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Meeting Mitchell

An interview with David Mitchell: “somehow a jibe has more rhetorical impact than a compliment”
"To settle, I think you want somewhere with ready access to antibiotics and not too much fighting in the streets"

This ex-Abingdonian is a man with so many credentials to his name – there’s Mitchell and Webb,Peep Show, his panel shows and now two books – David Mitchell is a thoroughly down to earth interviewee. But we do speak to the comedian cum author as he’s in the midst of writing his latest column – so he’s feeling a little bit serious.

David Mitchell is a prolific columnist and now his musings have been put into book form, in Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse, but you won’t catch Mitchell surveying the bottom half of the internet.

“No. Not at all. I really try and stop myself because there are such horrible comments and human nature is such that even if there are nice things as well you sort of need to see nice things at a greater rate than none to come out psychologically even.”

As Mitchell says, “somehow a jibe has more rhetorical impact than a compliment.”

Mitchell studied history at Cambridge, though admits, “I wasn’t a very good student.” He might have spent more time in the theatre than in lecture halls, but with his latest book focusing on the crises of modernity, it seems his comedy is dictated by the times.

“I suppose I tend to see things as part of a broader historical direction of travel, either sort of good or bad. Most of the sort of things I try and write jokes about, whether its sketches or on panel shows, they tend to be about things now that you think are absurd, or dangerous, or laughable, the kind of direction that things are going in…”

For this historian though, choosing a time period he’d have preferred to live in isn’t an easy decision.

“Well, ‘go to’ is very different from ‘live in!’” he says. “’Live in’ you’ve got to think about comfort and medicine. To ‘visit’, I’d love to visit almost every time period for a quick twenty minutes and then I’d have an antibiotic jab!”

For a quick trip, though, he’s spoilt for choice.

“I’d go everywhere – ancient Rome, ancient Greece, medieval times, the Holy Roman Empire, lots of places. But actually to settle, I think you want somewhere with ready access to antibiotics and not too much fighting in the streets.”

Journeys across time aside, modern day Mitchell is happily settled in London.

“When I left university some friends of mine had a flat above a row of shops near Swiss Cottage roundabout then they noticed a couple of flats in the same road coming up for rent…” They might have been, “very aesthetically displeasing from the outside, like a stereotypically bleak bit of urban 60s concrete building with bins everywhere,” but Mitchell called the area home for years to come. Meeting his wife, Poker star Victoria Coren Mitchell, the comedian made the (relatively short) move to Belize Park.

“Because London’s so massive if you don’t know it and haven’t grown up in it you often end up in the neck of the woods you start in.”

The comedian will be leaving his comfort zone to take his book on tour this November. But for now, we’ll let him finish off that column.

Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse is out on 6 November from Faber & Faber.

Book tour information available at faber.co.uk.


Image - Image Credit Chris Floyd