David Mitchell: 'I wanted to be a wizard. Then I wanted to be prime minister'

I'm not a natural risk-taker

And neither is Mark [Mitchell's character in Channel 4's Peep Show]. But I'm shy about revealing which other elements from his character are actually mine, as he's such a terrible, selfish loser. I console myself with the thought that at least I've always known what I wanted to do – Mark has no such clarity.

I don't want stuff

I'm not the sort of person who gets excited about getting, say, an iPad, or even a new house. I would rather have the time it takes to buy it all. But I do feel left out when friends start conversations about gadgets.

The Pythons, 'Blackadder' and Peter Cook got me into comedy

There was less of Cook on TV, but that was part of his cachet for me. There was something about the insolent slowness of his delivery that made you want to laugh, and he had this appealing mixture of establishmentarian and revolutionary.

I'm rather smug about the status of my smoking

For the best part of 20 years I've limited myself to the odd cigarette at parties, never more. It's just an occasional social thing for me.

I've had health kicks, but they don't last

I used to play badminton at school, and recently some friends started playing regularly as part of their health routine. I joined them once and I thought, "This is great, I'll do this twice a week for ever and be a fit man." Didn't happen.

If I was running a TV channel

I would see it as my job to routinely axe shows that nobody wants to make. There are loads out there. Take [David] Dickinson's Real Deal on ITV. First there was Bargain Hunt; it wasn't going to change the world, but it was a reasonable idea. Real Deal is a massive fudge; there was no need for it, but it was made as there's a system out there generating it.

The ambitions of kids need to be taken with a pinch of salt

I didn't stop wanting to be a wizard until I was 12, then at 15 I wanted to be prime minister; most kids at that age have a kind of monomaniacal ambition, I think.

Comedy is most powerful when it's about serious things

With my latest project, [the political satire show] 10 O'Clock Live , I'll be interviewing a politician each week and chairing a live panel discussion, which I hope gets to the root of what is annoying or threatening about the news during quite a difficult period. The great thing is that whenever politics takes a step in a worrying direction, it'll be good for the show.

Telling people what they want to hear is neither an effective nor a brave approach to life

When people pitch ideas to me, I say a sort of guarded yes, just to get the conversation to stop. Then I ring my agent to say, "Get me out of this." There was one show that I agreed to do and it left me thinking, "How the hell [did I end up doing this]?". Maybe mentioning it now is a subliminal way of getting off the hook.

I'm very fond of Cambridge

I had a great time there [while at university], particularly with [comedy group] the Footlights, and I visit every so often. But the day I wake up and think, "I need to go there for inspiration, or to remind me of my youth" is the day I won't go: those are the words of either a maniac or a horrendous pseud.

My rule for writing is never to sit down without knowing what i'm going to write

When I'm working with Robert [Webb], many of our ideas emerge from evenings in the pub, then we jot them down the next day at mine – in the afternoon, though, because of the pub the night before. We waste hours watching daytime TV, though the nearer the deadline gets, the less we watch, so there is a natural discipline somewhere. adam jacques

David Mitchell, 36, is a comedian and actor. His latest project is '10 O'Clock Live' which starts at 10pm on Thursday

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