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Katie Antoniou interviews Peter Serafinowicz about his book 1 Billion Jokes: Volume 1

Peter Serafinowicz is something of a pop-culture phenomenon- if you haven't had your head in the sand for the last couple of decades, then you'll know his work, whether it's the infamous voice he lent to the character of Darth Maul in Star Wars, The Phantom Menace, his acting roles in cult comedy gems like Spaced, Black Books and Shaun of the Dead, his spoof documentary series Look Around You or even the music videos he's directed for Hot Chip. He's somehow also found time to write a book- A Billion Jokes: Volume 1. I had a chat with him about good music, good reads and the imminent zombie apocalypse. Enjoy.


Katie Antoniou: Hi Peter How are you?

Peter Serafinowicz: I'm good thanks, nice to speak to you.

KA: You too. How's the pimping going for your book?

PS: How's the pimping? Oh for my book, not for my prostitutes? It's going really well actually, it's exciting, I've never had a book out before.

KA: Is it a good book?

PS: (laughs)It's a good book in the same sense that the bible is a good book.

KA: It's essential reading?

PS: I think it's great, I think it's hilarious. Actually, that's kind of a lie- I've lived with these jokes and illustrations for so long now that I..well occassionally I'll flick through and I'll have forgotten one and it'll still make me laugh...but I think it's an excellent book. Five Stars. I'm going to use that on the cover.

KA: Will it make normal people funny? Will it get them laid?

PS: It could do I guess- in a primitive, cave man sort of way- it's a heavy book, you could knock someone over the cranium with it. But my disclaimer would be, it hasn't got me laid. In fact it's probably put my wife off having sex with me.

KA: Who's funnier, you or your wife? (Peter is married to actress Sarah Alexander of Coupling, Smack the Pony and Green Wing fame..)

PS: I can't answer that question- why d'you ask that question? I guess I'll say my wife, cos she's going to read this.

KA: Do your kids think you're funny?

PS: I sort of think they do, they're both funny kids, they're 5 and 3 so they're a bit young to enjoy this book, it contains some fruity language and concepts that aren't really suitable for young kids, but my boy Sam who's 5 wanted me to read him some jokes from the book- it was was a bit of a struggle trying to find one that he'd get, but I think I did. I explained one to him and he gave me a kind of condescending smile.

KA: You like music. Whose music do you like?

PS: I listen to music all the time, on my ipod, iphone or my walkman as I like to call it, giving away my age. Do you like music? What are you listening to at the moment?

KA: I interviewed Mary Epworth recently, I love her stuff

PS: Oh yeah, I love her, she's brilliant.

KA: Other than that,quite a lot of girly stuff really..

PS: Are you a Joanna Newsom fan?

KA: Oh God yes

PS: She's one of my all times favourites, that last album she did- the title track from that album is one of the all time masterpieces of music, she's just like from another planet.

KA: She has such an original sound.Have you ever met her?

PS: No- I'd love to direct a video for her. I've directed a few music videos. I'd love to do one for Missy Elliot too, I'm a big fan of hers. And my favourites are a scottish electronic duo, Boards of Canada. They're my absolute favourite, they've got a new album coming out soon, hopefully I'm going to be directing something for them.

KA: What makes a good music video-other than a supermodel and a spaceship?

PS: Let me see... I don't know really, I suppose the way I try and think of it is I try and imagine the best visuals that can accompany this music- what do I think of when I listen to this track? What makes a good music vido is really the track- if the track is great then you're 75% there. The ones I've done I've been fortunate as the tracks have been amazing. I'm just in the middle of doing the new one for Hot Chip – Don't deny your Heart off their new album- I just love it, I think it's my favourite, it's an excellent album.It's fucking brilliant. That track is quite 80s, synthy; a beautiful love story tune, I think they're amazing, I'm very fortunate to work with them. Who else do I like..I love this band, Bear in Heaven, a Brooklyn band..they're fantastic.. and The Gaslamp Killer, like an instrumental, hip hop DJ, bit like DJ Shadow in hell.. been listening to him a lot recently.

KA: Have you though about making any more music, cos you did the music for Look Around You?

PS: Yeah I did, with Robert Popper who's my co Look-Around-You-er. We did all the music for that. You know I haven't recently, but I just bought a couple of old synthesizers and that's a great way to while away the time but I get so distracted-I'm supposed to be doing all kinds of things at the moment, I'm writing two screenplays and dividing my time between these scripts so I can't allow myself to get too distracted.

Robert Popper and Peter in Look Around You


KA: Can you tell us anything about the scripts?

PS: Yes I can- one of them is based on a character I did in my show, Brian Butterfield, it's the Brian Butterfield movie, him as a detective which is one of the sketches that we did and that's a very silly comedy. And I'm writing another darker comedy about a comedian who kills somebody.


PS: (Laughs) It's darker, but very fun to write- I'm playing a stand-up comedian who's just an over-priveleged, over-confident, fucking dick of a comedian. I tend to play a lot of dicks in my career. I think it comes quite naturally to me. And I'm hopefully going to film a couple of things to promote my book as well. So that'll be fun.

KA: You're doing Literary Death Match aren't you?

PS: Yeah- I don't really know much about it

KA: You'll love it

PS: It sounds like a lot of fun. So do you do a lot of literary journalism then?

KA: I do bits of everything, I've got about seven friends with books out in the next couple of months so I'll probably be doing quite a few reviews!

PS: I read a lot, I've been reading a lot of brilliant stuff recently. I'm currently reading a book called 'May we be forgiven' by A M Holmes, it's pretty fucking amazing. It just came out a few days ago, it's totally unlike anything I've ever read before. A M Holmes- I'd never really heard of her before, but my friend Sam Bain who writes Peep Show, he's a big fan of hers. She's just written this book about this guy who's going through the worst possible mid-life crisis. It's so funny and touching and these ridiculous situations that are totally believable. And she writes like this middle-aged guy so realistically

KA: Didn't she write a retelling of Lolita?

PS: Yeah, you're right, I haven't read any of her other stuff, but I absolutely love this. This year I also read Edward St Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels. Again, I'd never read anything like those books and I'd recommend them to absolutely everybody, they're just incredibly profound, hugely emotional - there's one character in particualr that's the most misanthropic monster of a character I've ever read, the character based on Edward's own father..

KA: Is this another dick you see yourself playing then?

PS: Oh no, he's beyond that, he's a monster- revolting but fascinating. It's a saga over five books following this guy and his family through forty odd years; it's also the funniest thing I've read for ages and the most beautiful writing- I was saying about Joanna Newsom, if I met her, I'd faint, but if I met Edward St Aubyn I would just have a heart attack or explode. Another thing I just started reading which is totally different is Spell it Out by David Crystal, he's a linguist, he wrote the Cambridge encyclopedia of English which I had years ago and it's brilliant. This is all about the history of english spelling and it's fascinating. He's clearly a genius in his field but it never gets too academic. I also did this thing with Jon Ronson at the Cheltenham literary festival, so I read his book, Lost at Sea and I enjoyed it so much I went back and read everything he's written.

When I was writing this book I didn't want it to just be a collection of one liners- which essentially is what it is, but I hope it's also more than that – it's designed like a Victorian compendium- I've got a few of these old Victorian books on humour which tend to just be extremely long, sometimes slightly racist jokes but there's a real charm to them- so the book's all illustrated- we had this amazing illustrator so we chose lots of old Victorian woodcuts. It's quite a weighty book too, it's a good 300 odd pages. My only hope for the book is that people have a read through and it makes them laugh out loud a few times. If a book can make you laugh out loud, that's worth aiming for.


KA: If you could have done any character's voice in any movie ever, who would it have been?

PS: I guess Darth Vader but then I'd think James Earl Jones did it and was amazing so why would I want to do an inferior version of that- but that's my favourite movie voice ever.

KA: What science isn't taught at schools but should be?

PS: Philosophy- learning some basic philosophy stuff would have helped me- I prefer people being taught about different philosophies rather than being taught one religion-I'm kind of anti-religion myself but I get that people like it, what it's useful for and stuff, but I'd just lump it all in with all philosophies.

KA: I actually did do philosophy at school and it was without a doubt the most useful thing I ever studied-much more useful than my degree, but then I did archaeology so...

PS: I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was little

KA: Yeah, me too. But sadly the reality is a lot less Indiana Jones and more Time Team

PS: I saw this great comedian once, I can't remember his name, but he said this thing about, when he was a kid he expected dinosaurs to feature more heavily in his adult life, given how much they featured in his childhood!

KA: The Natural History Museum has just started doing sleepovers for grown-ups..

PS: I wonder who's going to be the first person to join the 6 million BC club!

KA: Do you have a plan of action for the zombie apocalypse?

PS: When is it? It's the end of this year isn't it? Times running out, I'd better download one.

KA: Do I get extra points for not asking you about Star Wars?

PS: You can ask me about Star Wars! Yeah, I've got a bit of a complicated relationship with Star Wars- obviously the original films were my favourite films of all time and the 3 other films have been so disappointing, particularly that first one that I did a bit in, it was just, looking back on it now, it's such a shame.

KA: The one question my boyfriend gave me to ask you was, 'How does it feel to have been in the worst Star Wars movie?'

PS: (Laughs) It is a terrible film, but I still think George Lucas is a genius, even though it is a shitty film, to build the world he comes up with is incredible, even the names of the characters. I wonder if it'd be cool if they rebooted those last 3 films and got J J Abrams or Brad Bird or someone to direct them with Lucas overseeing it- everybody loves Star Wars- even though those later films were terrible, it still endures and it's more popular than ever.


You can see Peter judge Literary Death Match on 23rd October. 1 Billion Jokes is available here.

(I have read it, and it DID make me laugh out loud.)

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