Robert Popper Interview

Art & Culture

Last weekend, Robert Popper gave a performance at the Knock2Bag Christmas Party, alongside Kevin Aldon, Robin Gittins and his 'Look Around You' co-writer, Peter Serafinowicz. We caught up with Robert ahead of the event….

Robert, as well as all your connections in the UK comedy scene, you’ve also worked abroad With networks like Adult Swim, as well the DIY approach of shows like ‘South Park’ and ‘The Tim & Eric Show’, America seems to have a fairly prolific system for producing fresh comedy material. Do you think the opportunities for a UK comedy performer are more limited?
I think it's probably just as hard in the States as it is here to get comedy on TV. Adult Swim is one of the only places in the States where you can get really 'freaky' on TV whereas there are actually probably a few more outlets here. Basically, it's tough wherever you are. Give up now. Become an actuary.

Aside from your work on shows, you are also known for high profile phone pranks, in particular ‘Tangerinegate’ . This differs from your other telephone projects, such as ‘The Timewaster Phone Calls’, as it has more of a guerrilla comedy theme. Would you like your prank calls to be considered alongside your more (shall we say) professional work in your comedy bibliography, or are they more of an informal hobby?
They are definitely my hobby. Yes, it is a bit sad. But I love doing them. I guess it's just a creative outlet. I love the challenge of dialling a number, and never knowing what I am going to say or where the conversation might end up. But I am happy to have them viewed alongside my professional stuff, though. If they make people laugh, hoorah!

Did you have any repercussions from the aforementioned Tangerinegate or anything else for that matter? Anything that's got you in serious trouble along the way?
For about ten minutes I thought someone might knock on my door after my tangerine/Gordon Brown call, as it was covered by lots of papers. But luckily I survived.

Whether you’re writing, producing or starring in a piece of work, similar themes tend to arise from projects involving you. Whether it’s the awkward insecurity of characters in your sitcom work (The Inbetweeners, Peep Show) or the creepy, almost science-fictional feel of the ‘Look Around You’ series, a feeling of geeky discomfort lingers throughout your work. Is this a devise you self consciously employ for comedic purposes or a reflection of your own anxieties manifested through your characters?
First of all, I produced and then script edited Peep Show, and I script edit The Inbetweeners, so I can't take credit for devising those shows. I guess if there are themes you have noticed, or people have picked up on, that comes through my stuff, yes, you are probably correct. That is me you are seeing. I guess it's hard for me to stand back and observe myself. ‘geeky discomfort' – well, I have never really been that geeky actually. I don't play computer games, have only seen Star Wars once, and I have never dressed up as a zombie. Although, I do have a shortwave radio. Actually, I have three shortwave radios. All of them are in working order.

Rather than sticking to one area of comedy, on or off camera, producing or creating, you have done a little bit of everything. Is this to keep you sharp as an artist; to always be diversifying, never staying in the same place for too long?
Good question. I think in general I just like trying to be creative in different ways. I always looked up to people like Charlie Higson. People who wrote, produced, acted, wrote books, do music. I wanted to do that.

Is there anyone on the bill (for the event) that you’re looking forward to seeing? Somebody who you’re aware of but haven’t had the chance to catch live yet?
Honestly, it is an amazing bill. Obviously my best buddy, Peter Serafinowicz is the funniest man in the world. I love everything Kevin Eldon has ever done, John Shuttleworth has been a hero of mine for two decades. Fergus Craig live is fantastic, and Brian Grittins is grottily hilarious.

We featured the incredible 2016 trailers on the site recently too – I notice you'd posted about it on your site. In an overflowing world of online-ness how do you sort the wheat from the chaff? I'm increasingly finding it more and more difficult to keep up!
When I am stuck with my writing, I have a delve on the internet. I have lots of great pepole who follow my blog or tweet me with suggestions. So I get to see just about all the crap that's out there.

What have we got to look forward to in Popper world in 2012?
Friday Night Dinner series 2 will be out in the 2nd half of 2012. We're also working with Greg Daniels – the producer behind the US Office and loads of amazing US shows – to do a US version of Friday Night Dinner as well. I have been working with two brilliant comedians, Lorna Watson and Ingrid Oliver for quite a few years, and at the beginning of 2012, they have a new sketch series on BBC2 called 'Watson and Oliver'. I was the executive producer on that, which means I got to sit on a throne and eat grapes. Anyway, they're a really funny, talented double act. And I've also written a musical based on the life of Samuel Pepys sister, Jessica Pepys, who was rumoured to have built the first rudimentary aircraft 250 years before the Wright Brothers. The show opens in July at the Ambassador's Theatre in London.  It's called 'The Strange Story of the Writer's Sister who Yearned for Flight'.  Original music is by Peter Gabriel.

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