TV & Satellite Week talks to Steve Coogan about his new semi-improvised BBC2 comedy The Trip (Monday, Nov 1), co-starring Rob Brydon…

How would you describe The Trip?
“Rob Brydon and I play heightened versions of ourselves as we tour the north of England reviewing restaurants for a Sunday newspaper. We’re taking facets of our personalities that are rooted in reality, and cranking them up for comic effect. It gives us a licence to play.”

There is a lot of friction between your characters – does that fuel the comedy?
“There is a tension there, and yes it’s creative. If two people are singing the same melody, where’s the harmony? Discords can be just as interesting as chords but, if there are too many, it gets boring.”

Alongside the laughs, there are awkward moments too, aren’t there?
“There are genuine moments of pathos, awkwardness, needle and raw brutality. Rob and I are comfortable enough with each other to be uncomfortable together, if you see what I mean.”

You don’t mind looking unsympathetic?
“Lots of people have played themselves in sitcoms, and it can feel tired or self-indulgent. We wanted to avoid being self-congratulatory and, to do that, you have to go to places where you don’t necessarily look good. But I enjoy making things that are potentially embarrassing or carry a high risk. Paradoxically, I find it empowering.”

Are there more profound ideas lurking beneath the comedy?
The Trip touches on the idea of two middle-aged men trying to find the meaning of life, which is an eternal theme. There is also a certain resonance in the idea of my character not wanting just to do jokes all the time.”

You previously worked with director Michael Winterbottom on 24-Hour Party People and A Cock and Bull Story. What makes him unique?
“Unlike many directors, he doesn’t have a pre-conceived notion of how a scene should work. Rather than putting square pegs in round holes, he fashions the holes to fit the pegs. And because he keeps the structure loose, Michael can cherry-pick what works. So he’s picking cherries while hammering in pegs, but sometimes he hits a cherry and it gets messy. Wait a minute, I started out sounding intelligent and now I sound like Alan Partridge!”

Do you worry that viewers might think this is the real you?
“I don’t mind if people confuse us with the characters in The Trip. It’s good to create discomfort in the audience. People can amuse themselves by asking: ‘Who’s the real Steve Coogan?’ I don’t want to reveal myself, and I’d rather they got the wrong end of the stick. I prefer to misrepresent myself on screen than give an honest portrait. It’s all part of creating an enigma.”

The Trip begins on Monday, November 1 on BBC2 at 10pm