How did you feel when the show was originally axed?
"Well, I was doing an episode of Would I Lie To You? and my manager Rob asked for a lift home. My alarm bells went off then, because he's never asked for a lift home! Me and Rob were in the back of the car and he said, 'I'll get straight to the point - the show's been cancelled'. The third series hadn't even finished being on telly! I was very shocked by it. We were recording Would I Lie To You? at Pinewood Studios, which is in the woods. We were driving through the woods and it was like a scene from a Mafia movie. I thought Rob was going to open the car door, kick me out and say, 'You're no good to me now'. And then move down the road and pick up Michael McIntyre! It was hard to take, because we'd been doing the show for a long time. The good thing was it made me go and do stand-up comedy again, which I hadn't done for a couple of years. I'd forgotten that that's what I do as a living!"
How did the show's revival come about?
"It was odd, because the day after it got cancelled, the mission was on to get it recommissioned. There was never a period of mourning. So the battle started, and there was many a meeting after that. The revival wasn't as definite [as the cancellation]. There was hope of a recommission, then there was a meeting and so on. The recommission was a long process and it took months and months. We've recorded it now, but until I see it on BBC One, I still won't be sure it's back!"
The show has been through a few cast changes. Do you think that has helped keep it fresh?
"I would like to pretend that every time we get a new girl in, it's to keep the show fresh! It's slightly been beyond our control. Catherine Tate was in the original pilot. That happened just at the time that she was being launched as a big famous comedian, so she suddenly became too busy to do it. Then we had the American girl, Megan Dodds. It didn't really work out with me and Megan. It wasn't her thing and it was a mutual decision that we didn't want to carry that on. I have to say, hand on heart, that what's been right for the show is Sally Bretton. We only met Sally because Catherine couldn't do it, then Megan couldn't do it. Now she's been in it for three series, so it's worked out quite well. Her role is the hardest one to do. Anyone can be the straight man and anyone can do comedy, but very few people can do both."
What is the key to the show's success?
"When you're a comedian, you never feel that anything you do is successful. That's the problem with the job. You never enjoy your success because you never believe you're successful! We got cancelled, then recommissioned. I'm not sitting here thinking, 'Pretty successful!' You never feel like it's a success. Particularly with the genre of a studio-based sitcom, it's unfashionable and you're clinging on to stay on television. There aren't many studio-based sitcoms. We're in a position where you never fully enjoy it, even though you love doing it. I genuinely love working with the people I'm working with, but to continue working on this show is not my decision. That's the hardest thing, because this show is my favourite thing that I do and I can't control whether I carry on doing it!"
What's coming up in the fourth series?
"It's lots of separate episodes. We're not doing a story arc and you can watch it out of order. There's one story about drugs and one about a long-lost daughter. There's also one about me being in a coma. That's a bit of a dream sequence episode!"
How does the writing process on the series work?
"I started out with my goal being not to write the show. It's so unbelievably time-consuming. I've now realised that that's never going to happen. If I'm in the show, I can't let go of that process. So some scripts are virtually 100% written by me, and some are more like 50% or 60%. But I'm still yet to get to that stage where I'm the minority writer in the show. That's not an ego thing, it's a complaint! I want to not write the show. But this show has dictated every minute of my life for five years and I'm very protective of it. There's no way I'm going to let go of the writing now."
Is there a crossover when you're writing between the show and your stand-up material?
"When we wrote the first series, I was crow-barring in a lot of jokes. But I'm very proud of the fact that it's story-led now. Though sometimes there will be a gag that I'm very proud of and I'll sneak it into my stand-up until it's on telly! But it's very rare that it happens now."
Is there a chance of any more Christmas specials?
"We've not been recommissioned for another series, so we don't know. But hopefully! I love the Christmas specials."
Are you pleased to be one of the few studio-based sitcoms on BBC One?
"I'm pleased with what we do, so I'm pleased that more people get to see it. If you've got something that you want to show off, you can't beat BBC One. The downside is that the more people that watch it, the more pressure there is. There are shows [on other channels] that last longer even though they get less viewers. I'm fascinated by the idea of minority viewing figures. You can be seen as a hit with 1 million viewers, because you're on a minority channel."
Do you ever feel pressure to change the show to fit a mainstream audience?
"Never. We just write it the way we write it. It just so happens that they feel that it's right for BBC One. There's never been a deliberate idea to write it for any particular audience. The show was commissioned for BBC Two originally and we haven't changed the style since then. I once read a review of my stand-up that said, 'He's very cleverly tapped into a mainstream audience'. I really wish that I was that clever! You just go on stage and do what you think is funny!"
What are your thoughts on other studio-based sitcoms?
"I'm sort of patriotic towards studio-based sitcoms. I'll have a blind argument with anyone. You could have the worst sitcom in the world in a studio and I'll defend it to the ground, because I just think there's too much naturalism and realism in comedy. I think it needs a counter-balance, as much as possible."
Not Going Out returns this Thursday at 9.30pm on BBC One.