The satirist who went in search of laughter in the darkest places

CHRIS Morris has carved out a reputation for pushing the boundaries of what's deemed acceptable on TV and radio.

He's the man who mocked news programmes in the award-winning comedy show The Day Today, working alongside Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci. He then took his penchant for tackling supposedly taboo subjects to another level with Brass Eye, the series in which he conducted interviews in character and persuaded all manner of celebrities and politicians to support the most preposterous causes.

This provoked outrage in 2000, when a Brass Eye Special tackling the media's obsession with paedophilia led to a string of complaints from viewers that were upheld by the Independent Television Commission, forcing Channel 4 to broadcast an apology.

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Given all this, it's perhaps not surprising that the writer, producer and performer has chosen the most controversial subject imaginable – home-grown terrorism – for his debut film.

Four Lions tells the story of four would-be terrorists – Omar, Waj, Faisal and Barry – who begin feverishly plotting martyrdom from their terrace homes in Yorkshire. It is, in essence, an ensemble comedy that follows this unlikely group of friends and their blundering, and at times hilarious, attempts to strike a blow for the Muslim world.

The idea stems from a news story about a failed terror attack abroad that Morris came across. "I was reading about a plot to ram a US warship. In the dead of night with the target moored just off-shore, the cell assembled at the quayside, slipped their boat into the water and stacked it with explosives. It sank. I laughed. I wasn't expecting that," he says.

Acts of terrorism are no laughing matter, and if Four Lions was merely out to shock then it would be rightly condemned, but Morris insists that's not what it's about.

"The more I looked, the more reality played against type. Then the penny dropped. A cell of terrorists is a bunch of blokes. A small group of fired-up lads planning cosmic war from a bedsit – not a bad pressure cooker for jokes."

The film received its UK premiere at the Bradford International Film Festival and, speaking after its first screening at the National Media Museum, Morris discussed the ideas behind creating farce out of such a contentious issue.

"Comedy is not about choosing a subject that is appropriate; it's more important that whatever subject you choose you get it right. We weren't trying to push buttons, we were trying to get to something that's three- dimensional, and finding funny situations was a way of making it three-dimensional."

The film's title is a knowing nod to English sporting culture with the would-be killers as fervent as any football fans, which ties in with Morris's basic premise that terrorist cells have the same group dynamics as stag parties and five-a-side football team – in that there's friendship, rivalry and misunderstanding.

Morris, who directs the film and co-wrote the script with Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, says terrorism does matter, but equally so does how we respond to it. "You don't have to mock Islamic beliefs to make a joke out of someone who wants to run the world under sharia law but can't apply it in his own home because his wife won't let him. About someone buying bomb making materials and then forgetting how to make a bomb."

He spent three years researching the film, during which time he spoke to terrorism experts, imams, police and hundreds of Muslims. What he realised was that even those fighting jihad could, at times, be farcical. "When 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta was teased for urinating too loudly, he blamed the Jews for making thin bathroom doors. And a minute into his martyrdom video, a would-be bomber grinds to a halt and asks the cameraman, 'what was the question again?'"

Given the fact that the police appear almost as ham-fisted as the would-be bombers in the film, it must have been difficult getting financial backers on board? "When it came to funding, a lot of people were unable to think beyond their jumpy gut reaction," admits Morris. "The people who ended up funding the film were those who could spot the difference between what we were doing and the desire to cause trouble. They could see the film was not racist, was not attacking a culture, but may just be suggesting that killing people is not a good idea."

Four Lions was made by Sheffield-based Warp Films and filmed in and around the city, something Mark Herbert, one of the film's producers, feels was important. "In the film we needed a place where the

city and countryside co-existed and Sheffield's perfect for

that with its surrounding peaks, and we were able to make it double as Pakistan as well as London."

Herbert, who produced the acclaimed Shane Meadows film This Is England, was delighted to be reunited with Morris, who he worked with on the Bafta-winning short My Wrongs. "I love working with people who are uncompromising in their vision and have something interesting to say, and when Chris came to us and said he was working on a film, I was delighted," he says. "If somebody else was handling it then it might not have been right, but Chris is a fantastic talent and he always pays attention to detail."

By poking fun at the would-be jihadis, Morris attempts to undermine their actions and in doing so, make them seem less frightening. However, there are those who believe that some issues are so serious they can't be satirised. But Herbert disagrees. "Dr Strangelove was about a bloke who wants to blow up the world, which doesn't sound funny. But that film and its take on the idea of blowing the world up was actually very funny."

He says the same goes for Four Lions. "If you put a group of blokes together to try and organise something they normally make a mess of it. What they're trying to do is plainly wrong but it's the dynamics within the group that work. It's mocking a group of men – not mocking a faith, or religion."

As Morris himself points out – "Terrorism is about ideology, but it's also about berks."