Some people achieve greatness. Others have greatness thrust upon them. So it is with Karl Pilkington, a fellow from Manchester who had worked occasionally in England as a radio host and a sound producer.
Then he helped out on broadcasts featuring Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the forces behind the British series The Office and Extras. They recognized his talent for seeing the world in peculiar ways and for voicing, in his Mancunian accent ("innit?" for "isn't it?"), observations that were simultaneously loony and ingenious.
So when Gervais and Merchant began a podcast in 2005 called The Ricky Gervais Show, they enlisted Pilkington to provide the motor. He would make bizarre comments or tell earnest but impossible tales about monkeys piloting spaceships or a tankard in a pub killing everyone who touched it. The other two would denounce the stories as a load of rubbish and rail at Pilkington for being a round-headed idiot, the way Dame Edna Everage would make pained comments about the incompetence of her onstage stooges. Pilkington took the abuse in stride. "They've helped me out a lot," he said in 2006. "When someone's a mate, they're allowed to call you an idiot."
Within weeks, enough people had downloaded the podcasts to earn the show recognition from Guinness World Records, and Pilkington was soon spinning his off-kilter thoughts into books. Last year, for U.S. cable network HBO, a talented team combined the original podcast audio with animation reminiscent of cartoons such as The Flintstones, picturing the trio in conversation and creating amusing images to accompany their flights of fancy. This week, the first 13 episodes arrived on DVD as The Ricky Gervais Show: The Complete First Season.
Gervais's animated self looks a lot like Fred Flintstone, though he has said, with a smile indicating awareness of copyright, "I think you will find, in a court of law, that I don't look like him at all." Pilkington has a perfectly round, bald head, with expressive eyebrows and a perpetually gloomy expression. Merchant, with his moptop, tosses a few funny interjections into each 22-minute episode, but the central bout is between Pilkington and Gervais.
Pilkington, for instance, suggests that science should arrange for humans to leave behind babies when they die instead of populating the world willy-nilly when they're young. "Just as you die, you have a little baby inside you, and as you die your life carries on."
"I've never heard such drivel," Gervais says.
"You're saying that," Pilkington replies, "but if Newton had said it, you'd go 'hmm, interesting.'"
Similarly, he thinks the reason people swim with dolphins has nothing to do with the dolphins. People just like swimming in the ocean. They wouldn't be nearly as keen to swim with dolphins in the Thames, but "if [someone] said, 'Would you swim with a carrier bag in the Caribbean?', they'd be like, 'Oh, yeah, love to.' It makes no difference."
Gervais, known for cracking up during takes of his series and movies, is given to helpless laughter here as Pilkington shares his unusual thoughts. Pilkington barely notices. He just has trouble with friends who can't see reason.