When News Satire Is beyond a Joke : LIFE ; Armando Iannucci, One of the Most Original Comedy Talents in Radio and Television, Is Taking Time off to Think about Things
Davies, Hunter, The Independent (London, England)
Armando Iannucci, funny name, funny guy, has had a good year. He produced and co-wrote two of the more original new television comedy series of the year, The Day Today and Knowing Me, Knowing You (the Alan Partridge show) and got a prize in the re cent British Comedy Awards. What for? "I'm not sure. They called it a Special Award. Perhaps it was for a lifetime's achievement, in which case it will be downhill from now on."
Joke. Well, partly. How can anyone aged only 31, in his first year making television comedy shows, be worthy of a lifetime award? On the other hand, the future could well be downhill, or sideways, or backwards. They are so clever, so clear-sighted, our new breed of comedy persons, they could move on and do anything. Or nothing. You can hear undiluted Armando on Radio4 at 3.30 this afternoon, and for the next three days, in a bijou series called In Excess, filling in at this funny, floating, weightless,timeless part of the year. He will just be himself, thinking aloud on various topics, such as money, and doing a few interviews with money people. Hard to explain, really. So let's not.
His best friends know him as Arm. "I've been called it so long I've forgotten it means a part of the body." He was born in Glasgow, of Italian parentage. His name, he says, caused no problems, growing up in Glasgow, because there were so many Italians around. "My grandfather, while in an internment camp during the war, cut Charles Forte's hair." Name dropper. He still has a Scottish accent, rather gentle and Kelvinside-ish, which appears more pronounced on radio than in what passes for real life.
His dad, who was born in Naples, came to Glasgow in 1950 and married his mother, daughter of an Italian immigrant. What did your dad do? "He ran a pizza factory." So he was middle class? "This concept of middle class or working class is so British - I wouldn't use it.
"Among Italians, someone who is a joiner is no different from someone who owns a restaurant. They are the same. The restaurant owner at any time might go back to being a waiter, or being a joiner. My father might have been involved in a pizza factory, but in reality he was a philosopher." Well, I'm glad we've got that straight.
Armando was sent to St Aloysius, a fee-paying Catholic school, where he turned out to be very, very clever, so much so that at 16 he was offered a place at Oxford. He was too young to take it up, so he went to Glasgow University for a year, then to Oxford at 17. What did you think you would do in life? "By the age of 17, I had decided not to decide." Oh stop being so clever, you know what I mean.
"When I was a wee boy, aged about 12, I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. I used to tape things like Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy on the radio, and act the parts to my friends. I loved a show called Atkinson's People on Radio 3. That was Rowan Atkinson. No one remembers it now. But when I got to Oxford, all I wanted to do in life was get a degree." So he did, devoting his whole time to getting a first in English. It was only when he started on his PhD thesis, religious language in Milton, still unfinished, that he returned to thoughts of comedy.
At college he began doing little one-man shows. Like, well, impersonating capital letters. Pretty easy, he says, except for Z and W which required the help of someone in the audience. He also impersonated Scottish football teams, asking the audience to shout out a name. "I usually had someone planted, to make sure it was mainly Scottish Second Division names, such as Queen of the South."
Then there was his impersonation of the Pope being swallowed by a giant pike. Could you do that for me now? "Not here," he said. We were in a restaurant, near the BBC. I said I was sure they must be used to such excitements, but he still refused. "A pikeswallowing the Pope envolves a great deal of running around and shouting, as you might well expect. …