10 Minutes With: Armando Iannucci, Talking Trump, Twitter And Centrist Dads

The man behind era-defining shows like I'm Alan Partridge and The Thick Of It joined us at Esquire Townhouse

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Armando Iannucci needs no introduction, but this article does so: he's just about the most important figure in British comedy over the past two decades. He's the mastermind behind TV and radio classics like I'm Alan Partridge!, The Thick of it, The Day Today, On the Hour and a number of other era-defining shows (along with some under-appreciated gems).

That's why we invited him down to Esquire Townhouse with Dior to deliver a discussion with his friend and The Death of Stalin (out 20 October) co-writer David Schneider. Afterwards, we stole ten minutes to ask him about Trump, Brexit and Twitter beef...

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Are you glad or annoyed that you left Veep before the emergence of Trump?

I'm relieved I'm not around in America doing stuff whilst Trump is there. Yeah, I find him funny, and I can do funny little rifts on him but fundamentally, I don't want him to be a figure of fun. I want people to think he is a dangerous, unstable narcissist.

Late night shows like Stephen Colbert have emerged as Trump's most influential critics.

It's interesting, those shows are almost becoming journalistic. John Oliver, Bill Maher, Seth Meyers and Samantha Bee. You know, their response to Trump is to dig around the news and come back at this guy who is saying everything's fake. They say: "Okay, how about this? You said this three years ago, why aren't you doing anything about that now?" The world's jumped the shark, and the best comedians seem to be the ones doing the research, like John Oliver who can deliver a whole 15 minutes each week on health, or the constitution, or prison reform.

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How much digging around did you do before you wrote The Thick of It?

You speak to people. I honestly said to them: 'I'm not out for the scandal. I'm out for the dull stuff. What time do you get in in the morning? What time do you get home? What are the people you work with like? If the editor of the Daily Mail rang, who would take the call?' And it's in the answering of those dull questions that you get a very real sense of who those people are and how they operate.

It was the same when researching for Veep. I wasn't saying 'who's got the money?', or 'who are the criminals?' Instead, I was asking how a Bill happens, and what a day in the Senate is like. Once you put these details into a story, that makes them believable.

Who's a politician you've always found funny, for one reason or another?

I think it was Ben Bradshaw. He was a very Blairite MP, but he had a huge quiff of hair and seemed very proud of it. I just had him down, probably unfairly, as this Blairite yes-man with a huge quiff of hair. He's still the MP for Exeter.

What does a successful politician look like in 2017?

They have to not look like successful politicians. Jeremy Corbyn, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson are all atypical politicians. They're messy, untidy, loud-mouthed – well, Jeremy Corbyn's not a loud-mouth. But they don't fit the mould – the Ben Bradshaw mould – and that's what makes you a success now. In America too, with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Have you heard about the 'Centrist Dad' insult being thrown around Twitter?

Yes, and it will come and go. I think centrist dads are proud of being called centrist dads, right? I think there's a difference between being in the middle, and trying to find the halfway point between the two, which is a bit dull. Or there's being radically centrist, which is saying there are very good ideas on both sides and you should adopt them. But you have to adopt them wholeheartedly, rather than water them down to just some dull bit in the middle. It is possible to be into nationalising the railways while also being slightly capitalist. You needn't be one or the other, and that's not so much being a centrist as being open to all ideas.

Do you think people are scared to voice their honest opinions on Twitter?

Yeah, that's the curse of social media. We only interact with people who share our opinion, and we're scared of people who voice something different. We're scared of being criticised, but we also don't like being disagreed with, so we unfollow and block them. We're falling out of the habit of actually debating, which is the problem with Brexit at the moment: all the leaders think they have the solution, so they won't discuss it with the other party. They're all convinced they're right and everyone else is wrong.

I do worry that there is a fear of debate. I'm not saying this applies to everyone, but if we're not careful we get in a position where I can say to you: "Because you disagree with me, I think you're wrong, and because you're wrong, I don't think you're entitled to voice your opinion, and I'd rather you just removed yourself from this room please, because I don't feel safe." That's the problem. We used to be able to have a discussion.

How do you think you would have acted on Twitter in your twenties?

I'd probably be setting up fake Twitter accounts, I don't know. Not parodies. Creating stories, and playing with the form. That would be interesting.

Would you go back into political TV writing?

The real power isn't necessarily with the politicians, it's with the big companies. Google. Facebook. It's slightly more difficult to identify the location of power, so that's the next thing to be looking at.

What's the one lost project you wished you'd gotten off the ground?

Oh heavens. I had this idea for a story about a woman who wakes up and finds out she's got the reflection of Ronnie Corbett. And that leads her to a life of crime, breaking into banks in such a way that she knows the cameras are trained on mirrors, and so they arrest Ronnie Corbett. Alas, we can't do that anymore.