As the modern political sphere further resembles a parody of itself with every passing day, it is becoming harder and harder to avoid asking the following question: Is satire dead?

It's a question Armando Iannucci admits to fielding quite a bit these days, and he's better qualified to answer it than most. The brains behind some of the most salient political comedies of the modern era - most notably acclaimed television shows The Thick of It and Veep - the Glasgow-born Iannucci stands as one of the planet's premiere satirists.

So then. Is satire dead?

"I kind of think, you know, it's changing," Iannucci says. "As politics is changing, so the response to events keep changing. I don't think just doing a Donald Trump impression is the best answer, as funny as that might be. I think we're still working it out. Because social media allows us to take speeches and re-edit and change them and revoice them. The interesting thing now is finding the way to respond to the likes of Donald Trump."


Iannucci is talking to Canvas ahead of the Auckland Writers Festival, where he will discuss his impressive body of work and the nature of writing comedy. And what makes him laugh:

"Peter Serafinowicz [Look Around You] on YouTube does this thing called Sassy Trump," says Iannucci. "He just revoices Trump's speeches with a kind of effeminate tone. The words never change, he's just given them a different voice, which takes away all the kind of alpha male macho-ness that Trump normally tries to project."

Like fellow revered comedians Ricky Gervais, Jemaine Clement and Bret Mackenzie, Iannucci's career in comedy really began to calcify with a show on BBC Radio. His work on a satirical radio news programme called On The Hour led to the creation of a TV version in 1994: the groundbreaking cult favourite The Day Today.

Iannucci subsequently worked on several shows featuring The Day Today's breakout character, desperate broadcaster Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan). Knowing Me, Knowing You and I'm Alan Partridge came at a boom time in British TV comedy, but Iannucci was just getting warmed up, and in 2005 he created his most acclaimed show yet, The Thick of It, which portrayed the British political bureaucracy with what had become Iannucci's trademark savage wit.

The show's success led to the similarly-toned 2009 film In The Loop, and then an aborted attempt at an American version of The Thick of It. Iannucci then created the most broadly successful show of his career: Veep, which currently airs in NZ on SoHo.

Although the success of Veep very much constituted "making it" in America, something many British entertainers aspire to, Iannucci says that was never his driving ambition.

"I didn't have a burning desire to make it America. However, my all-time favourite comedy show is The Larry Sanders Show, which was an HBO show. So I really respected HBO, and the opportunity to do a show for them was a big thrill, and was a major part of why I did Veep. I'd had the experience of doing a pilot of the American version of The Thick of It for one of the main networks, ABC Television, and it wasn't a great experience."

Although no such concerns have dogged Veep, an unmitigated, Emmy-winning success story, fans of the show were a little thrown when Iannucci announced he was stepping away from the series at the end of season four. Iannucci says there was no drama involved, he was just sick of the commute.

"The kids were still at school and they didn't want to move and I didn't want to move and so it became, for three months of the year, a kind of commute backwards and forwards. It gets very tiring. By the time I'd finished season three of Veep, I knew I only wanted to do one more and then hand it over to someone else and let it carry on. Give it that fresh burst of new blood. Really my last act on Veep was to go to the Emmys and we won and that felt like, for me, a vindication of the amount of time I'd spent there and it felt like the right time to then stop."

Veep is about to enter its sixth season, the second without Iannucci, and the show has turned out just just fine without its creator, who says he enjoyed watching season five as a viewer. And he hasn't exactly been resting on his laurels.

"It's been very busy. I've just shot a movie in London, The Death of Stalin, which was great because the family could come on set and watch. The days have been slow, but they have just been days. Monday to Friday, normal hours. I get weekends and evenings back which has been very nice."

The Death of Stalin will be Iannucci's first film since In The Loop.

"Part of the reason I stopped Veep is because I had wanted to go back and do another movie, I was getting a little bit twitchy. It's sort of a tragic comedy really, in that it is set in the days of Stalin's illness and death and there's a power struggle going on in the Kremlin and it's funny but it's based on real incidents and it does acknowledge and respond the climate of fear and terror that there was in the country at the time. So there's a big serious stakes with huge consequences, but how they go about that is farcical to watch."

The film's cast includes Jeffery Tambor (Transparent, The Larry Sanders Show), Steve Buscemi and Paddy Considine.

"This is the first time I've done a kind of historical thing based on real people and public figures about whom a lot is already known."

Iannucci's appearance at the Auckland Writers Festival will be his first visit to New Zealand and he says he relishes being able to connect to his audience. "You create all these things, but they go out and people watch them, separate from you, so you don't really know what people are making of something when they watch it. I always think it's nice to meet the audience and hear from them what it is they want to talk about."

It's tempting to look at Iannucci's work and imagine it all emerging fully formed from his fertile comedic mind. But like all the best writers, he says it's much more about hard work and collaboration than talent.

"It can feel like it's easy when you're working with other people because you're all bouncing off each other and stimulating each other and you have a nice time and you make each other laugh, but fundamentally it is hard. I can't think of anything else I'd rather do, We all enjoy it. And we all get on. It's hard but it's good. There's nothing romantic or mysterious about it. It's just, you gotta get on with it, really."

Armando Iannucci appears at the Auckland Writers Festival on April 29 at the Town Hall.