Matthew Phelan

Interview: Peep Show Co-Creator Jesse Armstrong

| 9 comments

Jesse Armstrong is one of the co-creators and writers of the BAFTA-winning BBC sitcom Peep Show. (A BAFTA is like a British Emmy.) Now entering its sixth series, with a US version in development at Spike TV, Peep Show is a funny, but cringe-inducing, depiction of the lives of two twenty-something flat mates, played by past TSOYA guest David Mitchell and comedy partner Robert Webb (above). Its first season recently became available in the US on Hulu. No less an authority on UK comedy than Ricky Gervais called it "The only British thing that I was really blown away by in the last few years."

Armstrong has also written for other acclaimed television series, including the sketch series That Mitchell & Web Look and the political satire The Thick of It.

MaxFun Contributor Matthew Phelan spoke with Armstrong from the UK.

Matthew Phelan: You've said that you and co-creator, Sam Bain, and the show's stars [David] Mitchell and [Robert] Webb, met in something called a "writing team experiment" within the BBC …

Jesse Armstrong: Yeah. [laughs] It was fascinating because there is a definite mystique around American writing techniques in the UK--the long runs, the more successful audience figures. We have a problem getting mainstream comedies to work and people often think that it may be something to do with [not using] the team system. I think there are interesting things about having teams of people on a show, but I definitely don't think it's a magic bullet.

So, this was a really ill-thought-through plan to create a British, team-writing situation. The people behind it thought that, to do a team show, you got six people (in this case who didn't know each other) in the room with a producer and a one-line idea--which was, "What if there was house that was squatted and these people all lived together." We wrote the script between the six of us. Each taking, one sixth of the script and we came up with this horrible, kind-of "Frankenstein's monster" as anyone would imagine. Anyone with any knowledge of the US system knows that you still have a show creator who writes the pilot, sets the tone.

So, that was disastrous, but we went into it not knowing David [Mitchell] and Robert [Webb] and came out knowing them quite well, as we sniggered behind our hands and went, "Oh, god. This is terrible what we're doing, isn't it?"

Click "Read More" for more with Peep Show Co-Creator Jesse Armstrong, including audio of the full interview.

Syndicate content