Interview: The Peep Show boys discuss Magicians

Have you always wanted to be comedians?

Mitchell: No. I sort of thought about it when I was a teenager and I became serious about it when I was in my first year of university.

Webb: Yeah, I think about 13 or 14 and watching a sitcom. It was the not particularly good sitcom “Home Sweet Home”, which starred a young Martin Clunes. I thought that looks easy and I could get paid for doing that and it looks quite fun. People seemed to think I was funny at school, when I was in the right mood. So it became a secret thing I wanted to do.


Webb: You didn’t tell your parents that’s what you wanted to do, their hearts would sink. I told them I wanted to be a teacher, journalist or something to do with computers – anything they didn’t know anything about.

How old were you when you finally told them?

Webb: I think my dad knew when I was about 18 or 19.

So is Martin Clunes one of your heroes?

Webb: No, not really. I could have been watching something good, but I wasn’t.

So who are your heroes?

Webb: well, I grew up watching repeats of Fawlty Towers, The Young Ones and Blackadder.

Mitchell: I loved Monty Python as well. Yes, all the usual good suspects!

Do you think it’s hard to be funny?

Mitchell: Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s impossible. If you’re making a show, you have to give yourself enough time so that you can have purple patches to get enough material so you don’t leave it all till one afternoon when you might be in a bad mood. I think there’s nothing worse than trying to force yourself to write something. If you say to yourself, I’ve got to write something now, that’s good; it’s terrifying and unlikely to happen.

Are you writing anything at the moment?

Mitchell: We’re writing a sketch show, I’m pretty sure we have too much stuff, so we don’t have to shoot everything we’ve written. With something like Peep Show, you can’t write 12 episodes, shoot them all and only use the six you like best, you know. I imagine that’s the same with stand up as well: you generate more material than you need.

Would you ever do stand up?

Webb: No. We got the opportunity to do stand up and neither of us ever did, so I think that pretty much sums it up. I’d probably be too scared. It doesn’t seem like a very fun way of doing it really. You’re up there on your own where as with acting, you’re always surrounded by people.

Would you ever do a live show?

Webb: We’ve done a live show where we play characters, but not ones where we talk to the audience.

Mitchell: It’s the microphone and where all you’re doing is telling jokes and there’s no character and there’s no story and that is terrifying and never the sort of comedy I’ve particularly been into. It’s not Monty Python, it’s not Blackadder, it’s another genre that I think cooler kids than me are into. It wasn’t even something that I became properly aware of until I was 17 or 18 and I could take it or leave it.

Would you ever do anything serious?

Webb: Yes, we’d like to do lots of different things. Well I would, happily, if anybody wanted me, pop up in a drama or a film.

Mitchell: I think it’s unlikely for someone to want both of us in a serious thing together. I don’t think we’d rule out the possibility, but I think there are many examples of comedians popping up in something and being surprisingly good, but there aren’t many examples of double acts popping up in something and it being good. Although apparently Morcombe and Wise played themselves in an episode of The Sweenie.

What things inspire you to write?

Mitchell: Things that I write about are things that make me angry not things that make me laugh. I try and write sketches about things that anger me, in a way that is funny. If I wrote about something that was funny in real life, whether it was a tramp falling in a bin or whatever, it would be like stealing to just write: “Enter a tramp. He falls into a bin.”

So it’s a kind of therapy for you then?

Mitchell: Yeah, yeah, definitely. You feel in a way, that at least you’re doing something about that which annoys you.

In Magicians were you allowed to change your characters to suit yourselves at all?

Webb: No Jesse and Sam (Armstrong and Bain, Magicians writers) have been writing characters for us for a few years now, so the characters - although they aren’t like Mark and Jeremy particularly - are the same kind of thing that they know we can do. So no, we never have to poke them much!

What did you do to get into character? Did you have to learn magic?

Mitchell: We learnt the few we had to do on camera –

Webb: But no more!

Mitchell: It really takes years to become properly adapt at doing these things. You know, there’s been people practicing in their bedrooms their whole lives and you can’t fake that after a couple of weeks practice. We just learnt the tricks we do on screen and they worked out ways of shooting it so that it looked ok!

So you didn’t have to follow magicians around?

Webb: No, we had a magician that helped us to learn the things we had to do, but no, there wasn’t that level of prep.

Mitchell: It was more the learn your lines and turn up kind.

Was it a laugh to film or was it quite serious?

Mitchell: Compared to Peep Show or our sketch shows, it was quite relaxed. We weren’t really in much of it together so there were longer moments without each of us in and we had a bit more time alone and things. And because it was a film, albeit a low-budget one, we had a lot more time to film things. So it was quite fun. We all went away and we were all staying in the same hotel and a lot of camaraderie came from that, so considering the long hours and six day weeks, it was quite relaxing.

How was it making the transition from TV to film?

Mitchell: It was very, very similar for us. For the writers it was quite different, trying to write a story that went over a couple of hours rather than writing a half hour story. But the process for an actor was incredibly similar.

Was Magicians having a laugh at any other films out recently?

Webb: No, that was a bit of a coincidence really, Jesse and Sam started work on the film about four years ago, so they didn’t know that films like The Prestige would be out at this time, so no not really.

Mitchell: there must be loads of references that I’m not even aware that I’m taking part in!

One of the main characters accidentally kills his wife while performing a magic trick…

Mitchell: No, I didn’t know that at all! I suppose they thought the market was right as this time and thought they might as well do it now.

Are you planning to make any more?

Webb: Yeah well, if Jesse and Sam just get on with it we might do another one in four year’s time! I gather there are other ones in the pipeline. Or if anyone else wants to give us a job…

Mitchell: We’re pretty unlikely to write our own screenplay anytime soon. We enjoy writing sketches, but I think it is very different for a writer to do a whole film and I think it lends itself less well to comedy. In a sit com, everything can reset itself each episode and the characters don’t need to change and I don’t think that’s very satisfying in a film.

Have you ever had to do any uncomfortable or embarrassing scenes?

Mitchell: Rob has to spend quite a lot of time naked.

Webb: Yeah. That’s really no more embarrassing that you would imagine.

Mitchell: When we were doing Magicians, there was this bit at the end where I kiss Jessica Stevenson and at first it was shot from behind us with the whole audience in view. A room full of strangers. I thought it would be shot the other way, without all of the strangers watching, so that was pretty awkward, but –

Webb: No worse than kissing me, surely?

Mitchell: Actually yes. Because I was allowed to be like “I’m hating this” and so I could just go rigid. You had to look like you were enjoying it.

Webb: We got through that in one shot, I made sure of it.

Mitchell: But in this one, I’ve got to look like I’m into it and I think looking like you’re into something and a little bit sexy, in a way that people are going to want to watch as part of the story, that’s something I will never make my speciality. In Peep Show, my character is supposedly having sex, but it’s in a way that is going badly and no one’s really enjoying it, so that’s a lot easier to play, you’re playing for laughs. What I’ve never had to do and I hope I never will, is to look like I’m doing good sex!

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