Dara O Briain: “I managed to turn hosting the Baftas into being the crazy guy”

The Mock the Week host reveals Viggo Mortensen's secret Malteser habit and why CBeebies won't hire him


It’s the 100th episode of Mock the Week! As a maths graduate, do you care more or less about numerical quirks like that?


They’re all the same for me. It’s like when there was a whole debate about whether David Beckham should be allowed to join the club of people who had 100 caps for England. I remember pointing out that he was already in the club of people who had 99 caps, so it was moot whether he got another one. 

Which show can’t you miss? 

Apart from sport, Community. It’s obscurely difficult to get here: the second series is on the Sony channel, but where is that? It’s about a group of people attending adult learning classes at college – it felt like a standard set-up. Then midway through series one it was like they said: screw this, let’s just make it ridiculous. Different movie pastiches every week, leading to the legendary paintball episode. The school was swept with insanity and it went into a massive Wild West/Terminator/Star Wars pastiche. 

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Corrie. I went up to the cast at the Baftas to congratulate them, but then I found myself saying to David Platt’s wife, “Oh my god, you’re a nightmare!” She took it really badly. I managed to turn hosting the Baftas into being the crazy guy who forgets that a woman in a soap is an actress. I did try to say “I mean the character!” but the moment had gone.

What was the last programme you had recommended to you?

Nina Conti – A Ventriloquist’s Story on BBC4 (shown on 10 June). Lots of people on Twitter said it was great, and it was. Conti had had a relationship with the theatre guru Ken Campbell, who had said she should try ventriloquism. As a tribute to him after his death she went to a ventriloquist’s conference in Kentucky. As a comic you do a lot of corporate gigs at conferences – why shouldn’t ventriloquists have one? In the midst of this was her emotional journey, which got very dark, and she was happy to push it – huge emotional honesty from a performer whose show doesn’t normally contain any. 

Are you big on box sets?

Oh yes. There was a joke in the Baftas script: “You know Sofie Grabol from The Killing; I know her as the woman from the box set of The Killing.” Mad Men is currently waiting to be finished and I’m on Dexter series one – and The Wire, who knows if I’ll ever start that again?

Whose TV career do you covet?

It would be people on stage rather than TV. Television is fun but it’s an adjunct to live comedy. I coveted playing the rooms I’m currently playing, so I’ll keep enjoying them and see what I covet after that. I’m trying to maintain that. I’m not burning with desire to have a chat show or write my own sitcom. I’m burning with desire to write the next stand-up show after the one I’m touring now.

Wouldn’t a sitcom prove you’re a master of different genres?

No, I’ve never thought about it. It’s not the sort of storytelling I do. I’m not in the character mode. I don’t act. I’m a point and commentate man. 

Who have you met in showbiz who’s surprised you?

Viggo Mortensen. I met him after the Empire film awards. He said, “Bad result for you guys during the week.” At first I thought, what the hell’s he talking about? But then I said, “You mean Ireland v Bulgaria?” and he said yes. “How do you know about football?” I said. “I’m Argentinian!” he said. We had a long conversation about Maradona and the World Cup qualifiers generally. He lives on a ranch in Montana or somewhere, writing poetry; he’s one of those. But he clearly also has a massive satellite link-up to watch every game of football going on in the world. Quite the polymath. Also, the awards had a goody bag on every table with a DVD, some Maltesers etc. He was carrying one with several spare packets of Maltesers spilling out of it. He had another packet in his breast pocket.

Who controls the remote in your house?

Nobody at the moment. One side of it isn’t working. It can rewind but not fast-forward and can only get some channels. I’ve bought a replacement and am spending a lot of time sitting in front of the telly trying to introduce the new remote to the digibox. It’s hard to find the correct language. I don’t want to call out a repairman just for that. 

What do you wish your family would stop watching?

I don’t want to be mean to the nice Scottish people who make Me Too! on CBeebies, or that one with the kid and the dog and the obvious moral dilemmas, but then it turns into a cartoon…

Tommy Zoom?

Tommy Zoom! God, I hate Tommy Zoom. The cutesy dog voiceover, oh Lord.

Have you ever been asked to do voices for CBeebies?

No, I’ve not been approached. I’d rather do a video game but that’s proved difficult too. I keep doing industry events and telling them it’s slightly racist that they haven’t asked me. They don’t think that in the year 2500 there’ll be an Irish space marine. Shame on them.  


Mock the Week is on BBC2 tonight at 10pm