A Chat With ‘Timewaster’ Robert Popper

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Robert Popper is a BAFTA winning comedy producer, writer and actor. As Commissioning Editor for Entertainment and Comedy at Channel 4 he has commissioned such television programs as Black Books, Comedy Lab and Spaced. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright later returned the Spaced commissioning favor by having Robert appear in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Recently, under the pseudonym Robin Cooper, Popper published The Timewaster Letters, which is a series of letters he wrote to various strange British associations and hobby groups. The responses (also published) are often as hilarious as the instigating letters, albeit in an unintentional way. In that spirit, although less comical, we sent some questions to Popper, which he kindly answered.

PCZ: You started out writing for The Comic Strip and have worked both behind and in front of the television camera. What lead you to start writing letters to obscure British Societies?

RP: Well, several years ago, I randomly got sent a brochure for a garden furniture company. Since I don’t have a garden, I wondered why they had written to me, so decided the best thing to do would be to write back to them. I said that I was a famous designer of garden furniture, and that I had a new range of scarecrows made from beef. Obviously I didn’t expect them to write back and ask to see my designs. But they did. From that moment, I was hooked.

PCZ: British humor seems to only selectively click with Americans. How well has the Timewasters Letters been received by American readers?

RP: I think the book is quite ‘English’ in style, so I wasn’t really sure how Americans would respond to it. I’ve really been pleasantly surprised, as you guys seem to like it. Well, I’ve had lovely things said about it from some of my comedy heroes, such as Matt Stone from South Park. So all I can really say is (adopts very British accent) ‘Hoorah!’

PCZ: Have there been any replies where the “target” has caught on or perhaps replied more bizarrely than your initial letter?

RP: Yes, I once wrote to a stage hypnotist telling him that I had gone to a live hypnotism show, hosted by a hypnotist called ‘The Amazing Aldini’. I said that I had been hypnotised into believing I was a crab. Having been stripped naked, hosed down with a power hose and made to eat raw onions, I was then sent out into the street, whereby I crawled home until I was arrested by the police. The only human word I knew was ‘pincers’. Anyway, I asked this guy his advice as to what we could do about Aldini. A few weeks later he wrote back with a brilliant reply. Obviously he realised my letter was from a loony… Basically he wrote ‘As you read this letter, you are feeling tired, your eye lids are heavy, and in three seconds you are in a trance. Now you will go to your ATM, take out all your money, and send it to me. Then you will awake from the trance and have no memory of this letter, which you will destroy’. I thought it was the best letter I had ever received. I then sent him some crab paste.

“Anyway, I asked this guy his advice as to what [I] could do about [being hypnotised]. Basically he wrote ‘As you read this letter, you are feeling tired, your eye lids are heavy, and in three seconds you are in a trance. Now you will go to your ATM, take out all your money, and send it to me. Then you will awake from the trance and have no memory of this letter, which you will destroy’.”


PCZ: Which replies surprised you the most or went in a direction you really didn’t expect?

RP: I wrote to a children’s book publisher, saying that I was a budding children’s writer, and offered some of my ideas. The ideas ranged from Stanislav Humtovsky – the tale of a sad Czech bureaucrat (very bleak and unsuitable for kids really), to Guntaarsyan Hip-Lun-Mivvin, a moth that could self-replicate (upon contact with bleach). The publisher was so patient and kept writing back to me with encouraging letters. Our correspondence went on at least 6 months, during which I kept threatening to shred any books she did not like. She kept pleading with me to stop the shredding. That was fun.

PCZ: Will you be continuing as script editor for The Inbetweeners second series?

RP: I sure will. It’s going to be a really funny series. I love script editing. It’s something I do on the side, and it means I keep in contact with loads of great shows. I also script edit Graham Linehan’s The IT Crowd, which I really enjoy.

PCZ: Congratulations on starting your own religion! Have you had anyone take Tarvuism seriously and, if so, to what extreme?

RP: Praise Tarvu to you! I think we all take it very seriously. Tarvu is not be laughed at.

PCZ: How are things progressing on the Tarvuism series for Adult Swim?

RP: All going well, but things seem to take a long time, particularly if you are here in the UK, trying to make a show for a US network. We are excited though, and if/when it happens, we will of course only have Tarvu to thank.

PCZ: What else do you have coming up in the next few months?

RP: Peter Serafinowicz and I are putting on a live ‘happening’ in London. It’s a thing called ‘The Other Side’ which is a listening party for a broadcast for a radio station called Radio Spiritworld, which is the only radio station broadcasting from the afterlife to the living world. It’s pretty mad, spooky and hopefully people will laugh x 100000000000. Other than that, I’ve just set up my own production company – Popper Pictures – so I’m hoping to make some silly, mental TV shows. Hoorah again!

Thank you to Robert for his time and thank you to Greg at Polaris for arranging things. Praise Tarvu!