Tuning in to the loop
Armando Iannucci is certainly one funny man, writes Christina Patterson, but he's also really very angry
If you've ever laughed at Alan Partridge, or The Thick of It, or In the Loop, you should be pleased that chastity's a bit of a challenge.
"The poverty I could sort of cope with, actually," says Armando Iannucci, "but the chastity and obedience. . . I think I just decided that it was a ridiculous career path."
Well, thank God for that. Thank God that the man who nearly became a Catholic priest opted instead for the career path of ridicule.
For Armando Iannucci, son of a Neapolitan-Glaswegian patrone of a pizza factory, bestrides the world of British comedy like a colossus. He is political satire's messiah.
For a colossus he is, it's true, quite small. He is also balding, with a big nose, sticky-out ears and dark, glittering eyes. And for a God, he uses the f-word really rather a lot.
But perhaps he's been influenced by his characters. Malcolm Tucker, the bulgy-eyed, throbbing-veined cluster bomb of invective who exploded on the screen in The Thick of It, and then again in In the Loop, scatters expletives as liberally as the saliva that spurts out of his extremely foul mouth.
He has a government to run, for God's sake. A country, and then a war. And he is surrounded by mindless morons who are running around and getting in his way.
If his creator is less foul-mouthed and less bulgy-eyed, that doesn't make him any less angry. It takes anger to produce satire as biting as In the Loop.
Iannucci has been casting a cool, quizzical gaze on the vagaries of our culture since abandoning a PhD on Paradise Lost. Milton would, I think, have approved. He knew, more than anyone, that the devil has all the best tunes.
The tunes in his journalism -- collected in a book entitled The Audacity of Hype -- vary from the mildly annoying to the janglingly discordant.
The tonal range extends from gentle teasing to serious alarm and white-knuckled rage. This is about the war in Iraq. It's the one bit of the book that isn't funny, and it's what pervades In the Loop.
The question, of course, is whether the hilarious, horrific, hotch-potch of events in the film, which surrounds the lurch of the American and British governments to a war in an unnamed country for no reason other than a whim couched as political expediency, bears much relation to events in "real life".
And the consensus appears to be that it does.
Iannucci, for all his wild forays into the surreal, is fundamentally serious and has, it's clear, a "moral compass". So where does it come from, then?
Iannucci wriggles. "I don't know," he says. "I mean, I've always been someone kind of interested, reading a lot of books -- I grew up feeling a little bit geeky. I wore terrible clothes. So maybe I've become more attuned to hearing those noises."
Today, it has to be said, he's looking rather smart.
"I am," he agrees, "because I was having a photograph of myself taken.
"Recently I've had to think about it, because we were doing premieres and stuff. I rang the costume woman who does The Thick of It and we went shopping and I bought my first designer suit. Armani. It cost a fortune!"
He was, he says, at "some swanky penthouse glass-rooftop-Manhattan-skyline apartment full of beautiful young things" when "someone with a camera and a microphone" actually asked him what he was wearing.
"I said 'Armani' and she went, 'very nice!' and I was, like, 'Crikey'."
While his head might appear to float in a cloud of surrealism, his feet are very firmly on the ground.
They have to be when what you do is comedy, because comedy, perhaps more than any other art, is about instant failure or success.
"If it's not funny," he says, "it's been a waste of time."
In the Loop is out on DVD/Blu-ray on August 24. The Audacity of Hype is published on September 4