Karl Pilkington (pictured) traversed the globe over three seasons as the star of An Idiot Abroad, a travel series created and produced by comedians Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. In the series, the 41-year-old is styled as an obstinate everyman who reluctantly leaves his cushy life to endure an often cruelly comedic bucket list of globetrotting scenarios dreamt up by his famous friends.
The show has given Pilkington – who rose to prominence on Gervais’s satellite radio show, podcast and animated HBO series – celeb status in the UK and cult status in the U.S.
For his fourth series, the five-episode The Moaning of Life (produced by Me & You Productions and RoundED Productions for Sky1 and distributed internationally by BBC Worldwide), Pilkington took the reins from Gervais and Merchant and conceived a travel series in which he ventures forth to learn how other cultures handle life’s big subjects – birth, marriage, happiness, vocation, death.
The Moaning of Life was Sky1′s top-rated show of the year, with a total audience of nearly 2.5 million. However, the series’ Philippines-set finale, entitled “Death,” was postponed after a typhoon struck the country, killing 6,000 people and displacing thousands more.
Next month the series will begin airing in the United States on Science Channel with two back-to-back episodes on January 18. Ahead of the UK premiere, Pilkington sat down with realscreen during MIPCOM in Cannes to chat about traveling, life changes and his future in TV.
What perspective has traveling given you on your life back home in the UK?
It’s really weird because I can be in a mad situation in the middle of nowhere with some tribe or something and three days later I’m back at home and me girlfriend’s going “We haven’t got any milk in.” So even though all this mad s***’s been going on, a few days later I’m back into my routine and it goes to the back of my mind. There’s no life-changing moment for me in any of this. They’re all experiences that I won’t forget, but I’m set in me ways a bit.
A lot of programs these days are about celebs going on a ‘life journey’ and they’re cryin’ at the end of it. People need to know this is not that sort of program. It’s not like Who Do You Think You Are?, where people are crying over a great-great- great-great granddad they never met. Things like that annoy me. If you’re crying about a great-great-great-great-granddad then you’d have to cry about everyone.
But what about giving in to the emotion of a particular moment?
I haven’t got that in me. Swearing is a thing I do and it annoys me because I swear too much, but that’s my release. I go, “F***in’ hell,” but I don’t get that emotion bit. It can be a problem. Some people are so used to seeing that on the telly so when I just go “F***in’ hell,” they find it odd. That’s when they say it’s a made-up program or “Karl’s acting,” or something. We’re not all like the people you normally see on the telly.
So people don’t change as dramatically as TV would have us believe.
I had no plans on changing. What I was planning on doing was seeing if any of these topics would make me understand a bit more – like the marriage episode. I’ve been with me girlfriend for about 20 years but we’re not married. I don’t see the point.
And you didn’t change your mind?
No, if anything it cemented the fact that I don’t need to. I haven’t got any kids. Some people just have kids because they say that’s what you should do with your life. It’s like, well, why? Don’t just do it. If someone’s watching the show and they go, ‘I was thinkin’ about having a kid and now that he’s point that out, I might not,’ I think that’s a good thing – if someone just thinks before they do something instead of just going ‘well that’s what you do.’
I met a woman in Japan who was going to a fertility festival and wanted a kid. We ended up talking and I explained to her why I didn’t have kids, how they change your life and it’s the biggest decision of your life. By the end of it she was like, ‘Actually I don’t think I’ll bother now.’ A bit of me was like, ‘Oh god I hope I haven’t done that.’ But another bit of me went, ‘Actually it’s a good thing if I have.’
Do you have goals you’ve always wanted to achieve that you can now that you’re successful?
No, I’ve never had a plan. I think it’s about disappointment. Like, don’t aim too high because it might not happen. Whereas I just sort of plod along, see what doors open, stick my head in and go, “Is this any good? Oh, I don’t fancy that.” I did An Idiot Abroad and said, “Never again.” After a time you go, “Actually it was quite good. I’ll do another one.” People keep saying at the end of interviews, “Are you doing another one?” Well, f***in’ hell! I haven’t even unpacked yet! Give us a chance.
At this moment in time – whilst I’m sat here – it’s like: F***. That. I just want time off and who knows what might come up. But whatever it is, it’s got to be worthwhile. It can’t just be for the money. I get offered adverts, which is really easy money but I wouldn’t enjoy it and I’d regret it. So I do have a standard thing. I’ve got to get something out of it. With this show, if no one watches it, it doesn’t matter because I’ve experienced all these things and they will stick with me for life.
- This article appears in the current November/December issue of realscreen magazine. Not a subscriber? Click here for more information.