Interview: Chris Addison, comedian

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MORE than a year since In The Loop premiered at the Glasgow Film Festival, Chris Addison continues to be kept awake at night by Peter Capaldi evoking blue murder. Touring his first show of all new material in five years, he's been listening to his co-star narrate Ian Rankin's assassin mystery Witch Hunt while he drives. Is he experiencing withdrawal symptoms, missing the lash of that abusive Celtic tongue?

"There are bits where Pete is voicing characters and they're like those he does messing about on set, so that's occasionally jarring," Addison explains. "But he's brilliant at it and the story's so good, eventually I forget it's him. It gets me through."

Despite Addison's recent forays into acting, sitcom writing and raising two young children – one of whom periodically interrupts our telephone conversation like a tiny Tucker-in-waiting – he remains a gigging stand-up at heart.

Now playing to the biggest crowds of his 15-year career, the remarkably boyish 38-year-old has forsaken his "smarty pants" mini-lectures on evolution, civilisation and science that garnered him two Perrier Award nominations and made him a recurring fixture on Radio 4, for a show he maintains is much more loose and personal.

His return to stand-up coincides with "the dark blue sun rising, there's no doubt in my mind that there'll be a Tory government after the election". He muses that this "literally means I'm out of a job, I assume" in regard to Loop's BBC television forerunner The Thick Of It, for which he has played government "policy wonk" Ollie Reeder for two series. The show's creator Armando Iannucci has rubbished reports there will be an election night special in May, but the third series, due for broadcast later this year, will be eagerly anticipated regardless.

"There was an election when we started The Thick Of It in 2005, but politics just weren't interesting back then," Addison recalls. "Our show was about the day-to-day, internal workings of a minor government department, it wasn't a broader, satirical take. All that changed with the specials. By the time we came to shoot the last series, politics was really high up people's agendas and that's before the expenses scandal, the sense of the Tories being back to something approaching full strength, the build-up to the Iraq inquiry, all things that have contributed to the feeling that politics is exciting again because something may change. The show has started to mirror what's happening much more than it used to."

With prescient timing, Addison has recently switched sides to play a "Cameronian control freak" headmaster in E4's popular teen "dramedy" Skins.

"God bless them for that," he laughs. "They wanted a Cameron character in the way that (his character Professor David) Blood's predecessor, Harriet, was very much a New Labour-type."

The Thick Of It's Reeder was Addison's acting debut. "To this day, I still don't quite know how it happened," he says. "I felt desperately uncomfortable to begin with. I thought 'I have no tools here, no frame of reference, I genuinely don't know what I'm doing. This is just a nightmare'. But I was with a group of people who were willing to teach me, and who were incredibly supportive, especially Peter. So now I feel I can claim some acting chops. But I still feel a bit of a fraud."

A "current affairs junkie", Addison is now enjoying presenting 7 Day Sunday on Radio 5, a canter through the week's stories with fellow stand-ups Sarah Millican and Andy Zaltzman.

"The weekly deadline is good motivation and it would be easily as much fun if the microphones were switched off to be honest," he enthuses. "It's great, this intimate thing in a room with no cameras on you, it's more relaxed than television panel shows".

The Thick Of It uses a number of political advisers, meaning Addison is privy to some of the machinations behind Whitehall and Westminster's closed doors. He dismisses the idea that blundering coups, expenses claims for duck islands, moats and adult films are symptomatic of life imitating art – "these stories have been going on for ages" – but sympathetically likens the political classes to characters trapped in a sitcom.

"I feel sorrier for them now," he reflects. "If you're someone who actually sets out to do good, if you genuinely want to change things properly from the inside, by the time you get there, through the backstabbing, politicking and 24-hour media, it's impossible to deal with the things in your in-tray that you're actually interested in.

"In a sitcom, the day begins normally, it all goes horribly wrong, then there's disaster at the end. The next day, everything is reset to zero and you begin again. That's every politician's every single day.

"The goodwill-sapping bollocks they have to put up with is extraordinary."

Chris Addison plays Glasgow's Citizens' Theatre on 17 March. In The Loop is on BBC2, tonight, at 10pm

&#149 This article was first published in Scotland on Sunday, March 7, 2010