On January 14, 2010, HBO presented their new shows at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, California for the TV Critics Association. It was one drama after another, Treme, a series about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Temple Grandin, about a autistic women who went on to revolutionize the cattle industry, You Don’t Know Jack, the story of Dr. Death, Jack Kevorkian and The Pacific, a miniseries from Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks about World War II. But, finally, after all that seriousness, came Ricky Gervais and his writing/producing partner, Stephen Merchant, who irreverently changed the mood in the room.
They were there to talk about The Ricky Gervais Show, an animated series based on their record-breaking podcasts. The show is voiced by Ricky, Stephen and their unusual friend, Karl Pilkington, whose off-beat musings and philosophy have inspired many of the storylines.
So where’s Karl?
Ricky Gervais: He’s on his way to Rio, I think, to do a documentary called Seven Wonders, which we have arranged. We send him around the world to see what he thinks of the seven wonders, and he’s not impressed so far. He thinks the pyramids are overrated. I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘It’s a bad design. The lounge is going to be huge, but the bedroom is going to be tiny,’ he’s an absolute idiot. (everyone laughs)
Did you have some input on the design of the characters, because you look a little like Fred Flintstone Jr.
Ricky Gervais: I think you will find, in a court of law, I don’t look like him at all. (laughter)
Stephen Merchan: In the cartoon? I’m not sure about Fred Jr, I would say he looks like Fred.
Ricky Gervais: We just wanted to be retro because we thought some of the subjects we handle are quite out there. They are quite taboo subjects, we talk about everything. We thought if it was too spiky and trendy, it would just be too off-putting. So we wanted it to be 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!
Stephen Merchan: Yeah, his understanding of evolution is that it went, ‘Germs, fish, mermaid, man.’
Ricky Gervais: Yeah, he actually thought mermaid was part of our human evolution.
How did you come up with the idea to do an animated show?
Ricky Gervais: I don’t think it was our idea. We started these podcasts for a laugh. We used to do a radio show together which is where we met Karl. So we started these podcasts and they got into the Guinness Book of Records somehow, we’ve had about 190 million downloads. And people started taking the audio and animating them, just fans on the internet. We did a little demo, which we showed HBO first, because I just want to be on HBO for the rest of my life.
Stephen Merchan: But we should point out in case people aren’t familiar with the postcast, none of it is scripted, it’s not a scripted show. Karl is not a character. These are real conversations that we’ve had with him.
Ricky Gervais: It’s 40 minutes of just us talking, and everything is in. So there’s nothing quite like it, I think. It’s realimation. I made that word up.
Can you talk about when you first met Karl, and how much difficulty you have convincing people that this is actually who he is?
Ricky Gervais: That’s a very good point. We met him at the radio station, where we worked for about a year, and then we went away and did The Office. And we went back a few years later, and 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’d say, ‘Karl, what do you think?’ And it was comedy gold.
We did a podcast in December 2006, and I said, ‘What was the highlight of this year for you?’ And he said, ‘Well, I was eating a biscuit and I put it on the windowsill, I looked around and there was a grub eating it.’ I went, ‘Why was that an event?’ He went, ‘I never thought I would see that this year, and it made me think we couldn’t be more different, us and the grub, but we both like biscuits.’
Stephen Merchan: I’m just a bit worried. [These journalists] have just had Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks out here talking about the most expensive drama ever, The Pacific, and before that they had Al Pacino as Dr. Death, and we are talking about Karl watching a grub eating a biscuit. I’m just worried that we’re –
Ricky Gervais: – dumbing it down?
Stephen Merchan: Maybe,
Ricky Gervais: I was next door listening, and they weren’t laughing at all.
Stephen Merchan: They were bored out of their minds. (everyone laughs)
Does Mr. Pilkington every object to being characterized as an idiot?
Stephen Merchan: Moron.
Ricky Gervais: Moron is a good one, yeah. He doesn’t object; he doesn’t fully understand what we are talking about.
There are three of you in this show, why is it called The Ricky Gervais Show?
Stephen Merchan: Who’s watching The Karl Pilkington Show?
Ricky Gervais: Yeah, he’s not famous yet. But it is The Karl Pilkington Show, make no mistake about that. It was always called The Ricky Gervais Show; it’s the name of the podcast. Why was it called that? I supposed because I had a higher profile is the honest answer. It’s also a much nicer name than Stephen Merchant, isn’t it? There’s something elegant about it. Stephen Merchant sounds like a bloke who works in a bank. Ricky Gervais, he’s probably going to go down in history, I imagine!