Entertainment & Arts

Comedy writer Robert Popper on Tangerine gate

Robert Popper
Image caption Robert Popper says his career highlight was working on South Park

Award-winning comedy producer, writer and actor Robert Popper has helped create some of the most popular British shows on TV in recent years.

He has worked on The Inbetweeners, Peep Show, The IT Crowd and South Park.

But he is best known for writing and starring in the mock BBC documentary Look Around You.

Here he talks about his new series, how he almost upset Gordon Brown and how bombarding Steve Coogan inspired him to write comedy.

Friday Night Dinner begins on Friday, what is it about?

The show is about two boys in their 20s who go round and see their family every Friday night for dinner.

It's kind of semi-autobiographical as I used to go and see my parents quite a lot on Friday nights.

What I'm trying to capture is how when you don't live with your parents anymore, you go home and after a while, you just want to leave because of the constant low level annoyance we all have with our parents. They drive us mad.

Have your parents seen it?

Yes, they've been fine with it. The dad in it is quite similar to my dad.

You have worked on a lot of popular shows - what has been your highlight?

South Park was amazing, Just being in a room with Trey Parker talking in a Cartman voice was a highlight.

I didn't tell him that, but I was sat there thinking "I wish my friends were here and I could tape this".

Do you worry with a new show about what the critics will say?

Yeah, I think everyone does. Sometimes I read reviews, sometimes I don't.

I try and do my stuff with a bit of integrity - I don't want to do things that I do for the sake of it.

Most of the things I do I like myself. That's all you can really do.

Just try and express your comedic voice in whatever way - whether it's a book, a phonecall, or a sitcom, that's what I try and do.

Has there been anything you have found a challenge?

Not for a long time. But there was a thing that I did with Matt Lucas and David Walliams about 12 years ago, which didn't turn out very well.

It was called You Are Here, it was a 45-minute one-off special.

It was done around the same time as The League Of Gentlemen, but they did it properly.

Ours was set in a village but it wasn't very good and theirs was brilliant.

How did you start out writing in comedy?

I used to write mad letters to Steve Coogan who was my hero at the time.

I would write to him as Alan Partridge and send the letters in gold envelopes.

He wrote back and said he really liked my stuff, so it gave me the confidence to try and get a job and I ended up working on the Comic Strip Presents... as a runner.

Do people write to you for help?

Yes they do. I try and help them as much as I can. I'm always keen to help.

Image caption Steve Coogan inspired Popper to start writing comedy

Your website has a whole section of prank phonecalls you make, how do you keep your nerve?

I never laugh. I can't remember when I have laughed. I don't plan them, I am just testing my brain and where it will go.

I'm never nasty, I would feel bad if I did that, I never try and put anyone down or make them look like idiots.

One of my favourites is when you see a van or coach that goes past with the sign "how's my driving?"

I phone them up and tell them their driving is very good. I just like the fact that some guy will go back to the depot and say he was told his driving is good.

Has it ever got you into trouble?

I have been banned from one radio station. Actually, I once got called back by Radio 5 live who were really narky with me.

I did a silly phonecall with them and then they phoned me back and said: "we know who you are".

You were responsible for a minor hoax regarding Gordon Brown last year, which has become known as Tangerine gate, what happened?

LBC Radio were talking about Gordon Brown's alleged bullying, so I phoned in and I got through.

I told them I had met Gordon Brown when he came to my work and he lost his temper and picked up a tangerine that was in my fruit bowl and threw it, hitting the lamination machine in the factory and it got stuck and broke the machine.

I told them he got so annoyed that he shouted at the woman that gave him the tangerine and called her a "citric idiot".

It ended up in some of the newspapers, did you get into trouble?

I thought I'd get into trouble, but I didn't.

I basically laughed myself to sleep, I had to take myself swimming to stop myself laughing.

Friday Night Dinner starts on Channel 4 on 25 February.

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