"This could be another way to save money on the budget,” chuckles Jesse Armstrong as he dangles one of ShortList’s handmade Mitchell & Webb marionettes for our photographer. He’s kidding (we think), but if he and his writing partner Sam Bain did decide to turn Peep Show into a crude puppetry programme, they probably could. And we’d probably watch. They may not be as ubiquitous as the show’s stars but creators Armstrong (sharp jacket, booming laugh) and Bain (glasses, dry one-liners) are the brains and heart of Britain’s funniest sitcom. And they’ve got an embarrassing tale or two themselves...
First things first: what can you tell us about series 7 of Peep Show?
Sam Bain: There’s the birth of the baby. We can reveal that.
Jesse Armstrong: Yes, I think we can. The fun thing for us this series is that there are quite a few set-piecey sort of episodes. The first one is the birth, with them going to the hospital and later on in the series, because of scheduling, we get to do a Christmas special and a New Year’s Eve special. So it was really fun to have those episodes built into the structure.
What are some of the most surreal on-set moments?
JA: Quite often there’s a little detail that should be funny in the final show but because it’s your job all the humour is kind of sucked out of it. So you’re all sitting around looking at some dildos going, “Which one is the funniest dildo? This one is quite a funny length but would it be funnier to have the balls on there too? Or is that too much?” [laughs]
What did you use for the dead dog Jeremy ate in Series 4?
JA: It was turkey.
SB: Turkey with some added stiff hairs.
JA: I remember we spent a lot of time looking for the right thing. The art department show us these dildos or dog legs, and we get to have a say in what works. It’s pretty important.
Some people think David Mitchell and Robert Webb also write the show. Does that annoy you?
JA: It occasionally happens but it’s a nice show for us because it’s still a bit cult and the people who like it tend to be comedy fans who know who’s behind something. Also, it never bothers us if people think they wrote it because in about three and a half seconds we set them straight.
SB: By handing over a printed and laminated sheet detailing our involvement.
Have Mitchell or Webb ever objected to a particularly embarrassing scene?
SB: They’re both understandably reluctant to do anything physically dangerous or anything involving getting cold or wet...
JA: They’re pretty good but you can see that they want to know that it’s definitely going to be funny if they are going to fall off a canal boat or something.
SB: The main objection from Rob during the Series 6 read-through was having to go to Croydon to film outside the flat.
JA: Also, anything where you have to eat they try to avoid. It’s fun on the first take but after that it can be a nightmare.
SB: The Christmas dinner scene took about two days to shoot so some of the actors were going, “Sh*t, I really wish I hadn’t eaten sprouts in that first shot because now I have to eat them for every take.” They ended up eating about 30 sprouts a day.
We imagine writers have a bit of anonymity. Have you ever had people accost you in the street?
SB: I had one weird moment when this woman looked at me and smiled as I was walking along the street. And I wasn’t looking particularly hot that day...
JA: You were. I bet you were sizzling!
SB: I got a tweet that day saying, “Sorry if I freaked you out when I recognised you on the street earlier.” I wouldn’t like that to happen on a regular basis. It’d be weird.
So you’d never star in your own projects like Ricky Gervais does?
SB: I’d be up for it but Jesse won’t let me because I’m a terrible actor.
JA: [Laughs] He’s actually 20 to 30 times better than Ricky Gervais but I won’t let him act because it would throw our power balance out of whack.
SB: We have occasionally laughed at the horror of one of us wanting to be an actor and wanting to be in a show we’ve written. “Do you think I could play this role as the dashing lead character, mate?” [laughs]
Do you identify more with Mark or Jez?
JA: We both have to write for each of them and I think part of the success of the show is that most people have a bit of Mark and Jeremy in them. The extrovert side and the introvert side. So we can write both the characters and know what it’s like to be a bit of an idiot who says too much and an uptight freak who says too little.
What was the last thing either of you did that was a bit Mark or a bit Jez?
SB: The other night at the Peep Show wrap party, funnily enough. I was dancing enthusiastically and attempted a high kick but my trousers weren’t really capable of that so they ripped at the crotch. Fortunately, it was late on in the night so I could retire from the dancefloor, almost like I’d planned it. But at that point I thought, “I am Jeremy.”
Read part two here