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Q&A: Stephen Merchant From 'The Ricky Gervais Show'

Doshka Harvey Doshka Harvey
February 25th, 2010 11:10am EST

The Ricky Gervais Show

The Ricky Gervais Show with comedian Ricky Gervais and writing partner/comedian Stephen Merchant (of The Office and Extras fame) along with pal and radio producer Karl Pilkington is hilarious.  It's an animated series set to the nonsensical conversations had by the three gentlemen during their podcasts bringing them to life as we've never seen before.

The series can be considered a sort of modern day Howard Stern show in the sense that it revolves around Karl's odd verbal musings while Ricky and Stephen poke fun at him - Ricky and Stephen can be likened to a joint force nicer version of Howard Stern (though Gervais does refer to Karl as an idiot quite a bit), while Karl serves as a better opinionated version of Baba Booey (Stern's show producer Gary Dell'Abate).

Recently we interviewed Stephen Merchant and he described one of his first encounters with Karl Pilkington by stating that, "Almost the moment that he opened his mouth, the first time we were working with him, I think we were working on this radio show and he was just a producer pressing buttons, we asked him a question, I mean who knows what the question was, and the answer was just extraordinary.  I mean completely not what we were expecting.  And, over the subsequent weeks we would just - every day out on the show we would ask him just a few more questions.  And, we would just bring the stuff out.  And, he was never interested, couldn't care less, wasn't trying to be on the radio, wasn't interested in being a star.  But [he] would just come out with stories about families he knew growing up with horses in their living room and he thought it was perfectly acceptable.  Or, two people with giant heads and webbed feet who never hung out together because in his words "that would be too obvious."  [He], you know, just would pipe up with questions you know, "Hey, Steve what are those things in the film Gremlins called?"  "Gremlins, Karl."  And, so it would go on again, endlessly, again and again and again.  It was just - it just seemed like a never ending well of stuff. But, then also just his unique approach to the world.  He just sees the world differently and that's magical in him."

There is no doubt that the boys have had a major hit with their podcasts.  They've been downloaded so often that it was ranked number one throughout the world and was entered into the Guinness World Record in 2007.  With such fanfare Stephen told us a bit about how the current animated show came to be and explained that, "we were made aware that there was quite a number of sorts of fans of our radio shows and our podcasts who had already taken upon themselves to sort of animate some of their favorite bits.  Just, you know, using kind of basic equipment at home.  And, they put a lot of these on YouTube and they were very good and very funny.  And, they kind of gave a new dimension to the dialogues.  So we thought, you know, maybe we should take that idea on really and sort of apply kind of a professional approach to it.  And that's sort of how it ended up where it is."

The Ricky Gervais Show

While he is incredibly funny, unless one has been a fan of the podcasts for years, many people are not as aware of Karl Pilkington as they are of Ricky or Stephen.  It is easy to recognize them from their fame via the British original version of The Office or Extras, but Karl has remained somewhat of an occult figure of sorts to some.   According to Stephen, "part of the impulse was to bring Karl to a wide audience really. We've got this kind of cult following, but we wanted to sort of bring him to people who were not familiar with his way of looking at the world."  From watching the show it is quite clear that Karl sticks to his opinions.  He is aware that what he says is different, however, he doesn't seem to mind and this is clearly where and how Gervais and Merchant get their kicks when teasing him which altogether makes for very comical television.

It's possible that Karl could make a believer of anyone concerning some of the slapstick things he says.  One listens and logically knows what he's saying makes no sense, but after a few minutes, one could be made to believe, convert, give in or be brought to tears caused by hysterical laughter.  You can be the judge when you watch the show yourself.

Another thing to cause explosive amusement is the animation of the boys themselves which is done in a very old school cartoon style.  It is, at the same time, quite appealing and refreshing.  Stephen seemed quite pleased with the results and volunteered that, "we sort of thought for us, for some reason we want the animation to be kind of quite simple, quite elegant, quite old-fashioned.  You know we were citing things like Hanna-Barbera and The Flintstones.  And, you know, they've made me look like a kind of lanky, goggle-eyed nerd.  I don't know why they've gone down that road, but there we are.  But, if that's what they think will entertain people so be it.  And I'm quite charmed by it.  I think they sort of captured something about us."

The Ricky Gervais Show

It is apparent that Stephen Merchant, Ricky Gervais and now Karl Pilkington have achieved and are still achieving great success with their comedy.  Asked whether he ever anticipated reaching this far with writing partner Ricky, Stephen exclaimed, "Well, - no, obviously, no.  We actually began like working together on the radio station, but we worked behind the scenes together.  We were not on the air.  And, we sort of had a rapport and we would - over time - we occasionally would appear on the radio.  But, Ricky was my boss essentially.  And, I eventually left that job and I joined the BBC because I figured Ricky would probably get us both fired because he was terrible at the job and I was right because he did get fired a year later.  But, meantime I had joined the BBC where I was able to open some doors for us to do sort of - to start writing comedy and that was how The Office happened.

So, we slipped him in, in a way.  We could have learned - we learned as we went along really you know.  We had not had any experience as writers.  Ricky had never been a performer or an actor, but for some reason we just had this presumption that we can maybe do or that at least we should have a go at it.  Obviously everything else that has happened since is just the weird extraordinary, you know, amazing rollercoaster.  But, yes, we never even anticipated that they would let us on TV, let alone Ricky host The Golden Globes.  I mean it's crazy.  It's really stupid."

If you did not chance seeing the show's debut last Friday, then this week would be the right time to have a go at it airing Fridays on HBO at 9pm.

Doshka Harvey

Story by Doshka Harvey

Starpulse contributing writer

Photo Credits: Image © Nicola Dove/HBO and © HBO


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