Turn on Channel Four these days and chances are you’ll see comedian Richard Ayoade doing a version of the nerdy character he played in The IT Crowd. Whether it’s riffing on a late-night comedy quiz, playfully haranguing a fellow comedian in a semi-exotic locale, or presenting the rebooted Crystal Maze armed only with light sarcasm and a wooden hand on a stick, Ayoade has perfected his endearingly awkward persona.
But what makes Ayoade different from your average (or even above-average) light entertainer is his raised-eyebrow (or even raised-highbrow) scepticism about whatever he’s appearing in. Surely, his stiff-suited manner conveys, he’s above all this? And surely you, dear viewer, shouldn’t be speeding through clips of 8 Out of 10 Cats on your iPhone when you could be savouring, say, French New Wave Cinema?
What Ayoade would rather be doing is making French New Wave cinema. His first film, Submarine, was a homage to early Truffaut, as well as the films of Wes Anderson. Except instead of Paris or New York, it’s set in Swansea. (With a cracking soundtrack by Alex Turner.) His second film, 2013’s The Double, was a dystopia about a man whose life is thrown out of kilter when his sinister doppelgänger turns out to be better at his job and more successful with women than him. To preserve his sanity, he kills him. You can see why Ayoade was attracted to the Dostoevsky novella he adapted. A similar discomfiting duality energises his own on-screen personae—the nerd and the show-off. And after spending 48 hours in Jordan with David Baddiel cracking jokes about falafel, Ayoade could hardly be blamed for wanting to destroy—or at the very least sarcastically undermine—the conventionally successful Richard Ayoade.
The Double didn’t do brilliantly at the box office and Ayoade hasn’t made a film since. Instead he has produced three books on film for Faber that confirm him as an acute critic. This being Ayoade, though, his books do a very good job of disguising their perceptiveness through a surreal format. Ayoade on Ayoade parodied the often ball-achingly pretentious directors on directors series Faber also publishes; The Grip of Film delved into popular movies via another double, film fan Gordy LaSure, a man who “doesn’t just shoot from the hip, he shoots from…