KARL Pilkington has made a career out of moaning. His grumpy attitude to life and straight-talking comments tickled his friends Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant so much, that they invited the radio producer to take part in conversations on air, and then podcasts.
An Idiot Abroad followed, the series which saw Gervais and Merchant — while tucked up in comfortable surroundings on home turf — pack Pilkington off to ever more ‘exotic’ and interesting far-flung places, in the hope that his sheer lack of excitement would make great telly.
It did, and spawned follow-up An Idiot Abroad: The Bucket List, in which he sampled the things you’re apparently ‘supposed to do’ before you peg it, and An Idiot Abroad: The Short Way Round, where Pilkington was partnered with the perennially positive Warwick Davis.
Since then, the 43-year-old Mancunian made his acting debut with a stint as caretaker Dougie in Gervais’s sitcom Derek, and embarked on a new solo project, The Moaning Of Life, exploring how other cultures deal with the big stuff, like marriage, kids, the search for happiness and the death of loved ones.
Now, the man sometimes touted as a ‘modern day philosopher’, is back on the road again for a second series. This time, he turns his attentions to life’s other big issues, including how much we should worry about our bodies, dealing with pollution and the rules and values we should live by.
Before the show starts, Pilkington ruminates on his own experiences, and shares some of what he’s learned so far....
“In An Idiot Abroad, there were a lot of things I was doing because it’s some tradition, and there’s nowhere to go with that. Whereas in this series, it’s individuals who do little, weird things, and they do it because they really like it. No matter what anyone says, they’re going to continue doing it. You can’t moan about that, because you think, ‘Good on them’. I prefer to go with it and see if I can get anything out of it.”
With age comes body confidence
“At the beginning, I remember being in Brazil and not wanting to put some trunks on, and yet now I’m wandering about with a thong on for a spot of performance art in Times Square during one particular episode. But I’ve also got older, and I think you get to a point where you don’t care any more. I know it’s not great that people pay for a Sky subscription and then see my hairy arse. There should be a warning, never mind bad language.”
“I’m not a fan of having a fancy car or fancy clothes, but we have just got a hot tub. It’s a bit ‘lottery winner’ but I’ve got a bad back and I don’t like going to gyms. It cost £8,000. Some people will spend that on a holiday, but the last thing I want is a holiday. Some people buy clothes every week. I haven’t bought clothes for about two years. My long-term girlfriend Suzanne Whiston and I don’t have kids and I don’t like champagne, it gives me heartburn.”
“The guy said, ‘What size hot tub do you want?’, and I said, ‘It’s just for me and my girlfriend’. He said, ‘Get a seven-seater, get your mates round’. I’m not sitting there in a hot tub with my mates. It’s the equivalent of calling Ricky up and going, ‘I’m having a bath in a minute, do you fancy joining?’ That’s what it is, a bath. I’m not Hugh Hefner. I sit there with a bit of Neil Diamond and Elvis on.”
“My life’s pretty mad when I’m travelling and meeting all sorts of people, so when I get home, I just want to do normal stuff. Clean the windows, cut the grass, and I’m thinking of getting a couple of fish. I’ve moved out of the city. It’s too busy. Everyone I know goes, ‘You know what they say, if you’re tired of London then you’re tired of life’. When 18th century writer Samuel Johnson said it, London wasn’t mental, there wasn’t a congestion charge, there wasn’t ridiculous rent and you could find a parking space. I like peace and quiet, and there’s no way in London I would’ve had the room to have a hot tub.”
“When Michael Palin did all the travelling years ago, he was cut off from the outside world, but now me and Suzanne FaceTime and Skype. The world’s a different place. I’ve visited tribes where you meet the head chief and he’s stood there with feathers in his hair, wearing a coconut to cover his nob but he’s got a Nokia in his hand. As long as the time difference isn’t too bad, I speak to Suzanne every day and I call my parents every other day to see what’s been going on. It can be a lonely job really, travelling about and not really knowing where you are.”
“I don’t think I moan as much any more, because it’s not as bad. I’m staying in Holiday Inns and places that have got clean bedding, as opposed to places where you go, ‘Hang on, is someone still in this room?’ The thing is, I’ve done it so long now I can actually stay in places that are awful and it doesn’t bother me. So the travelling has changed me. When Ricky and Stephen wanted me to do An Idiot Abroad, it was this thing about broadening my mind — and it has, it has had an effect in the long run. It didn’t happen overnight, but little things don’t bother me like they used to.”
“I didn’t want to be on the telly. It’s something that came about. I like to do one job and then have time off, because for me, that’s what it’s all about. I’m doing a book to go with this series and beyond that, who knows? I don’t like to think too far ahead. I’m not trying to break America or anything. I just want to pay the bills.”