Does Ricky Gervais’ new travel show take the concept of “Idiots’ Guides” to new heights? Or is there more to the monotone presenter of ‘An Idiot Abroad’ than meets the ear?
By Joel Quenby
When it comes to Karl Pilkington, Ricky Gervais is a man on a mission, and that mission is to put the man on the map—literally. Pilkington, for those not in the know, is one of Gervais’s regular sidekicks, appearing on most, if not all, of the U.K. creator of The Office’s popular podcasts.
And so it was that web surfers lapped up The Ricky Gervais Show in their millions. The irreverent comedy broadcast was named as “The World’s Most Downloaded Podcast” in the 2007 Guinness Book of World Records, and later adapted into a cartoon for HBO and Channel 4.
Pilkington became an unlikely cult celebrity, authoring books, landing voice-over work and cropping up on chat shows before his first solo presenting gig fronting a televised travel show, ostensibly touring the so-called “seven wonders of the world.” But really, the set-up of An Idiot Abroad takes the downbeat everyman “out of his comfort zone” and films it for mass giggles—and Gervais’s frequent fits of howling, hysterical laughter.
“It shows a man going through a bit of a crisis. He is out of his comfort zone through the entire series. I watch it and I just cry with laughter. It is the funniest documentary I have ever seen.”—Ricky Gervais
ON THE GREAT WALL, CHINA…
Pilkington: “We managed to find a bit of the Wall that wasn’t too busy. I looked at it. It looked quite new. I was trying to understand what all the fuss was about. My guidebook said it was heavily restored in both the 1950’s and the 80’s. Surely it can’t count as a wonder if it’s not original? If when I went to see the Taj Mahal in India I got there to find a new house with a double garage and a gravel driveway, they couldn’t still sell it as the Taj Mahal, so why is the Wall getting away with it? Bloody hell, is everything fake in China? The coat I bought, the DVD and now the Wall.”
ON THE PYRAMIDS, EGYPT…
Pilkington: “I was told how it was only one of the Pyramids that was a wonder of the world, even though there are three of them, which is odd, as they all look the same. It’s the Great Pyramid that’s the official wonder. I would be annoyed if I was the builder who built one of the other two. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was one of the other builders who knocked the nose off the Sphinx in anger after hearing that news.”
ON THE TAJ MAHAL, INDIA…
“I wasn’t really in the mood to see the Taj Mahal, what with the Delhi Belly and everything, but we had to go that day. I was told it is a mausoleum that took 22 years to build. The Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan had it built for his wife, who died giving birth to their fourteenth son. It seems to me like it was something the man had always wanted to build but his wife didn’t let him, so when she died he used it as an excuse to build his dream. My uncle always wanted a plasma telly, but his wife didn’t want him wasting money on one. Soon as she died he got one.”
ON HOLIDAY MEMENTOS…
“If [Sir] Walter [Raleigh] was around now, I don’t think he’d be bringing anything back, ‘cause it’d be a straw donkey or a big hat. Look at the stuff people bring back from holiday. I think his family would be going: ‘Last time he brought some great presents, some fags [cigarettes] and some spuds [potatoes]. What’s he got now?’ He’s going: ‘I’ve got you a fridge magnet.’ I very rarely took something home as a little memento. I brought [girlfriend] Suzanne a turtle what you blow in its ass and it plays a tune—but she hasn’t played with that.”
ON CRITICS OF ‘AN IDIOT ABROAD’…
“Not everybody likes… couscous. You know, everybody pulled a face at me in Egypt— ‘Have some of that…’ ‘I don’t want any!’ Everyone was like [raises eyebrows] ‘Really?’ Suddenly I’m the odd one out, ‘cause I don’t want couscous. I don’t need it in my life. But it’s annoying that everybody else seems to think I should be eating it – and it’s the same with the critics: ‘No, you won’t like this, everyone!’ Well, let them decide! Watch it and make up your own mind.”
Some of the aforementioned is taken from extracts of An Idiot Abroad: The Travel Diaries of Karl Pilkington (Canongate) as published by The Guardian.