Life takes a comedic turn for Rafe Spall – son of veteran actor Timothy – in Channel 4’s new comedy drama Pete Versus Life. Susan Griffiths catches up with him.

ASIDE from the now infamous vuvuzela, the constant din of recent months has been football pundits the world over dissecting and commentating on every dive, kick and pass during the World Cup.

If you imagine the very same comment and analysis on the mundanity of your day-to-day existence, then you’ve got the premise of Channel 4’s new comedy series Pete Versus Life.

At the centre of the narrative is Pete Griffiths, a struggling young sports journalist who lacks the necessary social antenna to steer him smoothly through life, resulting in him getting into all sorts of embarrassing scrapes and situations.

Unbeknown to Pete, there are two sports commentators analysing his every move and choice as if it’s an exciting sports event, complete with sports graphics and opinions from guest stars, including sex expert Tracey Cox and relationship guru Claire Rayner.

“It’s a really interesting premise. It hasn’t been done before and he’s a great character,” says Rafe Spall, the 27-year-old son of veteran actor Timothy, who plays Pete.

“Pete’s a sort of idiot, but also quite bright at the same time and he’s got a good heart, but he gets himself into terrible situations by lying most of the time.”

Making Pete likeable has proved the toughest challenge.

“Even though Pete does these terrible things and he’s amoral and he’s a liar, you’ve still got to like him,” says Rafe. “You have to want him to do well, to get the job, to get the girl, and that was a tricky conundrum to solve.”

He hopes he’s achieved that by having Pete remain oblivious to his own gauche nature.

“I think that’s the only way you can get through it,” he says.

“An inspiration to me and the writers is Curb Your Enthusiasm. You hate Larry David, but you love him as well.

Everything that Larry does, even when he gets himself into terrible situations, he’s doing it to help other people and later on in the series Pete’s doing that. He has the best of intentions, even if he gets undone.”

The first episode sees Pete inadvertently impress a girl when he lies about his commitment to green issues, before wrecking the first meeting with her parents through inappropriate remarks, and giving her mother a rape alarm as a gift.

“Everyone knows it’s always awkward when you meet your girlfriend’s parents because you just want to say ‘I’m a nice guy, please, please!’ – so that’s what I drew on,” says Rafe, who’s dating former Hollyoaks star Elize du Toit.

The first episode also sees Pete’s bedroom antics commented on by the pundits.

“I counted the other day and I think I’ve now done 18 sex scenes, so this is just one of many,” says Rafe, with one of his infectiously throaty laughs.

“Actually, it was alright because it’s got a slightly comic edge to it. When you’re supposed to be sexy, that’s embarrassing.”

Written by the co-writers of the comedy show Star Stories, and made by the producers of Peep Show, Pete Versus Life was picked up by the channel without the pilot even being aired and, aside from the creative talent, Rafe believes he knows why.

“The script really made me laugh and also made me bury my head in a pillow in embarrassment. It’s a real theatre of embarrassment, which I can respond to and find funny,” he says.

Describing himself as “a comedy fan”, rather than “a massive comedy geek”, Rafe says he used to make friends laugh at school. “I wouldn’t say I was the class clown, as that’s a cliche; but I was always more interested in making people laugh than learning.”

ASIDE from scene-stealing appearances in Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, Rafe says he hasn’t had the opportunity do straight-up comedy on screen.

“Most of the stuff I’ve done has been drama and dramacomedy and this has been liberating actually because I’ve always wanted to do comedy and feel comfortable in doing it.”

He’s always wanted to act. “I wasn’t precocious, but I always loved acting and really responded to it,” he says.

He appeared in school plays and the National Youth Theatre before auditioning for Rada but failed to get in.

“It was very disappointing but I was only 17 and I thought, ‘I’ll give it another year and audition again’,” he says. But in that time he began working for the National Theatre and The Royal Court Theatre, as well as gaining film and TV roles.

“I was lucky to learn on the job, working with my superiors and betters and elders. I’ve definitely learnt from them,”

says Rafe.

He also had his dad, the actor Timothy Spall, to turn to. Not “about the nuts and bolts of acting” Rafe explains, but to ask him questions about the business. “The main thing he’s given me is that I’ve never been afraid of the business, never been intimidated by it.”

“I don’t think you get jobs because your dad’s famous, but it gets you through the door and from there you’ve got to prove yourself.”