Xenophobe Karl Pilkington is an amateur traveller at best (and that’s being generous): the former UK radio producer and clumsily uncultured chum of Ricky Gervais is probably the type of guy that would order fish and chips on the Great Wall of China. This, combined with his tactless and sharp-witted demeanour, makes for thoroughly entertaining viewing in An Idiot Abroad, the travel documentary created by Gervais in which Pilkington is persuaded to visit some of the world’s most breathtaking sights.
The first season, currently airing on Discovery, sees Gervais and fellow creator Stephen Merchant strap Pilkington up like a pimple-headed gap-year student and ship him off to discover the new Seven Wonders of the World. Here, Ricky Gervais reveals the art of his torture.
How did you come up with the concept for An Idiot Abroad?
Well I guess it’s because I feel like Karl. Karl’s my best friend now, but I must admit he’s been like a 10-year experiment for me; he’s part friend, he’s part pet, he’s almost part child and I want to get him to university, so to speak. He’s a true artist: he sees the world through different eyes, he’s the funniest man I’ve ever met, but he’s just so likeable, he hasn’t got a malicious bone in his body. And I knew that if I put him in a situation, one of difference, be that culture or person, he’s fascinated by difference, and he’s like a child that sort of looks and points in the supermarket.
Was the Seven Wonders of the World concept your idea?
Yes, because I couldn’t get Karl excited about anything in the world – he wasn’t impressed with anything. He was like a little Englander. If he used to go to Spain, he’d pack white sliced bread and tea bags because he couldn’t stand to not have his comforts. And obviously the joke was that they were meant to be the seven most amazing man-made structures on the face of the Earth, and I knew he wouldn’t be impressed.
You guys travelled with him, and we’re sure you’ve had lots of funny moments on your travels. Which were the stand-out moments for you?
Well, let’s see. That he absolutely hated Russia (in season two). He said, ‘It’s the most miserable place on Earth.’ He said his girlfriend thinks he moans; he said, ‘I want to bring her here, then she won’t think I moan because these people are moaning all the time.’ He got buried alive in Russia and he said it was the best thing he did because it was peaceful and there weren’t Russians moaning at him. [Laughs] He’s great in America because it’s just not his thing. He goes to America and of course all the Americans are happy. He performs with a glee club, which is the antithesis of what Karl is: it’s the opposite of his personality, being happy and dancing around, and he just looks so awkward.
What about in the first season?
The first season is the Seven Wonders, and he goes to see the Pyramids in Egypt, which is incredible. His favourite is Mexico; he gets on with the people there and he introduces them to Monster Munch crisps. He’s worried about Mexico because there’s no health and safety. He said, ‘It’s like everyone here is trying to kill themselves with the things they do.’ They let off fireworks, the driving… He just says it’s crazy. But the funniest moment for me was Rio. I’ve never seen Karl as uncomfortable as he was on a nudist beach. And he says, ‘I’ve never seen a man bend over so much as that fella.’ It’s hilarious – it really is hilarious.
An Idiot Abroad season one airs every Tuesday at 11.25pm on Discovery. Season two is available from Dhs50 at www.amazon.co.uk.