they have an audition for an advert in an hour and another date on their national tour later tonight. I wouldn‘t blame them for having a P ’ep Show-like mind-drift.
We meet in the brasserie of Birmingham‘s Malmaison. the noon after the first of their two shows at Coventry"s Warwick Arts Centre. It was a virtual sell-out. but the pair remark on the relative coldness of that audience which. to be blunt. has been mirrored in the tour‘s reviews so far. One taunted that the show ‘stops just short of being funny‘ with both laying the blame at the performers‘ feet for not giving the audience a good enough time.
Had those reviewers returned to the Midlands leg. they‘d have witnessed a far sharper. more inspired set. which admittedly doesn‘t fully get into its stride until the second half as the crowd roared with delight at Mitchell‘s pastiche of an excitable voiceover for Sky Sports football and went positively ballistic at Webb‘s stab into the ludicrous world of mime. The critics might still have been annoyed that some of the sketches were straight out of the just finished BBC? series. That Mitchell and WIN) Look. but. in their defence. Python were hardly keen to drop the parrot sketch from their stage shows and ()asis would probably be crucified if they catne up with a live set of completely new songs.
The people at a Mitchell and Webb show are your archetypical cross-section: couples of twenty. thirty and fortysomethings: tiny- bespectacled students: trios and quartets of lagery blokes. ‘The older ones will go for the more thoughtful sketches like the Queen‘s execution and. um. um. well. whatever other thoughtful ones we have.‘ notes Webb. ()dd this. considering that if nothing else. the work of Mitchell and Webb comes directly from sharp and considered minds and is enjoyed by comedy fans who want more from their sketch routines than acres of slapstick violence and legions of catchphrases. ‘We haven‘t particularly fought it but we don‘t start out with a sketch thinking what would be a good catchphrase. and I don‘t think anyone does.‘ says Webb. ‘They‘ve cropped up by accident or for practical reasons. When we did the snooker commentators for the radio ('I‘hut Mitchell and Webb Sound). we needed to establish who and where they were quickly so you get the clack of the balls and “oh. that‘s a bad miss“.‘
Mitchell concurs. ‘The funny thing about it is
that we came out of the TV show a couple of
Snooker commentators Ted and Peter (top left); ‘Oh, and that’s a bad miss’ is just one of the catchy slogans currently garnishing T-shirts everywhere
Mitchell as the condescending vicar (right); Webb as the excitable host of nonsensical gameshow Numberwang!
The Odd Couple: Mitchell (right) and Webb (left)
months ago and said that we didn‘t have any catchphrases. and that we weren‘t into that. But when you play to live audiences. they pick up on things and it‘s a sign that some people want them. They‘re also very good for merchandise.‘ And lo. there are indeed T-shirts and mugs at their modest stall outside the venue. emblazoned by slogans such as ‘1)on‘t let me down boflins‘ from their Question 'I‘ime-esque debating programme fronted by the shouty Raymond Terrific and ‘That‘s Numberwang!‘ from their fast-paced absurdist quiz show.
Back in the mid-90s with Mitchell and Webb part of the (‘ambridgc Footlights team which appeared on the Edinburgh Fringe. worrying about whether they should invent catchphrases that would or wouldn‘t slip into the nation‘s psyches was the least of their concerns. Getting enough folk to come to their shows at the
Pleasance was the first hurdle. but soon their
‘THE STAKES ARE HIGH AND I'M SURPRISED THAT THERE ARE NOT MORE MURDERS ON THE FRINGE’
MITCHELL & WEBB
comedic sensibility eased them away from Footlights and into their own bona tide double act. Aside from the odd scathing review (‘l‘m convinced that one paper sent along someone who hated both comedy and the linglish.‘ reckons Webb) the pair did more than enough to nab the attention of those in the media who could fling open some doors for them.
But as Mitchell recalls. the experience wasn‘t without its heavy downside. ‘lidinburgh was a very important part of getting on. but at the same time I can‘t help having a bitter memory of being in this place where the signs of holiday are all around you and not only are you at work but you‘re paying through the nose to do it. It was so tnuch tnore stressful in the late 90s than this tour because there was so much riding on it then. If our show was good then we‘d perhaps get work for the next year. It‘s really high stakes and I‘m surprised that there are not more murders on the Fringe.‘
It appears highly unlikely that you‘ll ever see David Mitchell and Robert Webb with hands around each other‘s throats. For one thing. it must be a help that they go off and do their own thing from time to time: Webb has appeared in BBC3 comedy The .S'moking Room and Ben lilton‘s Blessed while Mitchell has been filming with Michelle Pfeiffer and Henry Winkler in Amy ('lue/ess lleckerling‘s I Could Never Be Your Woman and is set to appear in new (‘hannel 4 sketch show Blunder. Most ironic of all. while David Mitchell‘s character spent three series trying to get ()livia (‘olman‘s Sophie naked. Robert Webb spent a whole movie in the buff with her. as naturists in this year‘s Britcom wedding movie. ('on/‘ettt‘. (‘olman was scheduled to appear on tour but having a baby rather put paid to that.
Above all. they seem to be naturally calm chaps. ‘(ienerally we get quite irritated but not furious.‘ offers Mitchell who once harboured ambitions to be Prime Minister though only to be able to make 'embarrassing remarks about my successors.‘ Webb insists that they‘re ‘nol ones for screaming at people or each other: it all just gets repressed then released in various private ways. Private. sick ways.‘
The No Faces of Mitchell and Webb, King’s Theatre, Glasgow, Sun 19 Nov; Peep Show DVD boxset of series’ 1-3 is out now; The TWO Faces of Mitchell and Webb Live DVD is out on Mon 27 Nov.
1(3- 30 Nov 9000 THE LIST 19