Charlie Brooker is the hilarious satirist behind BBC’s Screenwipe and dystopian wonderland Black Mirror, whose third series hit Netflix today (October 21). We spent thirty minutes in Brooker’s company discussing the new episodes, Netflix hit Stranger Things, what’s next for Philomena Cunk, and that one time Channel 4’s Jon Snow really pissed him off.
NME: Killer clowns – discuss.
Charlie Brooker: “It’s a bit weird isn’t it? It’s bad for the clown industry, but frankly clowns were never that nice anyway, were they? Clowns have always been creepy, so if they’re being overtly dangerous then at least it’s legitimate now to run away from a clown if you see one.
“They’ve always been fucking eerie. Never mind these weird mysterious sinister clowns, what’s up with normal clowns? The fuck do they think they’re doing? What’s up with that? Why?
“I wouldn’t encourage people who dress up as clowns – now I’m a dad obviously I think it’s wrong if people are fucking dressing up as clowns and deliberately scaring children. Think of something better than that, there must be something better than that to frighten people with.”
You know in Cumbria recently, there was actually a guy dressing up as Batman to protect children from killer clowns…
“Could you then dress up as a policeman and chase Batman? Where does it end? Maybe that’s what we’re all doing, we’re all stuck in some game and actually we’ve all donned a costume. What the fuck am I on about?”
No idea. Let’s talk Black Mirror. Will you be looking at Twitter to see reactions to it today?
“It’s a weird one because I’ve done shows before that go up and you see people reacting to it live, and that’s hard to resist looking at – it can be depressing or elating depending on how it goes – but because Black Mirror all appears at the same time globally, it’s going to take people hours to watch them and they can tackle them in any order. I’ve no idea basically. I should probably switch everything off and not look at any of it because it’ll send me fucking mental.”
Here’s a question: where do you see Black Mirror in relation to things like Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected?
I liked that sort of thing, those one-off stories like Tales of the Unexpected, Hammer House of Horror, The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I’m a fan of twist-in-the-tail-type stories – so ‘Playtest’ actually, an episode in this season, is not on the same level as Roald Dahl, but it’s playful hopefully. It’s darkly ironic, there’s no big message in it. I like those deliciously dark stories – I’m a sucker for them. And [Roald Dahl] was unafraid to be openly unpleasant in his stories. Nasty things would happen for no particular reason to people sometimes so I’m a fan of that. As long as it’s happening in a story, that is.”
A lot of Black Mirror focuses on the dangers of tech. What technology do you actually like?
“Oh, everything. I’m not anti-technology at all really. The latest thing I saw that I thought was amazing was the Playstation VR headset. I’ve tried the Oculus Rift before but there was something about it, I just thought, ‘This is a fucking game-changer, this is amazing.’ Videogames are probably my first love. I get all the systems, I’ve got a Wii U and a PS4 and an Xbox and now I’ve got a VR headset and I’ll have to get whatever else comes out. So that’s probably the number one.
Once you were on Channel 4 with Jon Snow trying to explain what was good about games and it looked properly frustrating.
“That really fucked me off. You know what fucked me off? It only occurred to me afterwards, and I’m glad you asked me. When the Playstation 4 had just been launched, they said ‘Come in, you play on the thing and we’ll ask you some questions’ and I was like ‘OK’. I’d never had a go on the Playstation 4 before – we couldn’t even put the disc in. They put the controller in my hand, they put me on Call of Duty 4 or whatever the fuck it was, a game I don’t normally play, and he’s asking me questions at the same time. And it’s slightly like, ‘Err, I’m trying to do two things at once.’
“I did think afterwards, you’d never invite Mark Kermode on and say ‘You watch this film, while I ask you some questions about cinema’. You wouldn’t do that. It was like, ‘I’m trying to do something else here so fuck off, stop asking me questions’. And he’s going ‘And what’s this game about, what’s that?’ I’m like ‘I don’t know! I’ve just fucking switched it on!’
And he was saying ‘What’s the point of it?’ as well, right?
“Exactly! Again it’s like in the opening moments of The Godfather going, ‘Well what’s this, what’s this all about?’ I don’t know yet! That was quite exasperating, but it was funny because he was deliberately fucking goading me and I fell for it, so well done him. He won that game.”
Do you watch a lot of Netflix shows? What are your favourites?
I liked Love – not the porny film which I haven’t seen, but the series. I liked Making A Murderer, Master of None. Stranger Things I watched along with everyone else in the world. Narcos, I really liked Narcos a lot. Better Call Saul I watch on there. But loads, I do watch things on other platforms, I like Transparent and I’ve watched some other things… Catastrophe I really thought was brilliant. I haven’t seen Fleabag, that’s another thing I wanted to watch. I watch the Bake Off like everyone, and I watch The Apprentice. I don’t watch Strictly. I haven’t seen the latest episode of Bake Off but I fucking found out who went I think thanks to a tweet from the fucking Guardian. Thanks The Guardian, my old home. It’s a bit weird that that’s the last series of Bake Off really. Weird.
Do you think you could do a haunting Bake Off-themed Black Mirror episode?
“Channel 4 have already done that haven’t they? No, how would that work? Yeast becomes sentient and cakes start screaming as you cook them? It all sounds a bit grim, doesn’t it. I was going to say you should put them in the oven and it sounds very wrong.”
Are you a big fan of Stranger Things?
“It really was like every ’80s movie rolled into one which I thought was an interesting thing. It was just very well structured as a binge-watch thing, it was impossible to stop watching it. Even if you thought, ‘Hang on a minute, what?’ It was very popcorn, very poppy, but it kept you going from beginning to end. I thought it was very well done.”
Have you seen Rick and Morty? I reckon you’d enjoy it.
“No I haven’t. People keep telling me I’ve got to watch that but the reason I haven’t is because I know it’s ideas-based comedy, and I’m sure there’s some Black Mirror-type overlap, so in a way I don’t want to watch it in case. A lot of people have said [new Black Mirror episode] ‘Nosedive’ is like an episode of Community [‘App Conditions and Developments‘] so I know we’ll get a load of shit for that, but if I’d seen it we probably wouldn’t have done it. So I tend to try and avoid things for that reason.”
What about the US election? That’s a good horror story.
I get a horrible queasy feeling every time I look at the American election, I have to try and ignore it until November 9 because it’s not good for my mental health.
Now Black Mirror is done, what are you working on?
“We’re halfway through the script for the next season of Black Mirror and Jodie Foster is directing one for us. I’m doing an end-of-year Wipe for the BBC and I’m going to be doing some other things… I might have a lie down, because I haven’t really had a rest in ages.”
What’s it actually like doing the end-of-year Wipe? Is it really, really depressing?
“It’s not a real job, but it’s fucking gruelling. There’s always a point when I have a complete and utter breakdown during that show and I think I can’t do it, and I can’t sleep one night and I have to ring up the producer and go, ‘I don’t think I can come in, I don’t know what we’re doing’, because at one point it’s always about two-and-a-half hours long, and I’m going ‘There’s no jokes in it, it’s not gonna work’.
“It ruins my Christmas every year because we go right up to the wire and for the last week, we’re in the edit suite until four in the morning because we write most of it in the edit. There’s always a point where I’m in absolute abject despair and it’s four o’clock in the morning and everyone’s depressed and I haven’t done any of my Christmas shopping. You get in a cab, you come out of the edit suite, it’s four in the morning and you’re driven through the centre of London while everyone is at Christmas parties. Actually, that’s awful isn’t it – going to Christmas parties – so I’m probably having the best time of everyone. So I don’t wanna moan.”
Philomena Cunk started out on Weekly Wipe – is she going to get another spin-off show like Cunk on Shakespeare?
“I’m not allowed to say.”
Exciting. Ok, finally, let’s talk about your public Spotify account.
“I hated it when I suddenly discovered Spotify was just broadcasting everything I was listening to at one point. I’ve got a Screenwipe playlist and there’s an Aural Contraceptive playlist.
Would you ever make another one?
“I did a playlist once for things for Jeremy Paxman to listen to on his way to the Newsnight studio as well. They said he was going to listen to it, Newsnight tweeted me. It was a really weird choice of music, I just liked the idea of him listening to it on the drive in to the studio.
“I tell you what I would do for a Spotify playlist. You know if you get into an Uber and they say, ‘Do you want to listen to your Spotify?’ I don’t think anyone has ever done that but it’s easy to put your own music on Spotify, isn’t it? I keep meaning to record a seven-hour track that’s just one half of a conversation, and then ask them to drive me to Manchester and start playing the other half the conversation, and sit in the back. Especially if it’s a conversation about going mad. Start going ‘I’m driving a car and I’m going mad’, and then the voice on the Spotify thing starts going ‘He’s driving a car and he’s going mad’. For seven hours, just to drive the driver up the fucking wall. That’s what I should do.”
Black Mirror is available to stream on Netflix now