The mastermind behind the shows that have defined British comedy for a generation, including Alan Partridge and The Thick of It, speaks to Sameer Rahimby Sameer Rahim / October 6, 2017 / Leave a comment
Listen: Rahim chats to Prospect Editor Tom Clark in our monthly podcast, Headspace
Over the past 25 years, Armando Iannucci has been at the heart of some of our sharpest comedies. As a writer and director, Iannucci has created defining satirical works: portraying the small-mindedness of a certain kind of Englishman (Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge); the media’s self-importance (The Day Today); and the mendacity of politicians (The Thick of It, Veep.) You can measure his influence by how often clips from his shows pop up on social media, illustrating, say, a celebrity faux pas—check out #AccidentalPartridge—or an interviewer’s attempts to stir conflict, see The Day Today sketch “War!” Whenever a politician makes a gaffe—Theresa May’s croaky conference speech, Boris Johnson stuck on a zip wire—it has become a cliché to compare it to The Thick of It.
Iannucci has caught the absurdity of the political class so wonderfully that you might think he is relishing the current chaos. But speaking to him at a west London café over tea and a homemade Jammie Dodger—a very Partridge-like touch—he seems unnerved. “People keep telling me, why don’t you do a Brexit Thick of It, but I think it would make me have a heart attack. The absurdity of what’s going on now is real, that’s why it’s frightening rather than funny.” Iannucci is a comedian with a deadly serious streak: he regularly appears on Question Time, and took to Twitter to urge young people to vote in the last election. On Brexit, he suggests a cross-party group of MPs should lead the negotiations. “If this is the biggest thing to affect Britain since the Second World War,” he says, “why don’t we have a coalition of ministers dealing with it, rather than Liam Fox who basically wants us to marry America, or Boris, God knows what he wants, or David Davis who just chuckles and says it’ll be fine.”
For his new film, Iannucci has swapped the machinations of democracy for the depredations of totalitarianism. The Death of Stalin recreates the dark farce that played out when the dictator died in 1953 and his apparatchiks jostled for the succession. It’s Iannucci’s most mature work—more a drama with jokes than a straight comedy, and one which has disturbing resonances in the new global age of the…