Under optimal circumstances, Karl Pilkington provides plenty of fodder for his friends/colleagues/tormentors Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant to mock him about. But when you put the two creators of “The Office” in a room with their round-headed kickball of a podcast partner, hand them all tall glasses of beer and tell them to answer questions via a long satellite delay, well… then you have A Very Special Episode in the ongoing comic saga that is the three men’s friendship.
Gervais, Merchant and Pilkington were appearing via satellite at press tour to promote “An Idiot Aboard,” a new eight-part documentary series that Science Channel is debuting on Jan. 22 at 10 p.m. The idea is that Pilkington – whose insular, illogical worldview has made him the butt of Gervais and Merchant’s jokes for years – has to travel the globe to visit the Seven Wonders of the World in what Gervais refers to as “a social experiment.” In the clip reel Science Channel showed the critics, Merchant speculates at the start of the experiment that travel might finally broaden Karl’s mind, while Gervais says, “I want him to hate it. I want him to hate every minute of it for my own amusement.”
So naturally, Pilkington was first asked which of his friends was right with their prediction.
“I did hate it,” Karl said, followed by a pause so long that Gervais had time to be overcome with two separate fits of the gigles, “but now that I’m back and it’s all over, I think I got a lot out of it. I think I won in the end.”
As a critic was trying to ask the next question, Merchant literally fell out of his chair laughing, because Pilkington’s earpiece had broken in two, with one half lodged in his ear. (He had to spend the rest of the press conference bent over with a finger over the loose piece to keep it from falling out.)
Pilkington was asked how he felt about the title and explained the show was originally called “Karl Pilkington’s Seven Wonders of the World,” and that the title changed on him while he was out in the Amazon. When he objected to Gervais, Gervais said a press release had already gone out, and they had to stick with it.
“What can you do?” he shrugged.
He was asked about his relationship with the other two, and how it feels to have them constantly mocking him and calling him stupid.
“They’re always annoying me. People say, ‘Oh, it must be great being mates with Ricky – but it isn’t. I’ll tell you what it’s like. It’s like when you get a dog, and it seems like a good idea at the time… you realize it’s a pain in the ass, and it’s shitting everywhere. Everyone else comes over for a few minutes and they think, ‘Oh, what a cute dog!’ But they don’t know about all the shit.”
By this point, Gervais was perched on the edge of his seat, hanging on every word from his simple frenemy.
“I can’t get enough of Karl,” he said. “I treat it like I’ve found the Missing Link.”
Pilkington said that when he returned from his travels, he tried to talk Gervais and Merchant into traveling to the places in Wales where he vacationed as a child, but they refused. And as he began listing all the different places he stayed, he said a sentence that sounded very much – not only to me, but to Merchant and Gervais, who were doubled over in laughter for a good 30 seconds afterwards – like “I had to stay in an old gay man.”
A reporter asked Pilkington to describe a typical day in his life, and Gervais began ranting about having witnessed Karl doing his own plumbing, and Karl in turn complained that Ricky and Stephen seem to work only a few hours a day.
“That’s because we’re geniuses!” Gervais retorted.
Pilkington tried to prove his point by asking the reporter if she cleaned her own drains, and was baffled when the reporter said she usually calls her manager.
Calling back to an earlier question about what this show was doing on Science Channel, Gervais said, “That’s the science right here. How does it function? How does it live? We don’t know. That’s the science.”