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Q&A: Ricky Gervais On HBO's Animation Of Favorite Karl Pilkington Conversations

Fred Topel Fred Topel
February 18th, 2010 11:32am EST

The Ricky Gervais ShowRicky Gervais is a funny guy. Every show he's in gets critical acclaim like the British The Office which inspired the hit American show and other remakes around the world. Fans of his Extras are still clamoring for a reunion show or something to keep the magic going.



At least now they'll have The Ricky Gervais Show to get their Ricky fix. Only Gervais isn't the funny one on this show. The source of all the laughs is a guy named Karl Pilkington who just says has the strangest observations on life. Gervais, his partner Stephen Merchant and Pilkington have a podcast where they just talk and let Karl say his weird things. Now HBO has animated those conversations as a new original series.

Gervais was a funny interview, but was more happy to laugh at random Karl quotes he shared with reporters. See for yourself when The Ricky Gervais Show premieres February 19 on HBO.

Starpulse: What kind of family background produced a guy like Karl Pilkington?

Ricky Gervais: He comes from a very poor working class estate in Manchester. He didn't go to school much. He used to ride around on his bike and he had a pet magpie. I don't know, now he's self educated. Since we've met him, he's trying to educate himself, isn't he? He reads things but he forgets it immediately.

Does he have siblings like him?

Well, he doesn't know his siblings. He said, he bumped into his sister, right? He hadn't seen her for 15 years and she went, "Oh, do you want to see my new baby?" He went, "Not really, I know what it looks like."

The Ricky Gervais ShowDid you have some input on the design of the characters? You kind of look like Fred Flinstone.

I think you will find, in a court of law, I don't look like him at all. We just wanted to be retro because we thought some of the subjects we handle are quite out there. They are quite taboo subjects. You know, we talk about everything. And we thought, if it was too spiky and trendy, it would just be too off putting. So we wanted it to be sort of, like, cozy and sweet and cuddly because some of the things that Karl has come up with are incredible. I mean, he thought Anne Frank was just avoiding paying rent. We have to explain these things to him like he's starting from scratch. It is honestly like the Roswell Project. It's like we have woken him up, and we have to explain to him about the world because it's bizarre, isn't it?

These things are funny on their own, so how did you come up with the idea to animate it?

I don't think it was our idea. What happened was, we start at these podcasts for a laugh. We used to do a radio show together, which is where we met Karl, and because of our commitments, we couldn't do a regular slot. We didn't want to keep moving and letting people down. So we thought, well, if we do a podcast, we can do it anytime we want, put it out there, and it's ongoing. So we started these podcasts, and they got into the Guinness Book of Records somehow. Now, we've had about 190 million downloads, and we even sell them now. There's a business and people started taking the audio and animating them, just fans on the Internet. I think we were approached by the company who made it, I think Wild Rain, and we did a little demo, which we showed HBO first. HBO got first look on everything we do, not officially, but I just want to be on HBO for the rest of my life. I just want to hang out at HBO. I think it's just a perfect time, really.


And you don't have to record any new material for this?

No, exactly. We were doing a Christmas podcast. We're sort of like the three wise men brining gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus and Karl says, "Were those presents for his birthday or Christmas?" We were talking about Noah's ark and I said, "Karl, think. How could they get 5 million different species of animals in two so 10 million animals all on that ark? Also they'd all be part of the food chain. They'd have to eat each other. Why didn't the lion eat the antelope? Why didn't the spider eat the fly?" And Karl said, "Because in a crisis you all pull together." We got this reality game show in England, right? It's like a big brother type thing but set on an island. It's getting so tenuous now because it's got famous people. Now it's got siblings of famous people. There was one guy on there who was the son of a famous footballer, right? We were talking about it and one of us said, "The thing is he's only famous because of who his dad was." And Karl went, "You could say the same about Jesus." Not one thing is scripted. We don't manipulate, and we don't say, "Let's do that bit again" even. The only bits we cut out are us going "Testing, testing," and "I need to go to the loo." It's a half an hour, 40 minutes of just us talking, and everything is in. So there's nothing quite like it, I think. It's realimation. Yeah, I made that up. I made that up.

Where did you first meet Karl and how much difficulty do you have convincing people that this is actually who he is?

Yeah. That's a very good point. We met him at the radio station. We worked at a local radio station and we worked in it for about a year, and then we went away and did The Office. We went back a few years later. Then we were big shots, weren't we? And we didn't want to press the buttons ourselves. So they gave us this little round headed minion who worked there, and he was doing his job and not impressed with us at all. And then, now and again, we said, "Karl, what do you think?" And it was comedy gold. It was just incredible. It was just incredible. And people say, "Is Karl really like that?" And I say, "Well, I mean, if it's an act, he keeps it up 24/7." I call him every day, three or four times a day, just to find out what he's doing. I called him the other day, and I said, "What are you doing?" And he went, "Just walking in the park." I went, "All right." He went, "Oh." I said, "What?" He said, "A worm just fell from the sky." And I went, "What do you mean?" He went, "He just fell out of the sky." I said, "Well, a bird probably dropped it." And he went, "Oh, yeah, there is a bird." He just hadn't thought of looking up. We did one podcast, I think it was December 2006. And I said, "What was the highlight of the year?" I said, "Looking back at this year, what will stand out for you?" And he said, "Probably that time I saw a grub eating a biscuit." I go, "What do you mean?" He went, "Well, I was eating a biscuit. I put the rest on the windowsill. I looked around, and there was a grub eating it." I went, "Why is that an event?" He went, "I never thought I would see that that year. It made me think we couldn't be more different, us and the grub, but we both like a biscuit." He is amazing. He is amazing. He's fascinated with sort of chimps and monkeys. We do a regular feature called "Monkey News" where he gets some sort of spurious tale, and he embellishes it. He doesn't mean to, but he sort of fills in the gaps himself and I try and feed this fascination. There was an interesting article in one of the broad sheets in England in The Guardian. Clearly the point he was making was that chimpanzees, like humans, have an adolescence. It was about this teenage chimp that had an argument with his father, and it has run away. And I told Karl this, and Karl went, "What was the argument about? What was the argument about?" It's incredible, isn't it?

What is your fascination with monkeys? You talk about them a lot in your act too.

Do I? Well, they are good, aren't they? What's not to like about a monkey? They are brilliant, and they are our closest cousin. In fact, they are closer to me than my cousins. I don't mix with my cousins. They are smarter than my cousins.

Does Mr. Pilkington ever object to being characterized as an idiot or an imbecile or any of the other words you are using to describe him apart from perhaps fascinating?

Moron is a good one, yeah. He doesn't fully understand what we are talking about.

So Hollywood loves you, and HBO loves you. When are you actually going to come and move over to L.A. and put on a decent chat show on television?

Oh.

Late night needs you.

I tell you what. I was on a decent chat show recently. I thought Conan was amazing. I thought that monologue he did, under the circumstances, was one of the funniest, most biting monologues I've seen on a chat show for years. I don't know. I couldn't do it. I couldn't do a chat show. I mean, I don't know. It seems too much like a real job.

Didn't you have one in England?

I couldn't do it. It wasn't a real chat show. It was a spoof chat show. It was a comedy show. But because we hadn't done anything on television, we couldn't even get guests. Well, we got guests, but they're all dead now because they were so old. It was people who hadn't been on television for, like, 30 years then.

Didn't the Conan situation give him the best material he's had?

I think Conan's great. I do. I think he's really, really funny and it's a shame this has happened but I think it's given them all material. I think they're all flying at the moment. This is a good time to be watching late night chat shows I think.

The Ricky Gervais Show

Image © HBO



Fred TopelStory/Interview by Fred Topel

Starpulse contributing writer

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Photo Credits: HBO