Mitchell's ancestry can in part be traced back to the Highland Clearances. He was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England, to Ian Douglas Mitchell and Kathy Grey Mitchell (née Hughes), who were then hotel managers. In 1977, his parents gave up their jobs to lecture and to look after a then two-year-old Mitchell. He attended Napier House primary school. He is the elder of two boys; when David was seven and a half years old his parents had another son, Daniel. The family moved to Oxford where Mitchell's parents became lecturers on hotel management at Oxford Polytechnic.
In a 2006 interview with The Independent, Mitchell stated his childhood dreams:
When I was at school I either wanted to be a comedian-stroke-actor or prime minister. But I didn't admit that to other people, I said I wanted to be a barrister and that made my parents very happy. I didn't admit I wanted to be a comedian until I came to university, met a lot of other people who wanted to be comedians, and realised it was an okay thing to say.
From the age of 12 Mitchell was educated at Abingdon School, a public school in Oxfordshire. Having always been top of the class at primary school, once he moved to Abingdon, he realised that there were plenty of people more intelligent than he was and so turned his attention to debating and drama, "where [he] had a chance of being the best". There, Mitchell often took part in plays, "largely because you got to play cards backstage." His roles mainly consisted of small minute-long parts, until he won the role of Rabbit in Winnie-the-Pooh. This was the first time that he was "consciously aware I was doing a performance" and that that "was better, even, than playing cards." Mitchell had been "obsessed" with comedy writing since his school days, as he "always felt that doing a joke was the cleverest thing", and "would intrinsically prefer a parody of something to the actual thing itself".
Mitchell was in his first year at university when he met Robert Webb during rehearsals for a 1993 Footlights production of Cinderella, and the two men soon set up a comedy partnership. According to Mitchell these factors had a detrimental effect on his studies at university and he attained a 2:2 in his final exams.
"We have superficial differences and underlying similarities. We pretty much agree about what we think is funny. But we come across differently. We get on really. And together we're greater than the sum of our parts."
— Mitchell describing his partnership with Webb.
Mitchell's first project with Webb was in January 1995, a show about a nuclear apocalypse entitled Innocent Millions Dead or Dying: A Wry Look at the Post-Apocalyptic Age. Webb later described it as being "fucking terrible". After leaving university he and Webb began performing a number of two-man shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.
In 2001 the two men were commissioned for a sketch show of their own, entitled The Mitchell and Webb Situation, which ran for six episodes on the now defunct channel Play UK. Despite the show running for a mere series, it was reasonably well received. Wessex Scene's Darren Richman said "what the series lacked in budget, it made up for in magnificent material" and went on to call it "far superior to the vastly overrated Little Britain" and "perhaps the greatest forgotten sketch show of modern times."Eureka! TV said that the show "gushes forth an hilarious stream of surreal and quirkily inventive sketches", as well as calling it a "cult success". Eureka! TV released The Mitchell and Webb Situation on DVD in 2005. In the interview with Wessex Scene, Mitchell stated that he was "more proud of the way it turned out than annoyed that it was only aired on a small channel."
Mitchell and Webb's next project came in 2003, with starring roles in the Channel 4 sitcom Peep Show, as flatmates Mark Corrigan and Jeremy Usbourne respectively. The show originated from writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain's failed attempt to complete a team-written sitcom for the BBC; they had an old script that they wanted to revive and Mitchell and Webb helped out, with it eventually evolving into Peep Show. Despite low viewing figures (which almost got the show cancelled after series three) the show was received to wide critical acclaim. The British Sitcom Guide called it "without a doubt one of the best sitcoms of the decade." Ricky Gervais has been cited as saying "the last thing I got genuinely excited about on British TV was Peep Show, which I thought was the best sitcom since Father Ted". The BBC hailed Mitchell's performance in the series, citing that "As Mark Corrigan, David reached out to all those middle-aged men in a twentysomething's body, who believe drugs are boring and systems are necessary if society is to function at all." Mitchell has stated that he empathises with Mark and enjoys playing him and that he "agrees with many of [Mark's] opinions."Peep Show has aired nine series, making it the longest-running sitcom in Channel 4 history.
That Mitchell and Webb Look won them the BAFTA for Best Comedy Programme or Series at the 2007 awards, and they earned a further nomination for it in 2009. It was nominated for two British Comedy Awards in 2006: Britain's Best New TV Comedy and the Highland Spring People's Choice. Their stage tour The Two Faces of Mitchell and Webb was nominated for the British Comedy Award for Best Stage Comedy, and That Mitchell and Webb Sound won a Sony Silver Award.
Their first film, Magicians was released on 18 May 2007. It was directed by Andrew O'Connor and written by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain. Mitchell played the role of a magician named Harry. Later in 2007, the pair recorded a pilot BBC Radio 2 sitcom entitled Daydream Believers, in which Mitchell played Ray, a science-fiction writer. The show was previously a one-off television pilot from Channel 4's Comedy Lab, and also starred Mitchell and Webb.
Mitchell and Webb's first comedy book This Mitchell and Webb Book was published in 2009, and a second book is in the works. They also wrote and filmed Playing Shop, a comedy television pilot for BBC2 about two men who operate a business out of their shed. Although the BBC commissioners were happy with it, Mitchell and Webb scrapped it themselves, as they felt it was too similar to Peep Show. A new pilot had been commissioned, but the plan was later shelved. Mitchell and Webb voiced a robotic duo in the Doctor Who episode "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" in 2012.
In 2007 the duo fronted the UK version of Apple Inc.'s Get a Mac adverts, with Mitchell playing PC. The adverts received much criticism. Writing in The Guardian, Charlie Brooker claimed that the use of Mitchell and Webb in the adverts was a curious choice. He compared the characters of PC and Mac in the adverts to those of Mark and Jeremy in Peep Show, stating that "when you see the ads, you think, 'PCs are a bit rubbish yet ultimately lovable, whereas Macs are just smug, preening tossers.'"The British Sitcom Guide also criticised the pair for "selling their souls". One journalist called the adverts "worse than not funny", and accused Mitchell and Webb of "an act of grave betrayal" for taking corporate work. In an interview with The Telegraph, Robert Webb responded to the duo's critics, stating that "when someone asks, 'Do you want to do some funny ads for not many days in the year and be paid more than you would be for an entire series of Peep Show?' the answer, obviously, is, 'Yeah, that's fine.'" In the same interview, Mitchell also said: "I don't see what is morally inconsistent with a comedian doing an advert. It's all right to sell computers, isn't it? Unless you think that capitalism is evil – which I don't. It's not like we're helping to flog a baby-killing machine."
In 2005, the duo were placed ninth on a list of the United Kingdom's best television talent, and were named twelfth in a Radio Times list of the most powerful people in television comedy.
As well as his work alongside Webb, Mitchell has appeared on his own in several shows. He played technical expert Owen in the Radio 4 sitcom Think the Unthinkable in 2001. He played the surgeon Dr Toby Stephens in the BBC2 sitcom Doctors and Nurses. In 2005 he played Kate's hapless secretary Tim in the BBC's updating of The Taming of The Shrew in its ShakespeaRe-Told series. Mitchell appeared as various roles on the Channel 4 sketch programme Blunder. The show was not well received, with the British Sitcom Guide naming it as the worst thing that Mitchell did in all of 2006 in their "British Sitcom Awards" of that year. He portrayed the recurring character of Dr. James Vine in the BBC sitcom Jam and Jerusalem. Mitchell had a small part in the film I Could Never Be Your Woman, playing an English writer, also named David. While in Los Angeles to record the part he decided that he did not like the area much, and preferred filming in Britain.
Mitchell has presented four series of the online video show David Mitchell's Soapbox, a series of short monologues co-written with John Finnemore for ChannelFlip. In these monologues Mitchell has criticised a variety of subjects, including the BBC show Doctor Who and 3D television. Matt Warman of the Daily Telegraph suggested that the series could be a sign that new comedy will increasingly become available online, rather than on television. The series has been released on DVD.
Mitchell has become a regular participant on many panel shows, leading The Independent's James Rampton to christen him "if not king, then certainly prince regent of the panel games." Mitchell is a team captain on the panel show Would I Lie To You?, opposite Lee Mack. The show has run since 2007, airing nine series. Since 2006, he has hosted fourteen series of The Unbelievable Truth, a panel game on BBC Radio 4. The inaugural episode of Was It Something I Said?, a panel comedy show that Mitchell hosts, was broadcast on Channel 4 in October 2013.
In a 2007 interview with Digital Spy, Mitchell stated that he enjoyed panel shows, as they are "a game worth playing". He then further explained his appreciation of the panel format in response to criticism from Fast Show co-creator Charlie Higson, who stated in September 2013 that panel comedies were overtaking television programming at the expense of sketch shows and sitcoms:
There was a quote from Catherine Zeta-Jones about playing golf with her husband Michael Douglas. We essentially all started to imagine the scene of the two of them playing golf and that was very enjoyable and turned into a really fun bit of TV. It is moments like that which, for me, justify the existence of panel shows because no-one would ever have written those words. It purely came out of that combination of people which proves panel shows can produce funny TV in a way you could never write into a sitcom or a sketch show and thereby justifies its place on screen. I think it is a great form of entertainment and we shouldn't lose sight of that.
The Radio Times named him "The Best Comedy Panel Show Guest" in the world, stating that "he's incredibly, disgustingly witty" and "even starting to make Paul Merton look slow on the uptake".
Following his BAFTA win, Mitchell was ranked at No. 53 in the 2009 MediaGuardian 100, an annual ranking of media people in The Guardian. In reference to his ubiquitous presence in broadcast and print media, The Guardian's writer called him "the go-to funnyman of the moment". In their entry for Peep Show on their list of "The top 50 TV shows of the Noughties", The Times labelled Mitchell "a national institution".
Mitchell's father was born in Liverpool of Scottish ancestry, and his mother is Welsh—Mitchell considers himself British rather than English. On 7 August 2014, Mitchell's name appeared—as part of a list of 200 signatories—in support of an open letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence prior to the September 2014 referendum on the issue. Mitchell's participation in the open letter follows a May 2011 Observer column, in which he concludes that the "British will have lost their country" if Scotland ever achieves independence.
Mitchell has often joked about his personal life in interviews. In 2005 he stated he had "been in so many situations when I've just said nothing to someone I've fancied." He later added that "I'm sort of all right on my own. I don't want it to be forever, but the fundamental thing is I'm all right alone." For many years he lived in Kilburn, London, as the flatmate of novelist Robert Hudson. In 2007, he was best man at Robert Webb's wedding to Abigail Burdess.
He first met broadcaster Victoria Coren at a showbusiness party in 2007 and was "completely smitten", and although she decided to pursue someone else, he continued to pine for her. In December 2010 they began dating. In March 2012 their engagement was announced in The Times, and they married on 17 November 2012. In May 2015, Coren announced the birth of their daughter.
He remains interested in history and said in an interview with The Observer that "I can see myself in a few years' time joining the National Trust and going round the odd castle. I think I might find that restful as the anger of middle age sets in." In his interview on Parkinson he stated that if he could go back in time to do one thing, it would be to go to the building of Stonehenge, to ask them "why they were bothering". He is a cricket and snooker fan, and also plays the occasional game of squash and tennis. He is a user of Twitter, and does not drive. He is an agnostic.
Mitchell walks for an hour each day to counter a bad back, and as a result lost weight, but he "probably [has] quite a bad diet" and "probably drinks too much." He is constantly "checking and re-checking things", and describes himself as a worrier. Mitchell is a keen cricket fan and has written on the subject for The Guardian.
Longest running role;
Won – British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actor in 2007
Nominated – BAFTA for Best Comedy Performance in 2008
Won – BAFTA for Best Comedy Performance in 2009
Nominated – BAFTA for Male Performance in a Comedy Role in 2010, 2011
^Mitchell, David (2 November 2007). The Big Fat Anniversary Quiz (Television production). Channel 4.
^Ken Plume (26 June 2012). "A Bit of a Chat With Ken Plume & David Mitchell 3". FRED Entertainment (Podcast). Event occurs at 1:23:23. Retrieved 8 August 2013. 'Innocent Millions Dead or Dying' ... which wasn't actually about the first world war, that's what they put on Wikipedia ... it was about a nuclear apocalypse.