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TV Interview

Karl Pilkington, Ricky Gervais ('An Idiot Abroad')

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Karl Pilkington, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant in An Idiot Abroad

© NBC Universal

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant have spent several years and made lots of money out of poking fun at their former co-worker and close friend Karl Pilkington. The trio's record-breaking podcasts have sold by the suitcase-load and were even turned into a cartoon series earlier this year. So what better way to repay Karl than to send him on a Sky1-funded trip around the Seven Wonders of the World? The only problem is that Karl didn't want to go and he's most definitely no Michael Palin. We caught up with the trio last week to find out what we can expect from this travel documentary with a difference:

Some early reviews of the show have criticised it from a travel perspective. Does that upset you?
Karl: "I'm not that bothered. But if my gran is reading that and getting worried thinking, 'ooh Karl's getting slagged off', that's annoying. But I'm not sure she reads the Mail. They get the Star because they prefer the crossword. When stuff happens to a family, all sorts of people come out of the work. People like cousins who you never speak to love that. 'Ooh they are slagging Karl off'. They love it."
Stephen: "What's the crossword in the Star like?
Ricky: "It's definitely not cryptic, is it? What did your Aunt think about being mentioned in the show, because you refer to her a few times. Will she do the second series for us? Because you've said that you won't."
Karl: "I'm definitely not doing anything again. There's a little scoop for you!"

Did you ever suggest going to some more luxurious places Karl?
Karl: "When we did India, I said, 'look everyone's seen India's poor. They are bored of it'. One of the richest men in the world lives in India. I didn't mention it to Ricky and Stephen because I knew that they wouldn't go for it, but I told Sky1. I just said 'People are sick of seeing the depressing stuff - why not send me to a really expensive place and have me staying there?' But no... I ended up staying in the back of a kebab shop."

Why did you sign up for it in the first place if you weren't happy about it?
Karl: "I can't really remember. I have had offers for stuff in the past like jobs and stuff off the back of the podcast. I'm not that lazy, but I don't need that much money. I lead a fairly simple life. It's more because my girlfriend said, 'you'll get to see the world, you'll regret it if you don't do it'. And at that point I didn't know the places that I would be staying. People in here probably think it was all set-up, but it really wasn't. If I did know everything, I wouldn't have done it."
Ricky: "I must say that it was a little bit of a practical joke on my part. I think Karl is fascinating and I can't get enough of him. He's the funniest creature I have ever met and I want the world to see this man. I think he is the eighth wonder. It is incredible and we were blown away by him on the show."
Karl: "I would have tried harder if I'd known what a big deal it was for Sky. I thought there's loads of these programmes like Ibiza Uncovered and you just switch off. But there are billboards and stuff. I didn't know there would be billboards! I would have tried harder if I'd known it was going to be so high profile."

Why do you think Karl makes such great TV Ricky?
Ricky: "Karl is just so honest. You see reality TV and it's not reality TV. It's contrived and everything is plotted and scripted nearly. Documentaries are the same and just as bad. This is really old school. Just hundreds of hours of putting a camera in this guy's face and getting his real reactions. All the voiceover is him saying it at the time. We didn't have him in a booth saying, 'Oh I remember when'. Everything is in the moment. There's nothing like it. I think the one on the Middle East shows the Middle East like never before on TV. Out of the mouth of babes. I think it's remarkable. As well as it being funny, I don't think it's just a joke anymore. I think it's a really important document. And I think it's amazing. I can't get enough of it. I thought it would be a Punk'd in foreign places, but it's not like that at all. Karl really grabbed the bull by the horns."
Karl: "I definitely did that. I did that in Mexico.
Ricky: "Nothing is done in retrospect on this show. It either happened or didn't. You have never seen these countries like this before. They are usually sugar-coated. Karl says what he's thinking. It's from the heart. You really get a man's first reaction on everything he sees."

Were you worried about offending people with the show?
Karl: "There's nothing in the first episode at the Great Wall that I wouldn't say to a Chinese man who could understand me."
Stephen: "That's a hell of a quote."
Karl: "I don't want to go about offending people, that's not my plan."
Ricky: "Karl never offends people, he just says what he's thinking. It's up those people if they are offended or not. Karl's the least pretentious person on the planet. There's no agenda."

Did you enjoy any of the trip Karl?
Karl: "Meeting the guru in India. I got on with him. It's funny, because people said, 'oh it will broaden your mind'. But it hasn't, all it's done is ruin Monster Munch for me. I took them with me and it's all I ate. I took Pickled Onion because the face on the front is smiling at you. I can't eat them now. And I'll probably get free boxes of them now I've mentioned them."

Do you think people will believe that this show is all real and not scripted?
Ricky: "Do you know what? It doesn't matter. People are going to say it's contrived and a conspiracy. People think Karl's an actor called Graham and we write the lines for him. Can you imagine us bothering to write these dopey lines for him. Who cares about what the travel writers write about the show? AA Gill said, 'it's probably terrible'. What does that mean? He's probably thinking, 'why has this bald-headed twonk got a TV show?' You won, Karl!"

Will there be a second series?
Ricky: "I had an idea today. A great idea for series two. I don't think we should say what it is."
Karl: "It's definitely not travelling again."
Ricky: "We won't say, but it's a doozy."

What was the worst thing you ate on your travels Karl?
Karl: "I had crickets. I ate a fat worm. I wanted a thin one, but I couldn't get one. So I ate an overweight worm. I ate a cock and bollocks."
Ricky: "Penis and testicles! When he was eating the penis, he told the bloke, 'I think I've eaten this before!' He said famously on the podcast that he could eat a knob a night. When Carol Thatcher chowed down on one in the jungle, you said that."
Karl: "I wouldn't eat another one. But there's a lot of couscous out there and tasteless stuff out there. So maybe that's why they eat knob out there. It's all crumbly stuff with no taste, so it gets away from the dullness."

What was the worst part of the trip?
Karl: "It's in the jungle. Having to go s**t in a carrier bag in a tent. You can't wander off in the jungle and do it. So there I am crouching down thinking, 'I had a normal job seven years ago. Why am I doing this? It was the lowest point in my life. Shitting in a Waitrose carrier bag. I'll never forget it. People say you'll have great memories. No I won't. That is always going to be there. Me in a one-man tent crouching over carrier bag. It's not just the lowest point of the trip. It's the lowest point ever. In 38 years."

An Idiot Abroad starts Thursday at 9pm on Sky1.

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