Comedy Writer Jesse Armstrong on Writing Sitcoms ‘Peepshow’ and ‘Fresh Meat’


Jesse Armstrong
Jesse Armstrong

Jesse Armstrong is one of Britain’s hottest and most prolific comedy writers, best known for creating the hugely successful Channel 4 sitcoms Peepshow and Fresh Meat. He is a graduate of the University of Manchester where he met his writing partner Sam Bain. He also co-wrote political satire The Thick of It, Oscar-nominated In the Loop and the 2010 terrorism satire Four Lions.

Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals is Jesse’s debut novel in which a group of idealistic students head into the former war-torn Yugoslavia armed only with ‘the power of theatre’ and several sacks of rice. Jesse will be in conversation with Martin Doyle, Assistant Literary Editor of the Irish Times on Saturday night 30th May at 7.00pm at The Arms Hotel.

Q. So, the obvious first question – what’s it like to work on the set of a sitcom? It must be lots of fun.Peep Show

A. Hmm, well, it is sometimes. Often though it is quite boring. You see the same thing filmed lots of times. The Thick of It was a more exciting set – because there was improvisation happening, and lines being chucked in at the last minute. But that made it harder work to write on too.

Q. Is it a nine-to-five job?

A. I write to a pretty normal schedule 10-6 sort of day, though when I was writing my novel I often did it early – 6-8 and then did other writing through the day.

Q. How do you manage the team-work aspect of it?

A. I like collaboration. I’ve worked with Sam Bain for years on lots and lots of things Peep Show and Fresh Meat and Babylon included. We have a pretty well-oiled way of working, doing our plotting together, writing apart then re-writing each other’s stuff.

On Fresh Meat we have a team-writing operation and that’s very nice. Meeting up with a big bunch of nice writers and talking plots and ideas for a long time before we all go off to write our episodes.

Q. Which of the sitcoms did you most enjoy working on?

A. I’d say Peep Show first and foremost. And the early days on The Thick of It were very exciting, seeing how Armando worked and the cast contributing too. Me and Sam also had a great time collaborating with Simon Blackwell on The Old Guys. We laughed a lot during that process.

Q. How did you get into writing comedy/satire?

A. I worked for an MP for a while when I left University and started helping Rory Bremner the starist and impressionist with research. At the same time Sam and I wrote a sitcom script which got us an agent and we started to work on childrens’ TV shows.

Q. You have now written your first novel, Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals. How did you find the more solitary experience of writing a book?Love

A. Heaven and hell. Lovely when it’s going well and you’re the sole commander of the ship. Tough when you feel stuck and there’s no one to lend a hand. Also, the feedback takes so much longer to appear. I was away off writing it for a couple of years or so before I showed the finished article to my agent and editor.

Q. Have you been planning to write it for some time?

A. Yes I think I’ve had the idea percolating for ages, but it only clicked togteher a couple of years ago, who should be on this road trip and the tone which would let me write about the stuff I wanted to write about.

Q. Are you going to write another novel now or will you go back to writing sitcom?

A. Bit of both I hope. I love writing for TV and film but would like to write more prose too.

Q. What advice would you give to writers who are trying to break into the world of TV?

A. Write lots. Finish each project to the best of your ability. Traget where you send it carefully, and while it’s off, get on with writing something else so you have something else fun to think about.

Q. Is this your first time to Listowel Writers’ Week? What are you most looking forward to?

A. Yes. Looking forward to getting out of the UK in it’s post-election fug and visiting a part of Ireland I’ve never seen before.

To book a ticket for In Conversation with Jesse Armstrong please click here