Archive for the ‘Telegraph’ Category

That Accidental Gag Thievery Moment

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Interesting extract from Rob’s recent Telegraph column:

I wrote a sketch for That Mitchell and Webb Look, where a job candidate is being interviewed by a panel of three, one of whom is there to provide “extreme negative feedback”. As the interviewee (Mitchell) responds to questions, the negative feedback panellist (Webb) reacts with obscene comments and eventually violence. The sketch went down well enough; especially the end, when I threw a rubber typewriter at David’s head. Ding!

A few months later, I was watching a DVD of the first episode of one of my favourite sketch shows of the 1980s, Absolutely. In sheer horror, my nostrils expanded to the size of bowling ball finger-grips as the negative feedback sketch started to play itself out before my eyes. I’d seen it in 1989, loved it, forgotten it, and then “had the idea” 17 years later.

The next time I ran into Jack Docherty who had played “my” part in the original, I explained and apologised. I was both relieved and disappointed to see that he obviously didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. He hadn’t seen my sketch and could barely remember his own. “Still, sounds like a good idea,” he said. “Someone should write that.”

That Gareth Edwards Blog blog

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Producer Gareth Edwards has done a highly ‘factual’ blog over at  the BBC Comedy site which is well worth a read. Here is a sample to tempt you:

Rather than simply ending up on video tape like all other television the comedy is remembered manually by a specially trained “rememberist” who then rests in a cool cellar for three to four months, before the mature programme is “dis-remembered” again directly into the original wood and wrought-iron television transmitters that take it by canal to every home in the land.

Full article is here.

As is this photo:

Talking of photos, this is also one of those soul-stealing images:

From The Daily Telegraph (click the link for the full review) after episode one was on the telly:

Last night That Mitchell and Webb Look (BBC Two) began its fourth series, and it was exactly as funny as the preceding three series, i.e. mostly. (Last year Mitchell and Webb did a sketch mocking reviewers who call their show “hit-and-miss”, with Mitchell, playing himself at a script meeting, outlining the “running order” for an episode: “I was thinking hit, hit, miss, hit, hit, miss, hit…” Pointed and amusing, this sketch was itself a hit, although I’m not sure whether the joke was undermined or reinforced by the fact that some other sketches in the same episode proved to be misses.)

In format, That Mitchell and Webb Look isn’t in the least revolutionary: it might have been made 30 years ago. But actually I don’t think that matters. There’s no more need to revolutionise the sketch show than there is to revolutionise the table. The chief purpose of comedy is not to be experimental and avant-garde, it’s to be funny. And Mitchell and Webb are funny, often sublimely so.

On a relatively different subject but linked because Rob starred in the writer I am about to mention’s popular cigarette-based sitcom The Smoking Room, we went to see the marvellous Brian Dooley’s new work in progress being performed on chairs at Soho Theatre on Saturday and very bloody funny it was too. Full report at my “normil” blog aka here.

More publicity for Look D

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

“We kept being told early on: ‘It’s all very well trying to do a sketch show but you have to have a unifying theme to hang it on.’ We kept coming back with the idea that every sketch would contain at least one of David and Rob. Finally people understood what we were after – variety.”

A new Telegraph article (link here) has some nice stuff from the Pinewood sessions in February but also some spoilers for the new sketches. One of our favourite ones from the recordings has had its punchline mentioned several times now in the publicity… bah.

Rob also has a newspaper column …

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

So at this point, aged about 15, I was basically a revolutionary communist. OK, maybe it is obvious: there is such a thing as rebellion. But most of the other boys and girls at that school didn’t see any need for rebellion: it was a nice school and they were happy. I was happy too; I just also wanted to burn the place down.

Where were we? Yes, you introduced yourself and then I insisted on talking about politics. I’m so sorry, that was very boring of me. I’m glad it’s you, though. The guy opposite has that sweaty, embittered look about him that makes you think that he’d love to vote BNP but has only the bravery for UKIP. Let’s talk about him, shall we? Oh darn, I’ve run out of words again. Never mind, there’s always next week. He seems to be shouting rather vulgarly about “Britishness”, though. Who invited him?

I do so love Rob’s new(ish) column in the Telegraph, a place I never thought I would find anything I wanted to read. What a pleasant surprise.

That Telegraph Article

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

Telegraph, 16th February 2008

David Mitchell and Robert Webb return with a new series of their comedy sketch show. They tell Michael Deacon about beating Catherine Tate to a Bafta and those Mac ads…

Last year, David Mitchell and Robert Webb won a Bafta for Best Comedy Programme, for the first series of their BBC2 sketch show That Mitchell and Webb Look. You might imagine that such an achievement would have seen its makers rewarded with a lavish budget increase. Not in these straitened times. For their second series, they wanted to do a spoof of Sky Sports’ gushing football trailers. Then they learnt that a single clip of a Premier League goal would cost their budget for an episode. Their production team offered them some affordable alternative footage, but the pair weren’t entirely satisfied. ‘The feeling was,’ says Mitchell drily, ‘that non-league Northern Irish football wouldn’t quite pass for Chelsea v Manchester United.’

Still, they managed to complete the sketch, with Mitchell, as a boomingly enthusiastic Sky Sports presenter, striding round the pitch of lower-league side QPR, accompanied by no goal footage – and it’s no less funny for it. You can see it in the new series’s first episode on Thursday.

‘It takes me round a fascinating region of the world that I think isn’t in the forefront of everyone’s mind,’ says the 35-year-old reporter. ‘It’s one of the most arid regions of the world – there’s the Kalahari desert in Namibia and Botswana, the Atacama desert in Chile. But it’s got variety as well: the Andes mountains in South America, Madagascar, the beauty of Mozambique.’

That Mitchell and Webb Look doesn’t have a lot in common with the other most popular sketch shows of recent years, Little Britain and The Catherine Tate Show. Though not family-friendly to a degree that would have pleased Mary Whitehouse (the first new episode does, after all, contain a documentary spoof titled The Boy with an Arse for a Face), it’s witty, intelligent and lacking in foul-mouthed grandmothers or projectile-vomiting WI members.

Also, it doesn’t rely on catchphrases. Of series one’s few recurring sketches, only three – those involving the absurd game show Numberwang, the lazy TV script writers and the drunk tramp/sleuth Sir Digby Chicken-Caesar – appear in series two. ‘We looked back at the recurring sketches from the first series, and for most of them we felt, “We’ve done that now”,’ says Mitchell.

One thing that fans will find familiar is that, once again, a lot of the sketches are parodies of TV shows. This, according to Webb, is not so much a matter of artistic policy, as the happy outcome of procrastination. ‘We’ll be watching daytime TV in order to avoid writing,’ he admits, ‘but the programmes will actually give us ideas.’

The pair met at Cambridge in the mid-Nineties, and joined the university’s legendary comedy troup, the Footlights (whose alumni include Peter Cook, Fry & Laurie and half of the Monty Python team). ‘We wrote some shockers while we were students,’ says Webb. ‘I remember a sketch called Sinking Economist, which was about an economist who was on a boat that was sinking, while he was coming out with all these shit economic theories.’ (‘You see the very on-the-nose satirical point we were making,’ says Mitchell.)

After university, they made a sketch series for the now-defunct digital channel Play UK (The Mitchell & Webb Situation), before landing their big-break roles on Channel 4’s gleefully dark sitcom Peep Show. For some time, though, their respective parents fretted about such a financially insecure career choice. ‘I think my dad relaxed when I turned up on Radio 4,’ says Webb. ‘That meant it was definitely going to be fine.’

‘He’s obviously got no idea about the pay scales on Radio 4,’ says Mitchell.

At any rate, last year’s Bafta confirmed their place among British comedy’s rising stars. Much to the horror – or so it seemed – of Catherine Tate, whose show had been shortlisted in the same category. Last year’s cermony was broadcast on TV – and, as the winners’ names were read out, the camera cut to a shot of Tate, looking aghast.

Mitchell is diplomatic about her response. ‘I think it would be a lot better if at awards ceremonies people were honest like that,’ he says. ‘It’s rather insulting to the occasion if you look like you couldn’t give a shit.’

That’s not to say he or Webb are immune to insult – they’ve tried to resist reading internet comedy forums since appearing in last year’s ubiquitous ‘PC and Mac’ advert campaign for Apple. Snootier comedy fans sniffed that the pair had ‘sold out’, although, as Webb points out, ‘We’d never said we wouldn’t do adverts, or that Macs are rubbish, or that advertising is wrong.’

Still, Mitchell is able to look on the bright side. ‘People do get very angry about comedy,’ he says, ‘but that’s fundamentally because they care about it. I don’t suppose you get many people being angry about Holby City.’

That Mitchell and Webb Look starts on BBC2 on Thursday, 21 February at 9.00pm

That Telegraph article.

Saturday, April 7th, 2007

There was a big article in The Telegraph today. So here it is:
Who are those guys?
With TV shows, theatre dates and a ubiquitous advertising campaign, comedians Mitchell and Webb are being tipped as the next Lucas and Walliams. Andrew Pettie asks whether they can cut the mustard.


Mitchell and Webb are taking over. Sketch shows, sitcoms, live tours, movies, the ubiquitous Apple Mac ad campaigns: suddenly, the faintly old-fashioned, Fry and Laurie-style comedy duo are everywhere.

The mystifying question is: why?

They haven’t coined a contagious catchphrase or created outlandishly memorable caricatures, as Little Britain did. They haven’t produced a single work of unalloyed genius like The Office. Nor are they dazzling, off-the-cuff innovators like Eddie Izzard or Sacha Baron Cohen. It’s hard to identify, as one critic noted during a review of their recent live tour, “what unique perspective Mitchell and Webb are bringing to the comedy table”.

On the other hand, David Mitchell and Robert Webb have never done anything that is transparently bad, and a healthy percentage of their output is pretty good. Continuing a comedy trend started by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, they are extremely easy to identify with: likeable, self-deprecating, disarmingly normal. Perhaps that is the secret of their burgeoning success. To borrow a description of Mark and Jeremy, their signature characters from the Channel 4 sitcom Peep Show, which returns for a fourth series this Friday, they’re a pair of “very ordinary weirdos”.

Peep Show, written by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, is the funniest thing Mitchell and Webb have done so far. Mitchell plays Mark Corrigan, an anxiety-plagued, prematurely middle-aged loan manager. His flatmate Jeremy Osborne (Webb) is a failing musician and mildly deluded loafer who is casually frittering away his life and Mark’s patience on quarter-baked schemes.
The first episode of the new series presents a typically appalling scenario: the pair spend the weekend meeting the parents of Mark’s fiancée, Sophie. This seemingly innocuous set-up leads to Jeremy sleeping with Sophie’s mother and then committing arson.

Like Larry David in the outstanding US sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm, Mark and Jeremy are always drawn, as if by magnets, towards moments of mortifying embarrassment. To make matters more excruciating, Peep Show is put together in a peculiarly claustrophobic way. Each shot is filmed from one character’s point of view, as if you’re literally seeing things through their eyes. With the addition of a horrified internal monologue the effect is complete: you are Mark and/or Jeremy; their unspeakable, knuckle-chewing calamities are happening to you. Despite a series of industry rosettes (including last year’s British Comedy Award for best TV comedy) and high praise from high places – Gervais says it is “the best British comedy on TV” – Peep Show has never become part of the national consciousness in the way that The Office or Little Britain have. It remains a cult (in other words, relatively unwatched) show. But for how long?

Channel 4, perhaps sensing that the duo’s stock is about to go through the ceiling, has already signed up Mitchell and Webb for a fifth series – a bold move considering that the fourth has yet to air and the third was watched by a modest 1.3 million viewers. The small audience doesn’t seem to bother Mitchell and Webb. “I’m just glad that people who watch it, watch it carefully,” says Mitchell. “I’d rather be doing Peep Show than My Family. Although, in an ideal world, we’d get the number of people who watch My Family liking what we do with the intensity of the people who watch Peep Show.”

That wish looks set to be granted. After a textbook comedy apprenticeship – from the Cambridge Footlights via the Edinburgh Fringe to a Radio 4 sketch show that then transferred to BBC2, the Mitchell and Webb brand seems about to “tip”. Webb has already starred in the BBC sitcom The Smoking Room and, more recently, on the big screen in British wedding comedy Confetti. Mitchell pops up, engagingly, on approximately one in every three panel shows. Last year the pair completed a successful nationwide live tour (the reviews were mixed, the audiences enthusiastic). This summer they start work on a second series of their sketch show, That Mitchell and Webb Look, for BBC2, and on May 18, Magicians, their first full-blown feature film together, will be in cinemas nationwide.

But despite this lengthy CV, you are still most likely to recognise Mitchell and Webb as the faces of an unavoidable new advertising campaign for Apple computers. In the ads, the pair show the supposedly contrasting characteristics of PCs and Macs. Mitchell, playing his customary role as the fusty square with blazer and side-parting, represents a PC. Webb, as the nonchalant, casually dressed know-it-all, represents a Mac. The adverts go on to reveal various humdrum differences between the two. But they also reveal intriguing things about Mitchell and Webb.
Why, for instance, have these seemingly innocuous ads provoked such animosity in the press? One journalist described the Apple campaign as “worse than not funny”, concluding that by using their comedy “for corporate ends” Mitchell and Webb have committed “an act of grave betrayal”.

How do the duo, always so pleasant and eager to please, feel about that? “It’s just a gig, isn’t it?” shrugs Webb, “I’m an actor. So when someone asks, ‘Do you want to do some funny ads for not many days in the year and be paid more than you would be for an entire series of Peep Show?’ the answer, obviously, is, ‘Yeah, that’s fine.’ ” Mitchell, who, like Webb, is almost disconcertingly difficult to separate from the characters he plays, bristles with self-righteous exasperation. “I don’t see what is morally inconsistent with a comedian doing an advert. It’s all right to sell computers, isn’t it? Unless you think that capitalism is evil – which I don’t. It’s not like we’re helping to flog a baby-killing machine.”

But the more interesting questions is: why has a huge, hip multinational decided that the best way to sell computers is via Mitchell and Webb? Previously, Apple ads were cool and aspirational. The new campaign, however, is part of the rise of the hapless, bumbling everyman. British people are responding with increasing cynicism to distant, demanding “stars” and with increasing warmth to “normal” celebrities who cheerfully admit their flaws.

Perversely, if you want to be a star nowadays – in TV, music or film – it helps to look and sound like your fans. It reassures them. Like many comedians, Mitchell and Webb do exactly that. Off-camera, they are amiable, witty, down-to-earth thirtysomethings with no burning desire to be rich and famous just for the sake of it. Rather like their audience, in fact. Mitchell even confides, “I’m quite glad we haven’t exploded the way Little Britain has.” And, in truth, they arguably don’t yet deserve to. Although Peep Show reveals them to be first-rate performers, their self-penned material has yet to reach similar heights.

Unfortunately, however, mainstream TV comedy abhors a vacuum – broadcasters, audiences and critics are always impatiently scanning the horizon for the next big thing. If you’re plonked on that pedestal too soon, before you’ve done something bold enough (Little Britain, The Fast Show) or brilliant enough (The Office, I’m Alan Partridge) to justify the billing, you risk being dismissed as derivative or overexposed. Even the award-winning Catherine Tate could end up in this trap, with reviewers saying of her second series – only a year after the first was widely lauded – that they were tiring of her old characters and couldn’t be bovvered with the new ones.
That’s the problem with TV comedy these days: you’re either “the new Little Britain”, or you’re nothing. It’s a shame that Mitchell and Webb are having the Little Britain tag prematurely thrust upon them. They seem more than prepared to work for it.

The new series of Peep Show starts on Friday on Channel 4 at 10.30pm