Interview: Chris Addison

The star of In The Loop talks to about political comedies, irony, and why he’ll never vote Tory.

By Ian Dunt

There’s something about relationships on Twitter which makes you all dewy-eyed about life on Facebook, as if online friendships a couple of years ago constituted the last remnants of a more honourable age. Nevertheless, I started following Chris Addison on Twitter a couple of days ago, partly in preparation for the interview, and partly because my Twitter profile is embarrassingly non-descript, and I’m now anyone’s follower if they’ll have me.

The first thing that popped up was a monstrous picture of George Osborne, Alan Duncan and Oliver Letwin sat in the Commons, laughing and pointing at their opponents. There’s something unmistakeably posh and superior in their expressions, and the shot is so unpleasant it would make a perfectly decent Labour election poster.

Not a Tory then? “Not a Tory, no,” Addison replies, in a voice and tone that’s indistinguishable from his on-screen persona as Ollie in ‘The Thick Of It’, or Toby from ‘In The Loop’.

“It’s very difficult, if you were brought up as a child during Thatcher’s period, to ever contemplate being a Tory. There is no way I can physically bring myself to vote Tory. That will stay with me till I die.”

I ask if he’d consider joining any party and the answer (it “surrenders some of your thought”) seems somewhat detached. Is Chris as cynical about politics as In The Loop seems to be?

“I’m not sure the show is that cynical,” he replies. “It’s pretty harsh, but not entirely cynical. It’s about people’s weaknesses. The thing about politics is you hope there’s this class of people who can run things, who know how things work. That’s why people loved Obama – because he appears to be smarter than us. But as you go through life you realise it’s just us really. It’s just us and people like us who are running everything. The film is about the inevitable frailty of humans and what that does in big events.”

Did he do much research for the role? “Nope, none at all,” comes the refreshing response. “When I first entered that role I didn’t know why I was chosen. It was the third acting role I’d done so I was worried. I chatted with my wife and she asked what he was like. He’s trying to be a player, I explained, but he’s not, and the more I thought about it, I realised I was looking at the worst parts of myself. But then we were surprised to meet many Ollies. They’re predominantly around 23 – no life experience and plenty of ideas.”

Any political journalist will know exactly the kind of person he’s talking about. They are rarely the height of good company, or, for that matter, good politics. Westminster, and the party conferences especially, swarm with them. I ask him what he made of them, in a mildly conspiratorial manner. “They didn’t leave a terribly good impression to be honest.” Excellent.

Which brings us towards an issue audiences have been mulling over since well before TS Elliot put his anti-Semitic pen to paper: can you enjoy a work of art whose politics you don’t agree with?

“I like 24,” he answers. I spend the next few moment agreeing with him vociferously in my head, having dedicated much of my previous relationship to convincing my left-wing girlfriend it’s all ‘just a bit of fun’. Unfortunately, state-sanctioned torture and high body counts never fitted into her idea of a cosy night in.

“I always laugh at PJ O’Rourke, who is very much out of my political persuasion,” Addison continues. “There’s not a lot of right-wing comedy being produced. Occasionally they try to do it in the States. The guy who did 24 tried to do an antidote to the Daily Show (Comedy Central’s insanely popular liberal comedy talk show). But it was awful.”

That’s a recurring trend. From Bill Hicks and Ben Elton to Sarah Silverman and Mark Thomas, there’s a definite left-wing trend in good comedy. Maybe lefties are just funnier, I suggest.

“Ian Davidson is massively successful. Many right wing comics are more successful than most of the people you’re thinking of. Right wing sentiments sugar coated in irony are used an awful lot these days. Take Alf Garnet. Till Death Do Us Part’s creator, Johnny Speight, produced an absolutely brilliant left-wing tract. But people would come up to Warren Mitchell all the time saying ‘we love it when you say the racist stuff’. Patricia Routledge gets the same thing from people like her character in Keeping Up Appearances. And you think: ‘It’s you. You’re the women like that.’ That’s the problem with any irony. It requires people to understand.

“The question then is where does responsibility lie? With the comedian or the people who don’t get it? That’s hard to answer. I don’t know the answer to that.”

So what political comedy does he like? Alan B’stard (“big daft wonderful and grotesque”) comes close to the top, but is piped by Yes Minister. “You couldn’t do it now. There’s too much talking. The expressions on the characters is brilliant. It’s on now at night and I find myself watching it. I love it.”

As for Hollywood’s offerings, it seems Dr Strangelove beats Wag the Dog, Election, Dave and any other movie you care to mention, really. “Dr Strangelove is classic cinema, whether or not it’s politics. It’s a tremendous film.”

And with that, Chris Addison rushes off. With a new series of The Thick Of It out in the autumn, and a stand up tour starting in the spring, he has plenty to be getting on with. It’s alright though. I’m not offended. I’m following him on Twitter.

In The Loop is out now on DVD.