Robert Webb Q&A: “I’d like to be the subject of a deeply unflattering nude by Freud”

The comedian talks The Young Ones, John Smith, and The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease.

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Robert Webb was born in Lincolnshire in 1972. One half of the double act Mitchell and Webb, he is best known for the sitcom “Peep Show” and is a regular comedy panellist.

What’s your earliest memory?

A washing line on a sunny day in Dolly Patchett’s garden. Dolly was a friend of my grandmother’s and used to look after me. I feel sure my view of the drying clothes was from a pram.

Who are your heroes?

As a child, Steve Austin, closely followed by Han Solo and Zorro. I’m not sure I have an adult hero but I could build a reasonable case for saying my wife, Abigail Burdess, is the best person I’ve ever met.

What book last changed your thinking?

The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease by Marc Lewis, a cognitive neuroscientist and former addict. It’s a convincing explanation of addiction as a pattern-making mental process.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I can’t say I’m keen to go back in time at all. I’d have to take me with me, which would spoil it. I suppose Steventon in Hampshire in the 1790s so I could hang around trying to become friends with Jane Austen.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

As it happens, I went on the celeb version, chose “The novels of Ian McEwan” and came third. Only Sir Clive Sinclair did worse and he had chosen the rather more ambitious “British inventions since 1945”.

Which political figure do you look up to?

John Smith. As smart as Blair and Brown but more unifying, hugely personable. He would have made a great prime minister.

What TV show could you not live without?

I don’t feel that way about any current TV show but I would be a worse person if I had never seen The Young Ones.

Who would paint your portrait?

I’d like to be the subject of a deeply unflattering nude by Lucian Freud, hung in the front room to titillate visiting relatives.

What’s your theme tune?

Anything by Toto.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“Anyone in the creative industries who is going to achieve anything is probably out of bed by 10am.” This was at college from a friend who was in a band. I nodded grimly and contemplated the sacrifices ahead.

What’s currently bugging you?

A few months ago I replaced cigarettes and alcohol with exercise and ice cream (net effect on weight: holding steady) and I don’t get to go out for either as often as I would like.

What single thing would make your life better?

An extremely large garden.

When were you happiest?

Whenever I’ve had the feeling I’m in the right place doing the right thing. My first term at university would be an example.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

The problem with “another life” questions is that once you change one thing you’ve changed everything. In another life I grew up in different circumstances and would be a different person, maybe even one who is less precious about questions like these.

Are we all doomed?

On an individual level, yes – life is lent to us by nature so no matter how early, we have to give it back. As a species, though? You’d have to ask an expert. 

Robert Webb’s debut novel, “Come Again”, is published by Canongate

This article appears in the 22 May 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Moving Left Show

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