con­cept of God is too easy an ex­pla­na­tion for what should stay as a mys­tery, re­ally. I think God is a very hu­man con­cept, isn’t it? We have to ex­plain the uni­verse by com­ing up with a per­son — or a per­son­al­ity — and ac­tu­ally I think there’s some­thing fas­ci­nat­ing and mys­te­ri­ous about the fact that it just is.

When I first started work­ing in ra­dio, there was a sea­soned pro­ducer who said, “If you’ve got the right cast then you’ve done 90 per cent of the work.” That’s true.

I grew up in Glas­gow. My fa­ther did a bit of ev­ery­thing. He was born in Naples, left in 1950. He was a sales­man for cof­fee ma­chines. He was a joiner; Peter Ca­paldi’s par­ents’ kitchen was done by my dad. With two col­leagues, he ran a pizza fac­tory. He died just as I was about to go to univer­sity, but he knew that I’d got a place at Ox­ford. Ed­u­ca­tion was his big thing.

When you lose your tem­per you be­come ab­surd and you look like an id­iot.

I was quite re­li­gious when I was younger. I thought, “I’m go­ing to read the Bi­ble. I’ll do a chap­ter a day.” About 200 pages in it was grim. It was a whole cat­a­logue of smit­ing, and the num­bers who were slaugh­tered, and just rev­el­ling in that. That was the point when I stopped. I just thought, “This isn’t for me.”

How would I like to be more like Alan Par­tridge? He lacks self-aware­ness, which can be a good thing some­times. Peo­ple have too much self-aware­ness. I’m not a great con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist and what Alan’s got is that abil­ity to just keep talk­ing. I envy peo­ple who have that abil­ity to have a con­ver­sa­tion from the word go.

I do switch off when I’m at home. You just learn that even if it’s a re­ally press­ing prob­lem the film isn’t sud­denly go­ing to dis­ap­pear or the TV show isn’t go­ing to get can­celled overnight. You can deal with it the next day. I’m funny with my friends but I don’t feel the need to per­form in strange com­pany. It’s not im­por­tant to me to­day that you are amused.

The thing that re­ally an­noys me is when peo­ple go, “I know you’re ter­ri­bly busy but I’m won­der­ing if you could do this?” Don’t for one sec­ond think that by ac­knowl­edg­ing it that some­how buys you an ex­emp­tion, but peo­ple do. You know, “I know you don’t like stab­bing but do you mind if I stab you?” As if some­how that’s fine be­cause you’ve said. I don’t get that.

You’ve got to al­low your­self the pos­si­bil­ity of fail­ing. If you start be­com­ing cau­tious you will get a bit bored and peo­ple will no­tice that you’re just tread­ing water. So you have to try new stuff that will push you. It might work or it might not work. You just have to go for it, re­ally.

I have a nap at about 1.30 un­til 2.00. You’ve got to set the alarm be­cause if you do more than 20 min­utes then you’re drowsy for the rest of the day. I thor­oughly rec­om­mend it.

My vice is prob­a­bly that I’m quite bor­ing. I en­joy doss­ing at home with the kids. I like meet­ing up with friends for din­ner and chat­ting. I’m not one for hav­ing lots of hob­bies.

I used to run but my knees are ab­so­lutely fucked. I was a good run­ner at school, good rower, too. I didn’t row at univer­sity be­cause you had to get up at 5am. I didn’t like the idea of get­ting to sleep at 4am and some­body knock­ing on your door an hour later. But I en­joyed it at school. We rowed on the Clyde. The per­son who ran our boathouse was also the guy who fishes bod­ies out of the river.

Why do I think we’re here? There’s no rea­son. That’s kind of ex­cit­ing be­cause it puts the pres­sure back on you to come up with a rea­son.

When some­thing is so funny it makes you laugh, you just feel bet­ter.

The Death of Stalin, writ­ten and di­rected by Ar­mando Ian­nucci, is out on 19 Oc­to­ber

‘When you lose your tem­per you be­come

ab­surd and you look like an id­iot’

Por­trait by Dan Burn-Forti

Ar­mando Ian­nucci pho­tographed in his Lon­don of­fice, Au­gust 2017

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