Dylan Moran, a Perrier Award-winning stand-up comedian, did not quite match Daniel Day-Lewis or Robert De Niro in the intensity of his preparation for his first acting job, in Simon Nye's new sitcom, How Do You Want Me? He did not, for instance, spar for weeks on end with Barry McGuigan or spend months studying for a New York taxi-driver's licence.

"I wasn't hugely interested in trying to get across a cathartic or deep or purgative performance," Moran blithely admits. "A lot of the time I was trying to calculate how not to make myself look like an arse. In the company of people cutting the mustard, you start to act like a one-dimensional twit. Everybody hates bad acting. I'll have to watch it like people watch eclipses - through several pairs of dark glasses."

I don't think that will be necessary. Although snipers will no doubt already be taking aim at the huge target on his back marked "yet another stand-up comedian attempting to make it as an actor", Moran pulls it off with panache in How Do You Want Me? He has the priceless ability that many straight actors would give their Equity cards for: timing.

The premise of the series is that Moran's character, Ian, is seriously disgruntled because his new wife, Lisa (Charlotte Coleman), has dragged them away from his beloved big-city life to live among her frankly barmy family in the sticks. He's not so much a fish out of water, as a shark. Lying in bed with his new wife, he peruses the local paper. "Bus-shelter too small and dark, claims passenger," Ian deadpans, adding after a comic beat, "now that really gets the adrenaline going, doesn't it?"

He goes on to tease her that he has applied for the job of "village whore", for which he'll be paid "three grand a year [pause]. Or five if I agree to wear a Barbour and smoke a pipe while I do it."

Even when apparently bored rigid, Moran's eyes (and dimples) betray a tell-tale sparkle. "I tried to put as much emphasis as I could on the comedy," he affirms. "That's all I know, and it's how I felt secure. That is a limitation, but sometimes comedy performers tend to be far too serious. They either act like statues or they overdo it with this Sturm und Drang thing. They want to leaven it a bit."

As he did so successfully with Men Behaving Badly, Nye has again tapped into the zeitgeist with How Do You Want Me? The series plays on the dream nurtured by all townies of getting away from it all in a tranquil countryside idyll. For urbanites, Moran reckons, moving out of town is "the ultimate state to arrive at. You think `one day we'll leave all this behind'. But once you get to your desert island, you begin to see the other person's blackheads and fissures much more clearly because there's nothing else to look at. People's weaknesses come out in an alien environment, because they're on the back foot."

It was Nye's acuity as a writer which was the principal attraction for Moran. "Men Behaving Badly is very conventional and very laddy, but that doesn't matter if the gags are good," the comedian asserts. "The best series could be set anywhere and be about anything - as evidenced by Seinfeld. There's a definite streak of cruelty about How Do You Want Me? - people say what's on their mind more than in other sitcoms. I was drawn to that. Also, there's no learning or mushiness at the end of each episode. People are quite dreadful to each other. Everybody gets to be a prick - which I like."

This sitcom looks like a smart career move for Moran. As a stand-up, he blazed a trail at the Edinburgh Festival in 1996 - this newspaper called him "godlike". By last year, however, critics seemed to be tiring of his rambling, late-night-in-a-bar stage-persona.

Moran himself concedes that he needed a break from the demands of the circuit: "I'm not bored of stand-up, but I can only bear so much repetition. It's very good to go away and come up with a proper show and not some Frankenstein's Monster of what you've done before."

He now sees the Perrier as something "transparently dismissable. It shunts you along. In crude terms, you get more money and people who don't like you are nicer to you. You can have so many more false relationships with people - that's gratifying. It's all grist to the career mill. But all prizes are meaningless. Entertainment is the most self-congratulatory industry in the universe. People walk around with this fixed rictus on their faces, and they're constantly breaking each other's spines by patting each other on the back so much."

During his spell away from the circuit, Moran has found time to pen "a non-fiction book about love. It's a spoof etiquette book about that dread word, `relationships'. If someone says to you, `I want a relationship' it makes you want to hit them. It also seems to disqualify them from ever having one. It's just a nice way of saying, `I wish someone would talk to me and put their hand in my pants'."

Alongside Sean Hughes, Ardal O'Hanlon and Owen O'Neill, Moran is surfing a wave of trendy Irish comedy - a fact he's typically acerbic about. "Auden said that poetry is the only artform we haven't yet learnt to consume like soup. Comedy's like soup. Irish comedy is just the carrot and coriander of the month. What will it be next month? Kurdistan comedy?"

Moran may be cynical, but at least he reserves his greatest cynicism for himself. When he declares at one point that "I'm permanently fascinated by people's relationships," he brings himself up short with a laugh. "I sound like a polytechnic lecturer in sociology. As I talk, I can feel the cardigan encircling my waist."

`How Do You Want Me?' starts on Tue at 10pm on BBC2