You are hereComic-Con: Look Around You Interview
Comic-Con: Look Around You Interview
For my generation, we grew up on Bill Nye the Science Guy. After watching Look Around You, I feel a bit deprived of the weird videos that Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz grew up on. The show has ten minute long episodes that mock and parody 70s and 80s educational videos. It’s quite British, but the best part is that because it is so short you can watch it again and again, picking up new jokes every time.
I was lucky enough to sit down with the creators of the show Thursday at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Note: Any questions that do not directly say my name were asked by one of the other press members of the roundtable.
Question: What makes your show so weird?
Robert Popper: Have you seen it? (laughter) It’s kind of creepy and bleak and nothing much really happens. It’s very slow and its presented very straight and a pair of scissors appear in the sky and they say you’ve probably seen this before. It’s just weird. A little block of butter wears a navy cap with a pipe stuck in and he smokes.
Peter Serafinowicz: It’s a very surreal show. A super surreal comedy. And I think that’s because the original things that we watched, these education shows, watched from the distance of adulthood, they are so weird.
RP: We have got loads of tapes of those.
PS: It’s just weird stuff that’s just funny.
Q: It reminds me of Python spoofing the BBC news broadcasters in the same way.
RP: Obviously we love Monty Python.
PS: Yeah, huge Python fans. Really that’s probably our biggest influence.
RP: Could you not tell? (laughter)
PS: Spike Milligan was also a big influence when I was growing up. I remember he did this thing once, a trailer for his show, where the BBC announcer came over and there was a picture of Spike Milligan in a big black beard and some sepia picture of him and he’s just sitting there. And the announcer said, “And it’s sad news that Spike Milligan, the comedian, has passed away today.” And then he (Milligan) just starts looking around. My brain just exploded. I thought that was the funniest thing.
And also for me, I always loved Police Squad. That I think has been a big influence on me. Very surreal and so many gags and so many types of gags and hidden gags that even when you re-watch it they are still gags that you discover like on the 10th watch.
RP: What we tried to do in a ten-minute series, was try to get as many jokes as possible in: visual, wordplay, sound jokes.
Lyz Reblin: A lot of the influences you have mentioned have been British. Do you think the dry British humor will translate to an American audience?
RP: I think some people will get it. I think that with Monty Python, no one in Britain understands why it does so well in America because it’s so British. But I think for a certain type of people it has seemed to hit a nerve.
PS: I think a lot of people watch Monty Python and thought that was a satire of modern Britain at the time. And in some ways it kind of was, but there weren’t a lot of people in bowler hats.
RP: I think maybe that you (Americans) didn’t have these exact same shows that we had, that we parodied. The majority of the educational shows we were shown were these BBC Open University shows where there were these guys with big beards. And they have been sort of parodied. But the ones we remember were if you were lucky, for every ten BBC shows you saw one of these, which had this blue background and this narrator and they were very trippy, and they were made by Granada Television. They were kind of treats to watch those because they were super weird. And that was the thing we both remembered years and years ago and we realized everyone kind of remembered those really weird ones. Americans might not have had that show, but you watched filmstrips, didn’t you? So you can relate to that feeling of being a kid being forced to watch them at school.
RP: The ones we watched were mainly done by a man named Jack Smits. We couldn’t find him. He made hundred of these.
Q: Is there something about the seriousness of science that is especially conducive to being funny?
RP: I think it’s being told things straight.
PS: By someone who is an authority.
RP: Quite propagandist.
RP: Tell ‘em about the London Underground secret message.
PS: There is something on the tube in London if there is an accident or a fire, there is a message that comes over: Will Inspectors Sans please report to the operations room. And it’s like recorded from the 60s.
RP: But most people don’t realize the secret. I’ve got it on my phone somewhere.
(literally no segue here) He wanted to have a sign of a triangle with just an octopus on it. (laughter)
Q: Octopi are very chic now with the World Cup.
RP: And Toy Story 3.
PS: Did you see it? Magnificent.
LR: So with the exception of "Ghosts," "Maths" with an s…
RP: But in Britain it’s called "Maths."
LR: Oh, I thought that was a joke. I’ve been educated. So with the exception of those episodes, everything else is on science. Growing up were you into science or did you just hate that class?
RP: I didn’t like it growing up. I was randomly brilliant at chemistry for one year, and then I moved up to the top set, realized I was crap and moved back down again. It was a fluke. So I wasn’t really into, I was more into the arts and things like that. And then since meeting you (Peter) I’ve become more interested. I read a science magazine now.
PS: I think I was always interested in science. But the way it was taught was in such a boring way. So there’s that sort of boringness of science: the endless huge words, the diagrams that you have no idea what they mean. If you read something by Richard Feynman he will explain a hugely complicated concept in a very simple way. Or Isaac Asimov. If you can’t explain it to a kid you’re just fudging the whole thing. But that’s really not the way we were taught. Some kids got it and I just didn’t. But as I grew older, I was reading books on science; I was always into the future and technology.
LR: What about Tron Legacy then?
PS: I’m not really a huge CG fan. I think it’s often misused. I’m kind of sick of it. I love it when people use it properly. Like in the new Star Trek. I loved how they used CG in that film. Then with this Tron thing with all CG, this is what it should be if you’re going to really “superuse” it. It looks really super exciting.
(again, no segue)
We’d love to do a Look Around You motion picture. Perhaps it starts in the laboratory and then some experiment happens and we go off on some mental adventure. That we go off to space and meet some characters.
RP: The show is very conceptual, but we’d have to have some sort of story. But be super freaky and silly. Some of it’s narrated some of it isn’t. Weird voids. Use some archive footage if necessary. We know the sort of feel of it.
PS: I’d love to go from something like our blue lab into something as expansive as that big spaceship in Star Wars.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the extras on the DVD?
RP: We’ve got some really great commentaries from people we love. Matt and Trey from South Park. Jonah Hill and Michael Cera. Tim and Eric, we’re big buddies with. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright.
PS: And we did new commentaries.
Q: Who’s the funniest?
Q: The DVD came out on Tuesday (July 20th), have you gotten any reactions on it?
RP: Seems to be going well. A nice sort of package with nice extras and an Easter egg. Lots of extras.
PS: Originally when we released the DVD in the UK we spent a long time designing the menus and all the music for the menus. We had someone design the menus so it’s like a graph or diagram.
RP: Lots of trippy music.
PS: And there’s also an option to watch the show without the narration, just with the music.
LR: So you recommend we take something before viewing that?
RP: You might need something after, a little lie down.
LR: I know with Spaced there were problems bringing it to the States due to music rights; did you face any problems bringing the show over here?
PS: Well we did all the music. Robert’s an amazing classical guitarist.
RP: Peters’ a wonderful bagpipe player.
LR: Speaking of Edgar Wright (he directed Spaced), I know he’s in "Ghost" and the last episode of season one, did he direct any of the episodes?
PS: He’s also in our pilot episode, “Calcium”. He was a large part of that.
RP: He’s a good friend of ours, has a great beard, and has been really lovely in spreading the word.
PS: He’s just a great friend.
RP: And he’s a genius.
PS: It was funny having him on set. Tim, our director, is amazing. But he (Edgar) didn’t get involved.
Q: Did he like acting?
PS: Yeah. I don’t think he’s really done any acting.
RP: He does get into it.
Q: What are you working on next?
PS: I’m just about to do this series with Will Arnet, Running Wilde. We shoot that in New York in a few weeks. Me and Robert are writing stuff together.
RP: I was just writing on South Park the last season. And I’ve got a sitcom I’m writing and producing for Channel Four in Britain, shooting in October. Six episodes. If they asked me to do more, I’d probably kill myself. It’s like homework everyday. It’s got Mark Heap (the artist in Spaced), Tamsin Greig, nice cast, directed by Stephen Bendelack.
Q: Have you thought of working together again?
RP: We’re doing a radio show called the Other Side. A thirty-minute fake radio show from a radio station called Radio Spiritual World. You can listen to it on my site or Peter’s site or radiospiritworld.com.