Julia Louis-Dreyfus won an Emmy for her role in Veep.
YOU wouldn't pick Armando Iannucci as the bloke responsible for some of the most profane scripts on television. His masterwork, The Thick of It, and the spinoff movie In the Loop, are famous for their richly obscene language.
In person, though, Iannucci is a dapper, soft-spoken, middle-aged gent who looks as if he might, at a push, exclaim ''Bugger!'' (if he drove a nail through his thumb, for instance) but otherwise exudes that classic British air of self-effacing apology.
Indeed, while his political mockumentary is viewed as excoriating satire by many (and actual documentary by some), he's reluctant to even claim something that harsh. ''I'm happy for it to be called satire, but I don't think, 'What can I satirise?''' Iannucci says. ''I think, 'What do I find funny?' And that tends to be anything where someone tries to be one thing yet does another. That unwitting hypocrisy amuses me.''
British satirist Armando Iannucci. Photo: Getty Images
That notion certainly lays at the heart of Iannucci's other great work, Alan Partridge, the character he co-created with Steve Coogan. And it does underpin most of what transpires in both The Thick of It and its US incarnation, Veep. But he's also clearly just as fascinated by the way power works.
Iannucci was in Melbourne recently for the Institute of Public Administration Australia's international congress, a gathering of public servants, where he spoke about public servants in popular culture. As a subject for comedy, satire even, politicians are a no-brainer. Public servants are a less-likely target, but have proved a fertile ground.
''I think it's because they are the people who actually run the country, yet they're anonymous,'' Iannucci says. ''Writers have always been fascinated by them, not just as a source of comedy but in more sinister ways - 1984, Brazil - the idea of these nameless but powerful people who are almost clones.''
Certainly, the realm of the public service is a strangely uniform universe, something Iannucci discovered when asked to address a group of MI5 employees. ''Because of what they do, they tend to do all their socialising together. So they have theatre outings, they have speaker evenings. And I was a speaker.'' Iannucci gave his talk. Jokes were exchanged along the lines of, ''And now I'm afraid I'm going to have to kill you …''
''And then we had a, you know, wine and cheese gathering. And they really were regular civil servants. I'm sure the operatives on the ground are slightly different but fundamentally that's what they were. Public servants, just like all the others.''
Iannucci says another full series of The Thick of It is unlikely (the fourth is screening in Britain). ''As the cast have become increasingly famous, it's become increasingly difficult to herd them all into one place,'' he says. ''But I also feel it started off as a little quiet cult thing and now it's become this thing that politicians try to model themselves on, which I find disturbing.''
At a recent charity event in London, Peter Capaldi - who plays evil spinmeister Malcolm Tucker - ran into Alastair Campbell, on whom Tucker is loosely based. As a fund-raiser, Campbell challenged Capaldi to a swearathon. ''Unfortunately, it was broadcast throughout the building, including into a creche,'' Iannucci says. ''And suddenly we were in the middle of The Thick of It. A strange meeting of matter and antimatter.''
One-off specials of The Thick of It are on the cards and he recently completed a second season of Veep, the HBO series for which Julia Louis-Dreyfus won an Emmy. But he's also turning his gaze elsewhere, in what is likely to be another HBO collaboration.
''I'm looking at these big companies, who seem to have more power and influence than small Western economies,'' Iannucci says. ''Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook. Very young people who suddenly have a lot of money, power, access, information, influence. I think there's something both frightening and funny there.''