Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'? Alice Jones finds out

Around 10 years ago Chris Addison had a spot to fill at a stand-up night. It was the launch of Political Animal, set up by his friends John Oliver (lately of The Daily Show) and Andy Zaltzman in London, and Addison felt like doing something a bit different. So he put on a linen suit and some wire-rimmed spectacles and took to the stage in character as Dr Tristan Hardy, a right-wing columnist with some bracing views on immigration to share.

In the audience that night was Armando Iannucci. "To this day it remains the only time he's ever seen me doing live comedy," says Addison. "And it's the only time I've ever done a character on stage. I think it stuck in his head." A year later, Addison appeared on Radio 4's News Quiz, produced at the time by Iannucci, who told him that he was thinking of writing a modern Yes, Prime Minister. A few months after that, Addison found himself in a room with his idols Peter Capaldi, Chris Langham and Iannucci on the first day of read-throughs for The Thick of It.

Addison played special adviser Ollie Reeder – or as Capaldi's spin doctor Malcolm Tucker liked to call him, Andy Pandy, the anorexic Leo Sayer or Christopher fucking Robin – over four whipsmart series of the BBC satire. An odd mix of geek, bighead and occasional lothario, cherubic curls and spectacles hiding a lily-livered core, he was one of the show's favourites. Still, if he wanders into Westminster, he is mobbed like one of One Direction at an airport. On the last election night he went to a BBC party and even got a sneer from Alastair Campbell. "He just said, 'Oh. It's you.' I've never met him in my life but that was his opening line. He's so prickly about The Thick of It. He'll say, 'Well, you know it's very unrealistic. I find it boring. Bo-ring'. Like a 14-year old.'" He giggles.

As Ollie Reeder (far left), with Peter Capaldi, in 'The Thick of It' As Ollie Reeder (far left), with Peter Capaldi, in 'The Thick of It' The Thick of It came to an end in 2012. Addison does not think it will return – "Maybe a special if some subject comes up that Arm feels particularly strongly about…" – but it continues to shape his career. He is just back from Baltimore where he directed three episodes of Veep for series three. He directed some of the last series of Iannucci's White House satire too. And now he is the star and co-creator of a new sitcom with Simon Blackwell, writer on The Thick of It, In the Loop and Veep.

Trying Again is a romcom, but "a grown-up, non-fluffy, non-cosy" one, says Addison. "It's such an awful genre most of the time." Addison plays Matt, boyfriend of Meg (played by Jo Joyner, aka EastEnders' Tanya Branning); both are trying to move on from Meg's affair with her boss. "It doesn't fit the shape of what we normally see," says Addison. Elsewhere, romcom rules are broken by the setting – the Lake District, not London – the characters' jobs – she is a doctor's receptionist, he works in Kendal's tourist information centre – and regular, awkward therapy sessions. Think Him and Her but a little more grown-up, fraught and with more fresh air.

Addison is not an average romcom hero either. Before this, his only straight-ish role was in The Look of Love in which he played Tony Power, the sleazy editor of Men Only, opposite Steve Coogan's porn baron Paul Raymond. "It was SUCH fun to film," he grins. "Just a big laugh. We were drunk for pretty much the entire time." Don't they use Appletiser or something on set? "No, it was real champagne. We were phenomenally drunk." What about the clouds of cocaine? "We used stage cocaine. It's 100 per cent scientifically safe, but to this day I don't really know what was in it."

Trying Again was more challenging to film. "Playing Matt, there are lots of things I've never done as an actor. The Thick of It is not an emotional comedy, apart from the emotions of fear and anger," he says. On the whole, he is more at home improvising insults than pillow talk. "If you're a comic, you're always thinking, 'Where's the gag?' Ollie talked in jokes a lot because that was the only way I could respond. Playing Matt involved being quite open, playing aspects of being a person that I've never had to do before. My previous roles have been all very cartoony in their own ways."

Light relief: Chris Addison Light relief: Chris Addison Off-screen too, Addison is a bit of a cartoon. Today he is wearing a loud orange and turquoise lumberjack shirt with mustard and violet cuffs. He is tall, beanstalkishly so – as he puts it, he "looks like a child has done a collage with some Twiglets" – pink-cheeked, curly-haired and could pass for at least a decade younger than his 42 years. He talks very fast, and is quite camp. When he runs, he says, he looks like "four gay windmills".

Addison never particularly wanted to get into comedy. At Manchester Grammar School, and then at Birmingham University, where he studied English literature, he wanted to be a theatre director. After graduating, he was temping and unable to find theatre work, so started stand-up as "a creative outlet". It was a bold move, made bolder by his choice of the Frog and Bucket in Manchester for his first gig. It was 1995 and the city's comedy scene was on a high – Caroline Aherne, Steve Coogan, Craig Cash and John Thompson had all just broken through. "The first people through the door were Caroline Aherne and Peter Hook. I remember going up and doing five minutes to complete silence and Peter Hook just sitting with his chin on his hand, staring at me like I was a murderer. It was horrific, awful." Luckily, Dave Gorman was also there. "He introduced himself afterwards and said, 'There are some really nice jokes in there. This lot are shit. You should have another go.'"

It took him three months to try again, and then he was hooked. There is nothing in his family to suggest why this should be, although his mother went to drama school. "And my Dad's family are Jewish and comedy is a very Jewish thing so…" He spent a decade on the circuit, and was nominated for the Perrier Award in 2004 and 2005. His last tour was last year and he is not sure when he will find time to write another show. "Any comic will tell you the most terrifying bit is not the standing on stage. It's the beginning of the process with the blank page."

He still keeps his hand in thanks to Mock the Week. The panel show remains the thing that most people stop him on the street for. "Because it's on every night. Ev-ery. Night." What does he make of recent criticisms about its lack of female guests? "The kerfuffle?" he says, off-hand. Is the show really a macho zone? "I avoided doing it for years because it had the worst reputation. Awful. It reduced people to tears. I only did it because I was going back on tour and I had a lot of units to shift… And to my great surprise I enjoyed it. It isn't now the bear pit that once it was. It's very collaborative. Previously it was all about closing a subject down, having the final word. Bang bang bang." Does he think there might be too many panel shows on television? "Err. Well. Are they all thriving? If they are, it should be fine, shouldn't it? If there were too many, I think one or two wouldn't survive." Bang bang bang.

He is braced for criticism of Trying Again. "Very rarely do sitcoms get a good review straight off the bat." His first sitcom Lab Rats was cancelled after one series and reviews which ran the gamut from "not very funny" to "appalling". "I'm still very proud of it, actually. I'd love to remake it, there are so many things I'd do differently. It's absolutely full of jokes but doesn't have any emotion in it. I'd love to make a cartoon of it now." Of recent sitcoms, he likes Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Louie and children's shows, like Horrible Histories ("a fantastic sketch show that hasn't been scrutinised to death because it's for kids") and Phineas and Ferb. "There are far more interesting things happening in those sketch shows than there are in grown-up ones, for the most part."

That view might be coloured by his home life. He lives in Bromley with his wife, son and daughter, none of whom he uses as guinea pigs. "No. Never do that. It's bad enough being married to somebody in my job, you don't want to be making it worse." Do his children think he's funny? "Well, yeah, but the great thing I can do with my children, which I can't do with an audience, is tickle them. So I will always, always get the laugh."

'Trying Again' starts on Thursday at 9pm on Sky Living

Arts and Entertainment
Kristin Scott Thomas outside the Royal Opera House before the ceremony (Getty)
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?