Look Around You Interview Blast - Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz Phone-Talking to David Wolinsky

Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz have extremely British accents, but very little of their comedy involves tall people falling down flights of stairs. Their quasi-educational BBC show Look Around You from early last decade probes the scientific truths about ghosts, sulphur, music-if it sounds familiar, it's because we aired it last January. If you missed it, you cheeky bugger, the first season was just released on DVD.

Their qualifications as educators are somewhat suspect: they're non-existent. But they did go to school, so we talked to them about their favorite and least favorite subjects. So grab your pencils and take notes: There will be a test.

Names: Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz

Previously: The Timewaster Letters, Shaun Of The Dead

Likes: Toffee, guitars, getting things laminated.

Dislikes: Poorly laminated things, candy that has no toffee in them, and non-guitar instruments.

Nicknames: "The Human," "Broab."

Bloodtype: Red.

Considering getting a tattoo of: Red.

Personal motto: "Two wrongs do make a right if they're the right wrongs."

Favorite smell: Dogsh**, the inside of my nose.

Fears: Whispering, that I'll kill again.

Least flattering physical feature: My frayed tail.

First album: Adam & The Ants, Kings Of The Wild Frontier

Have you ever been knocked unconscious, and if so, how?: No. And how was I knocked myself unconscious. I bang my head quite a lot. I knocked myself just walking about my apartment. I've done that a few times.

Cremation or burial?: Crucifixion, dilution.

Superstitions: None, but some normalstitions.

So, for us Americans: How does the British school system differ from our own?

Peter Serafinowicz: As a teenager watching American TV shows, American schools looked so much cooler than British schools. You have your lockers, and your backpacks, and romances. It all seemed like so much fun. British schools in many ways are much grimmer.

Robert Popper: Prisons.

PS: Like child prisons. Especially in the 1970's. They were pretty f***ing desolate. Whenever we saw American schools on TV, the sun was always shining and in Britain it never shines. [Laughs.]

RP: We don't have a sun in Britain.

PS: It's awful. We just have a sort of warm moon.

On behalf of America, let me say that everyone here hated school as well. I remember as a kid doing a drawing of a prison, and just crossing out the word "jail" and writing the word "school" next to it.

RP: It's a psychiatric prison.

PS: I felt like I was choking everyday since the day I started school. Maybe within the first year or so, from when I was like six or seven, they were fun.

RP: He used to write little chalk outlines in permanent marker on his body.

To push aside some of this negativity, what were your favorite subjects in school?

RP: Well, I was very good in languages. French and German. I was completely uninterested in science. Although for like one year when we did chemistry, I was in the bottom group always. I suddenly became a genius for one year. I don't know why. It suddenly clicked. Then I got put into the top class and I realized that I didn't actually understand it and I was instantly demoted.

What else did we do? We did a course on looking after spiders, which I didn't really enjoy because the teacher would dress up as a spider. We'd have to form a web, which he'd jump into. Which was weird. No, we didn't really do that.

History was good. But then we did British political history, which was always about things like salt taxes and window taxes and corn laws.

You mentioned science class. We had a rite of passage in my high school where you had to dissect a fetal pig. Did you have anything like that?

RP: We had to dissect the second master, the deputy head master, which was quite traumatic as he was still alive and there was no anesthetic.

PS: And then you had to quickly suture up the incisions and make sure he was okay. I remember having to dissect a cow's eyeball, which was pretty horrible. I can't remember whether it was me or one of my friends, as a dare, popped the lens into your mouth. [Laughs.]

RP: We used to have a trick when we were dissecting kidneys. I don't know if they were cow kidneys; they were quite sticky. We used to throw them onto the ceiling and they'd just stick on the ceiling. Our teacher was quite-they didn't have the best eyesight. And when he was talking to us, just these things, like in Eraserhead, things would just drop off the ceiling at random times flat onto the desks.

PS: I enjoyed art and I always thought that I was either going to be a cartoonist or an actor. So I used to just draw cartoons all the time.

RP: You were brilliant at that.

PS: Not anymore. When I started getting into acting and writing and all that kind of stuff, my drawing skills just stopped. I guess you have to kinda practice, and I didn't feel the need to do it anymore. I was always getting into trouble for drawing comic strips of the teachers and caricatures of the teachers.

Were you drawing these during class?

PS: Yeah. Like one time I did, like, a catalog page of this guy, my friend's teacher, his name was Mr. Park, and he's a French teacher with a really pronounced Northern Ireland accent. He also had a big bushy mustache, which further muffled his voice. He was speaking French, had glasses and a mustache-he was good to caricature. I remember once I just spent the whole lesson drawing this magazine-page advertisement for all these products that you could get for him. Like a deodorant and a disguise kit. He got really angry and sent me to the year head. I took it to the year head and he told me off. And then about a week later I was in trouble for something else, and I was in the year head's office, and he had the thing up on his wall. [Laughs.]

Like Robert said, I found history was so dull, and the way it was presented it was just so boring. I was kind of all right at maths. But that's the thing. Also, we call it "maths" and you guys call it "math." Like in our show about maths, Americans think that adding the "s" to the end is a joke, but it's not. The "s" from "maths" that we have, you use it at the end of "sports." We call it "sport."

How about subjects you guys didn't like as much? You mentioned history, but are there classes to this day, you're just really angry you wasted time hearing about?

RP: I never understood biology. I think it was sciences that I couldn't really understand as a kid. Now I'm much more interested in it.

PS: I suppose for me the only one that was really worthless was Latin.

RP: Which is weird because we talk to each other in Latin.

PS: Now I'm so interested in words and stuff and the etymology of words. I find that all fascinating nowadays, but then, it would just drive me f***ing nuts. I remember the first time, at age 11, asking my Latin teacher, "How do you say 'hello'?" in Latin. And he said, "Well, there wasn't really a word for that." I just thought, "Why are we learning this sort of formal language without even colloquialisms?" I think I would've been interested in learning the Latin that people actually spoke rather than this sort of formal language. But anyway, now I'm sort of interested in it. If my life was infinite, I would like to study Latin and ancient Greek. I think I would devote my infinity to learning. [Laughs.]

Were you guys involved with any extracurriculars in school?

RP: I did absolutely nothing as soon as school ended. I was just home. Did you do anything? I did nothing.

PS: I was in the quiz team. I was the trivia guy, you know? Like, I knew what a Portuguese Man o' War was.

RP: I was the captain for the table-tennis team, randomly. We lost. Were defeated, and I was instantly demoted. I led them to defeat.

Are there any subjects you wish at the time you had paid closer attention to?

RP: I did Arabic, randomly, for six months in school, which was kinda weird. We had this teacher who could speak 13 languages. He was a genius. I did Arabic with one of my best friends, but we only really learned to say "I'm an engineer for Shell Oil," which is: [Speaks Arabic.] I kinda wished I had learned more of that, so I could speak another language.

PS: I would guess English literature. We were made to read Macbeth, which I found quite boring. But now what I really love about Shakespeare is how many of the phrases that we use in everyday speech are derived from Shakespeare's play. That's a thing I would've liked to have learned more about.

I never did any homework when I was in school. And I spent so much time and energy on thinking of excuses for why I didn't do my homework. It would've been far simpler just to have done my homework.

What sort of excuses were you using?

PS: Uh, rape.

RP: Rape.

PS: Raped homework. [Laughs.]