Karl Pilkington once knocked the world of TV on the head, and Sky have persuaded back to the small screen for his first TV drama, writes Georgia Humphreys
Karl Pilkington is an over-thinker. Anyone who’s watched him on TV before, or listened to him on The Ricky Gervais Show podcast, will know that.
But nothing has sent him into a tizz quite like writing and starring in new Sky One comedy Sick Of It.
“There’s no clocking in, clocking out,” recalls the Mancunian, who turns 46 later this month.
“You want to make something as good as you can make it. And for someone who didn’t do well in school and didn’t aim to get in this line of work, I think it’s not bad, considering.
“But that anxiousness of ‘I want to do better’ wears you down. It was more knackering than anything else I’ve done.”
TV presenter, author, radio producer, actor: Pilkington’s done it all.
He’s arguably best known for An Idiot Abroad, which documented his journeys (as someone who hates travelling) to see the Seven Wonders of the World, with comedians Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant encouraging him to broaden his mind.
After that ended in 2012, he’d knocked the world of TV on the head, as he puts it, in his amusingly blunt tone.
However, when Richard Yee — the director of An Idiot Abroad — suggested Pilkington make something new for Sky, “boredom” made him say yes.
The result? Sick Of It, which sees him play not only a version of himself, but also the voice inside his head - the “Inner Self”.
At first though, the star, who lives with his long-term partner Suzanne Whiston, was insistent he wouldn’t appear in the series as well as penning the script.
“I thought, ‘I’m not an actor. If someone else did it, they’re going to do a better job.’
“It just worried me. But, I’m a worrier — that’s what I do.”
Even now, he’s not sure he was right to take the lead role (a middle-aged taxi driver, who’s ended up living with his aunt following a break-up, muddling through a rather mundane existence).
“It’s just the sort of thing where [I think], ‘I wonder what it would have been like with someone else’,” he confides.
“I don’t know how you’re meant to feel, when you’ve made something you’ve been that involved in from the start, to being in it, to the editing, to picking the music, watching it again and again and again... I don’t see how anyone can distance themselves from it, and watch it as a viewer.”
The inner self idea was partly inspired by the fact that Pilkington talks to himself a lot.
But also the notion that “life’s complicated”.
“What’s the right thing to do — do you do what you believe in, or do you do stuff to please others?” he suggests. “You can watch Sick Of It and just go...” (at this point, his face remains typically serious, but he mimics someone slightly chuckling).
“Or you can watch it and really think about it. In some of the episodes, there’s big life problems that I think other people will relate to.”
One such storyline, explored in episode two, sees childless Karl being responsible for a lifelike baby doll.
“At the start, he’s adamant that he doesn’t want a baby. It’s split him and his girlfriend up.
“By the end, he’s found it interesting to have this thing he’s had to take care of and he’s like, ‘Maybe I could do it, maybe I do want one’.”
Pilkington has said in the past he definitely doesn’t want to be a dad.
Does he still feel the same way?
“I think unless you’re absolutely 100%, then don’t do it. If Suzanne was like, ‘I really want one’... You need someone to lead it.
“We talk about it now and again and go, ‘I wonder if when we’re older we go oh we regret not having kids’. But honestly, I’m like that with everything. Buying something on Amazon - I don’t just go ‘I need a so and so, how much are they? Buy, order.’ I go, ‘Well, which one? Do I need one? How much do I need it?’”
It’s easy to realise, from chatting to him, why Pilkington has such a legion of fans.
He brings up issues that are relatable — not wanting to go to parties, that he annoys Suzanne by doing DIY jobs around the house that don’t really need doing, and how he’s desperate for some biscuits to perk his energy levels up.
He may have had huge success thanks to his work with Gervais and Merchant, but he seems so... normal (if, yes, a little moany).
But then, the endearing TV personality never set out to be a celebrity.
“Before I started work on this, I was tinkering with the idea of helping a window cleaner, just for something to do three days a week,” he quips.
On the topic of his career, people have speculated whether there was a falling out between him, Gervais and Merchant, seeing as it’s been a few years now since the hilarious trio worked together.
Pilkington insists that’s not the case, confessing he’d “never say never” to them reuniting — if it was the right project.
“There’s nothing planned but then again, this wasn’t planned until about three months before we started.
“It’s about doing something different. If you keep doing the same thing, all that happens is people drop off.”
The hope with Sick Of It is that it will bring him new fans.
“People who went, ‘I didn’t like An Idiot Abroad, I hated him in that, he’s ignorant, he’s lucky to travel’, I hope that they see this and go, ‘Oh, all right, it’s something different’,” he says.
However, he’s waiting to see how this series goes down before making any plans for another instalment.
“It would be a nightmare if you’ve got to do it [a second series], and yet everyone’s slagged it off.
“I still have sleepless nights,” he continues. “You can’t just go, ‘I can’t be bothered, that will do, let’s knock it out’, because I’d be depressed. You’ve still got to do your best, whatever you do.
Sick Of It starts on Sky One and Now TV on Thursday, September 27