Comedy partners Robert Webb and David Mitchell tells us why they’re delighted to return as hapless Jeremy and Mark in the C4 sitcom

When Peep Show crept onto our screens in 2003 there wasn’t much hype or fanfare – are you surprised you’ve made it to a sixth series?
David Mitchell: “I don’t think any smart money is on a new sitcom going to six series when it starts. But I think from the start we felt that Sam Bain and Jesse Armstong had written some brilliant scripts and there was absolutely no reason why it wouldn’t have legs – as they say. So yes, six series, and with a seventh commissioned, it’s pretty rare for Channel 4 and we’re very grateful for it.”

Robert Webb: “I’m surprised to be talking about a sixth series, who’d have thought it? We were amazed and delighted to get the first series and even happier when the second happened, and I suppose by the fourth or fifth series it started to feel like a Channel 4 fixture. We’d never have dreamt of being in this position, we’re really pleased.”

Have you noticed the show getting more popular over time?
David: “I think every series has grown a little bit in interest. That’s one thing that’s served the show well – we’ve been able to settle in gradually. Hopefully fans now await a new series with eager anticipation.”

Robert: “There are basically one million people in Britain who really like Peep Show and I don’t think that’s ever really going to change, no matter how much we talk about it. I suppose one thing that’s always kept the audience down is it’s quite a tough watch. The characters talk to the camera and I think quite a lot of people are put off by that. I imagine a whole load of people have turned it on and gone ‘this is giving me a headache’ and turned it off again – without noticing that it’s a very traditional, if slightly rude sitcom. The rudeness is another thing. It stops it from being a mainstream show.”

The fifth series ended with Sophie’s pregnancy, and we don’t know who the father is – Mark or Jeremy…
David: “You will find out in the sixth series! I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to disclose that now.”

But of course there’s a seventh series commissioned, so obviously there’s going to be no settling down for Mark or Jeremy…
David: “It’s a sitcom – you can’t have any happy endings, you have to keep the characters in their own private hell, or they stop being funny!

Robert: “I think there’s still plenty of road for Jeremy to crawl down. I’m looking for ward to seeing what they make him do next. The mind boggles…”

Hapless young men and relationships angst is nothing new to comedy. Why do you think Peep Show stands out?
David: “I think it’s brilliantly written, and I can say that because I don’t write it. I think it’s also the visual style – the monologues and the talking to camera – makes it feel different. It’s a different way of being able to do jokes. I also think that one of its strengths is that these are age-old, tried and tested comic themes, and these things are going to keep being funny for generation after generation. As the world changes, people are going to stay the same and feel as vulnerable and afraid and insecure as ever, hence audiences are going to respond to comedies about that. I think Peep Show does a double whammy of appearing groundbreaking, but also having the tried and tested themes of British sitcoms of misery.”

Have you seen the US version?
David: “No, I haven’t. In fact there are two US versions. They made a pilot a few years ago, which, I’m reliably informed, was terrible. And then another company, which kept our writers Sam and Jesse a lot more involved, have made a pilot much more recently. I haven’t seen either, but I believe the second pilot has every chance of being good.”

Robert: “I saw the first pilot, which wasn’t very good because they dropped the monologues and the talking to camera thing, which meant that it was just a show about a slightly repressed guy and a slightly less repressed guy sharing a flat…But different people have had another go – and I imagine it will be much, much better.”

Where do you want your characters to end up, because they surely can never be happy – unless of course you want the show to end?
David: “Looking for the end in a sitcom is the wrong approach. Sitcoms need the pain to continue. I don’t know when the show will end, but if Mark settles down with someone he loves and is happy, he will immediately cease to be a good comic character. So much as, in some ways, I wish him well, I wish me more well and therefore want him to continue being miserable!”

Seriously, though, there is a danger that you might get sick of the character. Are you a long way off that at the moment?
David: “Oh yeah, I’m not sick of the character at all. I don’t think he’s a nice man, but I can understand where he’s coming from. I don’t think he’s evil, but I think he’s very flawed, quite selfish. He’s been quite unpleasant to people, albeit not vindictively.”

Robert: “I love playing Jeremy because he does and says things that I would never dare. It’s a constant joy because you get to look funnier than you actually are.”

Compared to Jeremy, Mark’s a saint, surely?
David: “No, I’d say in many ways Jeremy is more warm-hearted – but also massively selfish. That’s the thing about them. They’re neither evil men, nor are they particularly nice men. They’re the sort of middle ground that most of us, in our heart of hearts, know ourselves to be.”

Robert: “Jeremy appals me – he’s morally a step up from a sloath. Actually, that’s being mean to slothes, because a sloth doesn’t have a choice, whereas Jeremy does and quite often chooses to do the wrong thing. He’s a bad lad.”

*The new series of Peep Show starts on Friday 18 September, C4, 10pm*