Armando Iannucci on Veep: ‘Washington seems to have confessed it’s all true’
Iannucci brilliantly captured British politics with ‘The Thick of It’ and now he’s doing the same in the US with ‘Veep’. Despite this, he thinks politics is immune to his satire
Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Matt Walsh in Veep
Armando Iannucci: ‘I don’t know if comedy can be used to change anything.’Photograph: Mike Windle/Getty Images for Variety
While making Veep, the Armando Iannucci-penned sitcom about an American vice-president, actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus developed a code to indicate when the dialogue was too British.
“She says ‘haw, haw, haw’,” says Iannucci, affecting a snooty English accent. “We also have a shorthand for things being very American, which is ‘wa nyah wa wa’.” He says this in a sort of whining, faux-redneck drawl. It’s very funny.
Armando Iannucci is in a strange position. A Scottish writer based in London, he has created the only programme directly lampooning the executive branch of US government.
He has a uniquely successful track record in satire, from Radio 4’s spoof news show On the Hour and its televised offshoot, The Day Today, to the fake chat-shows of Alan Partridge (recently an unlikely film star) and the profane political sitcom The Thick of It. But it was the Oscar-nominated film In the Loop that brought him to the attention of the US and led to a hit show on HBO. A second series of Veep is about to air on Sky Atlantic; a third is currently in production.
“I was understandably nervous about the reaction [to Veep]. I don’t think there’s ever been a comedy set in the West Wing, and I was also acutely aware that we were Brits telling Americans what we thought of their country. So we worked hard at making sure we got it right.”
Overall he thinks being an outsider has helped him. “I’ve been an Italian in Scotland, a Scot in England and a Brit abroad,” he says. “I’ve grown up standing back. I can see what’s enjoyable but also what’s silly about each culture. I’ve got one of my fearful feet in. I think it has been a good thing, especially in the States.”
Iannucci has always been aware of politics. His father wrote for an anti-fascist newspaper in Italy before coming to Glasgow in 1950 and marrying Armando’s Italian-Scottish mother. “But it wasn’t a particularly political household,” he says. “If anything, that experience, watching his country being led by Mussolini and getting in league with Hitler, made him more cynical about politics. Even under free elections you can still vote in the Nazis,” he laughs.
When did he decide he wanted to write? “The question is, really: when did I start wanting to do funny things? I was about 12 or 13 and would write jokes and do impressions and listen avidly to radio comedy. I wanted to make funny things. I started at Radio Scotland and went to Radio 4 to do comedy. I love radio comedy. I was very lucky that within a year I had On the Hour going to television with The Day Today. It all happened very quickly.”