'Charlie Brooker is not an angry crank'
He made his name with his excoriating TV reviews. Now the Screen Burn columnist is more likely to be the one making the programmes. Either way, Charlie Brooker hasn’t lost his sense of the absurd – or of the macabre
Since landing those columns he has collaborated on the sitcom Nathan Barley with Chris Morris, written the zombie-Big Brother mash-up Dead Set – it involved zombies invading the reality-TV series – the excellently dystopian science-fiction series Black Mirror and the hilarious A Touch of Cloth. He also hosts, writes and produces Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe, in which he throws a critical eye on television, hosted the panel show You Have Been Watching and is one of the four presenters of 10 O’Clock Live, Channel 4’s satirical current-affairs show.
He is, he grudgingly admits, sort of famous. This was partly what led him to cease Screen Burn, his television column for the Guardian. (He also recently cut down on writing opinion pieces.) “My perspective changed,” he says. “What I was good at was writing really disparaging things about contestants on reality shows. I have a knack for doing that, describing them in horrible ways. But the more TV I did the more I met these people and realised they’re just people trying to get on . . . So I don’t tend to absolutely pile abuse on somebody’s head now unless I think there’s a valid reason for it, or if I feel it’s just exceptionally funny.
“We did a thing on 10 O’Clock Live recently where I was rude about all the Apprentice contestants. But they’re basically set up to be hated. It’s like The Apprentice says, ‘Here are 12 people you can f***ing hate for 12 weeks.’ It’s a public service. It’s probably preventing something terrible from happening.”
At the moment Brooker seems incredibly prolific. This is partly a freelancer’s fear of turning anything down, he says, and partly because he’s easily bored. “When I was doing Screenwipe I thought, This is all well and good, but I’m just talking the p**s out of frothy shows every week. So I started doing Newswipe almost as a self-improvement thing. But then I was dealing with famines and earthquakes and terrible scandals, and I’d think, F***, I wish I was doing the frothy stuff again.”
It’s a tricky balance. In 2004, during George Bush’s re-election campaign, Brooker offended people when he wrote, “John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr – where are you now that we need you?” At the time he was surprised people took him seriously. “I make serious points and then selfishly also expect the right to say whatever I want in a stupid way and think, Well, obviously I was f***ing joking. You can tell on the Wipe shows or 10 O’Clock Live when I take something seriously, because usually any hint of a smirk disappears. There have been a few occasions when I’ve been coldly angry about things . . . But I’m usually trying to entertain before I’m trying to make a point. I’m motivated more by trying to make people laugh.”