Rob Brydon on comedy politics and dining with his co-star Steve Coogan for The Trip to Italy

Lazy criticism, women on comedy panel shows and intimations of mortality… As he chews the fat with Steve Coogan in another series of The Trip, the new prince of Saturday-night TV confesses that he has a lot on his plate

"Affable, that's what I am. I'm affable, I'm affable! I'm an affable man! But my public persona is even more affable than I actually am. I'm not as affable as people think…" So gabbles Rob Brydon, over a plate of pasta, to Steve Coogan in the first episode of The Trip to Italy.

The second series of Michael Winterbottom's low-key, largely improvised foodie travelogue has just begun on the BBC, and, as Brydon puts it, "It's very much like the first series." They drive, they eat in nice restaurants, they do impressions, and they bicker competitively – only where last time the cult comedy saw the odd couple tooling round the Lake District in the footsteps of Wordsworth and Coleridge, this time they're doing a Byron and Shelley round la repubblica.

The Trip's joy lies in wondering how much the on-screen "Rob" and "Steve" are like the real-life Brydon and Coogan. It works because we believe their relationship – all natural comic riffs, but also prickly, rivalrous and egotistical. It plays on their public personas: Coogan seems conceited; Brydon seems, well, affable. That he whinges about that persona is typical of the programme's blurring of reality and fiction.

In person, Brydon is affable indeed: full of enthusiasm and praise (and the odd celebrity name-drop), but careful and cautious with criticism or complaint. He chuckles at himself and his success, but also gets properly upset at people who declare certain comedians are categorically "not funny". ("A ludicrous statement! There's no logic, no sense to it. Just say: 'It's not to my taste.'") On the topic of family – he has five children, aged two, six, 14, 17 and 19 – he is genuinely utterly baffled when I suggest not every parent gets on with their teenagers: "Oh! Really? Well, I've been lucky. I adore them – they're the biggest thing in my life… I'm like a father to them!"

But if the Mr Nice Guy personality is grounded in reality, much of The Trip is invented. "Sometimes it's right on the money, it's exactly how I am; other times, not at all," explains Brydon. "The one-upmanship, the voices, the undermining each other – that's a fiction. Because that would be awful."

Which is a relief, really. More surprising, however, is that the friendship itself is invented: Brydon and Coogan weren't pals when they shot the first series in 2010, although they had a long-standing professional relationship. And sorry, super-fans: you're unlikely ever to spy them doing their Michael Caine impressions over a Sunday roast in real life. "He's not one of my friends in the business I seek out," says Brydon, unsentimentally. "In many ways we're very alike, in many ways we could almost be brothers – and then in other ways, we're very different," he adds. "Obviously, comedically we have very empathetic rhythms, we have a chemistry and a shorthand. [But] he's very opinionated, sure of his view of the world in a way that I'm not. I know it annoys him that I'm so undecided about pretty much everything."

 

 Yet the six-week shoot for The Trip to Italy may have drawn them together. Each night, Brydon and Coogan got to stay in the swish hotel where they'd been shooting, while the crew were packed off to more budget options. And the duo took to having another – unfilmed – dinner together each evening. "Those meals were far more reflective, empathetic, warm affairs. In fact, at one, or I think two, we ended up in tears – talking about life, and the passing of time, our triumphs and failures."

Brydon claims this didn't have an impact on the show, however, despite its constantly evolving, improvisational quality – and he insists that the TV show won't ever see Rob and Steve earnestly indulging in man-hugs and a good weep: "There's not much comic mileage in that – there's more in being in conflict with each other, annoying each other, competing with each other."

Indeed, while Italy may be sunnier than the damp Lake District, The Trip to Italy maintains the melancholic tone that developed during the course of their previous outing, and Brydon acknowledges that, "At its heart, it's a film about two blokes coming to terms with getting older and knowing that eventually they'll die."

For all that, though, The Trip to Italy largely props up Brydon's cheery public image – and it's one that certainly wins him work, from presenting the panel show Would I Lie to You? to the specially written role of Uncle Bryn in sitcom Gavin & Stacey to being hand-picked by Trevor Nunn to star in Alan Ayckbourn's A Chorus of Disapproval in the West End in 2012.

Brydon (right) with Steve Coogan in 'The Trip to Italy', in which the pair bicker their way around the country's restaurants over a period of six weeks Brydon (right) with Steve Coogan in 'The Trip to Italy', in which the pair bicker their way around the country's restaurants over a period of six weeks (Revolution Films)
When I ask whether he yearns to play a villain, he points to parts in "straight" dramas, about Napoleon (Heroes and Villains, 2007), and the critic Kenneth Tynan (Kenneth Tynan: In Praise of Hardcore, 2005). "I enjoy those roles, but you can only work with what you're offered," he says, before telling me about his new Saturday-night project, The Guess List, a gather-the-family game show, in which members of the public guess answers to win a prize, with help from celebrities.

So he's all over the weekend – and it is pretty rare to be in a cultish "slow-comedy" such as The Trip on a Friday night, then front a light entertainment show on a Saturday… "I'm amazed I get to do the range of work I do. There is a danger of 'Jack of all trades, master of none', and I don't think you'll ever get treated with particular reverence. But that's a price I'm happy to pay."

Game shows have the advantage of allowing him to stay near his family – with two young children by his second wife, it's important for Brydon to work near their west London home.

Not that he's forgotten those Welsh roots. When I ask if being Welsh has affected his comedy, he couldn't be more effusive, the accent suddenly springing up like a leek: "Ohhh, undoubtedly! Ohhh, entirely! You're the product of your gene pool and your upbringing, aren't you? Oh, yes. Oh, I'm Welsh, Welsh, Welsh."

Read more: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon's ego trip
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon back with many impersonations
'The Trip to Italy': Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back

Back to London, and Brydon – surprise! – only has positive things to say about his other presenting gig, Would I Lie to You?, the eighth series of which starts this spring. As well as the convenience of it being filmed in the capital, there's a bit of a bromance with his co-stars, comedians Lee Mack and David Mitchell. "We have a meal a month or so before we shoot the series, at [one of our houses], and it's been such a laugh."

Would I Lie to You? avoids the vexed issue of "where are all the female comedians on panel shows?" by inviting general celebs on – and Brydon suggests they're often better than stand-ups trying "to crowbar their shtick in". When questioned about what he made of BBC boss Danny Cohen's recent ban on all-male panels on comedy shows, he sighs, pauses, and looks very, very worried: "Any quote you give on this could come back to bloody haunt me… I think Dara [O'Briain] raised a good point when he said the danger now is that when you see two women on a panel show, you'll think, 'Which one is making up the numbers?'. And that's a shame." But, typical see-both-sides-Brydon immediately also expresses sympathy for BBC bosses, who get in trouble whatever decisions they make.

Panel-show politics aside, he feels it's a great time for comedy – both live, and on TV. "I thought Inside No 9 was fantastic, as was House of Fools… and those are two shows I'm so glad have been successful because it's talented, clever, funny people being told to 'do your thing'. I don't think there's been a lot of interference – and you've got really distinctive shows as a result."

A bit like, I suggest, what he and Steve have done with The Trip? He blinks, in that affable way, and says, "Yeah, I suppose so… I think you earn that, don't you, on your record? And that's how it should work: you earn the right to be a bit more experimental. You earn a bit of trust."

'The Trip to Italy' airs on Fridays on BBC2; 'The Guess List' begins on Saturday on BBC1

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future