Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant send a reluctant Karl Pilkington off on a new set of hilarious adventures…
When asked to compile a list of things to do before you die, not many people would include ‘working part-time at B&Q’. But then not many people are like Karl Pilkington, the travelphobic Little Englander sent by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant to visit the Seven Wonders of the World in last year’s hilarious Sky1 travelogue An Idiot Abroad.
A seriously underwhelmed Karl compared the Great Wall of China to the M6, thought Christ the Redeemer in Rio looked like Jimmy Hill and suggested that, instead of the Taj Mahal, Princess Di should have gone to Centre Parcs.
Yet despite saying ‘never again’ on his return, Karl has been persuaded to sign up for another series, this time ticking off items from a bucket list of things to do before you die, starting on Friday, September 23 (Sky1, 9pm) with living on a desert island.
TV&Satellite Week magazine caught up with Karl and his tormentors-in-chief, Messrs Gervais and Merchant, to hear some travellers’ tales…
How difficult was it to persuade you to do a second series?
Karl Pilkington: “Straight after the last one, Ricky and Steve were saying: ‘Let’s send you to see the natural wonders of the world, or something like that.’ And I was like, ‘Forget it’. But I need the money. That’s why I did it. I’m not joking.”
Stephen Merchant: “It took a relentless battery of phone calls from Ricky.”
Ricky Gervais: “I tried everything – threatening him, begging him, reverse psychology, everything – because I knew it would be an amazing show.”
Merchant: “That’s why there was a bit more of a carrot this time, as he believed he had more choice.”
Gervais: “That’s what we paid him in – carrots. We chose the 100 most popular bucket list items and he had to choose seven or eight. Then we added things, and some we completely changed – so swimming with dolphins became swimming with sharks. We stitched him up.”
What is the secret of the show’s appeal?
Gervais: “I think it’s one of the best travel shows ever, because Karl’s got no filter – he says exactly what he’s thinking at that moment in time. This is not a man who’s trying to be funny. This is a man who’s angry and out of his comfort zone.”
Is there an element of sadism in what you put Karl through?
Gervais: “I’m quite Nietzschean about it. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Karl pointed out that’s not strictly true – polio, for example. He took it a bit literally. Karl is my gift to the world. Steve and I are like Anthony Hopkins taking round John Merrick in The Elephant Man.”
Merchant: “No, we’re more like that cruel freak show guy who beats him!”
Karl, do you mind being compared with the Elephant Man?
Merchant: “He was a man of great humanity and dignity.”
Pilkington: “Yeah, I suppose.”
Gervais: “Actually, it’s Karl’s favourite film. We were watching that bit where Anthony Hopkins says to the surgeons: ‘The one thing that is untouched, the genitals – completely normal.’ And Karl went: ‘Think of that, the one thing that you would want like an elephant…”
Karl sees a mountain gorilla in the wild in this series. Was that a spiritual experience?
Gervais: “The director wanted him to say something profound. And what did you say, Karl?”
Merchant: “Did you quote one of the great thinkers?”
Gervais: “Maybe Keats or DH Lawrence? What did you say?”
Pilkington: “I said: ‘I say it best when I say nothing at all’. Ronan Keating. I think that’s what was needed.”
Gervais: “What would JLS have said?”
Pilkington: “I had to walk 10 hours to see a gorilla. I was happier when I saw the Land Rover for the drive back than I was when I saw the gorilla. You go home feeling a bit depressed because you think: ‘Why am I not enjoying this?’”
Gervais: “Well, life is a rollercoaster!”
Was swimming with sharks scary?
Pilkington: “Because I’m not a great swimmer, I was dealing more with not liking being underwater. It took ages to get me in, and I’d been on the boat for two days and felt sick. The shark came out of nowhere. The closest thing I could think of was when there’s a wasp in the car. That panic of thinking, ‘That shouldn’t be here!’”
Merchant: “What, the shark shouldn’t be in the sea?”
Gervais: “That’s the one place it should be! If the shark was in the car, then you could say: ‘That shouldn’t be here.’”
Karl, has doing the two series toughened you up?
Pilkington: “I don’t know what would faze me any more. And that’s a problem for the programme.”
Gervais: “I know what would faze you. We should do a show where we rent you out for stag dos. That would be much worse than bungee jumping or swimming with sharks. Having to go on some stag weekend in Prague with a load of pissed-up prats.”
Is there something left on your bucket list that you’d still like to do?
Pilkington: “I’ve seen a lot of the world and I don’t think there’s anything else worth seeing.”
Gervais: “This sounds like Rutger Hauer’s speech at the end of Blade Runner where he says: ‘Time to die.’”
Pilkington: “But I wouldn’t mind kicking a duck up the arse. There’s just something about it. And slapping a kid’s head. Because kids’ heads are quite big.”