Your next series, Extras, about struggling actors, debuts on the BBC this summer, and NBC just launched an Americanized version of your hit British show The Office. How did such an expert on the drudgery of working life get into TV?
I worked in an office for ten years, which is a big bag of observations, and I had lots of themes I wanted to get off my chest: wasting your life, TV itself, celebrity, bad comedy. I used David Brent to show what bad comedy is: catchphrases, begging for laughs, being too desperate. I decided to really delve into all this stuff, even though I barely knew what I was doing. It could have gone horribly wrong, because I’d never written, acted or directed before. I remember when I watched The Office first go out in England, I thought, “God, we’ve made a mistake — no one is going to watch this.”
But people did watch, so why give them only six episodes a season?
Because I’m very, very lazy, and I have to have a lie-down after six episodes. People in London thought we were quite mad, quitting after only twelve shows. This time around, with Extras, I’m actually thinking of cutting it to five.
Are you responsible for the faux-reality trend in shows like Arrested Development and Fat Actress?
Actually, my influences are really from your side of the pond — shows like Larry Sanders. I’m obsessed with excruciating social faux pas and the minutiae of human behavior. Brits love that sort of awful embarrassment, and Americans like psychotherapy, so they meet at the same point.
How does your own personality compare with David Brent and Andy Millman of Extras?
Well, David was desperate to be accepted — that’s not me. Andy is much more misanthropic, so I’m much closer to him. I have plenty of pet hates. I can’t stand people scraping their plate or slurping soup. I can’t stand waiting in lines. I hate people talking inanely about The Lord of the Rings. I hate people whistling. But I’m not like this because I’m famous. I’ve always been a grumpy bastard.
Thankfully you’re funny, too. Got any good jokes?
I don’t really tell jokes. I like to annoy my friends as opposed to making them laugh. The forms of psychological torture totally depend on the individual, but as for the physical, head squeezing seems to work.
You’re a TV star, you’ve written a best-selling book (Flanimals), you’re being immortalized on The Simpsons, you were in a New Wave band in the Eighties. For a guy who does so many things, what’s closest to your heart?
I think music’s my first love, before comedy and film. I tell you what — I’ll get back into that when I can get back into the clothes. I think I was about 135 pounds then. Although there’s Meat Loaf — he’s still rocking and he’s got my figure.