Search This Blog

Stephen Merchant

November 2011

HE may have a mantelpiece full of awards but it’s done nothing for Stephen Merchant’s sex life. And his many years of continuing failure is the focal point of Hello Ladies, his very first stand-up tour. Not that it’s going to help him find a woman.
“This is not a show that will attract women to me,” he admits.
“I am pretty grotesque by the end of it. So maybe I haven’t thought this through at all.”
Merchant is quick to point out that he’s not really trawling the UK looking for a wife.
“That idea was always tongue-in-cheek. I just like the idea that there will be a lot of people in the audience that will relate to it.
“I’ve always found it to be very funny subject matter. I love it when a mate of yours comes in the pub and says ‘I’ve just had the worst date ever’ or ‘I can’t believe my luck, I’m so excited.’
“What I love about comedy is when there’s something at stake, when there’s a jeopardy. And with romantic pursuit everyone knows what’s at stake.
“Everyone recognises the embarrassment when it goes badly. So I think everyone can relate to it.
“It’s what I always responded to in comedy when I was growing up in Bristol, listening to Woody Allen. It was that feeling that there is another pitiful soul in the world.”
The stories in his show, which comes to the Royal Concert Hall next week, are true, in the main.
“I may have exaggerated here and there but not much. They are pretty much true, unfortunately.”
Merchant started out as a stand-up comedian but quit when the TV partnership with Ricky Gervais blossomed, first with The Office, then Extras.
In the meantime their podcasts with Karl Pilkington featured in the Guinness Book Of World Records for being the most downloaded internet show of all time, clocking up a staggering 280,000,000 downloads. Their conversations were subsequently animated for a HBO series called The Ricky Gervais Show.
“It was going fine,” he says of the stand-up.
“The TV stuff started happening and it just seemed too much effort doing both. It all seemed too exhausting. And I never got enough of a buzz from stand-up to warrant doing all that so I just stopped.”
Although Gervais made his stand-up debut in Nottingham at Just The Tonic, Merchant has never appeared in the city before.
“I didn’t travel very far when I was doing stand-up. Probably through nerves or laziness. The only time I’ve been to Nottingham was when my sister graduated from the university there.”
Although he did appear at the Edinburgh Fringe with Gervais (who he’d met working at XFM), Jimmy Carr and Robin Ince in a show called Rubbernecker.
He admits: “I’m very poorly travelled all over the UK, actually. That’s one of the good things about this tour.”
So when he’s exploring various cities across the land between shows, what does the man in the street want to know?
“Most people want to know about Karl Pilkington,” he says of the star of An Idiot Abroad, a travelogue series which sees Merchant and Gervais sending the dour Mancunian around the world.
“He seems to be the thing that intrigues people the most. Is he real or is he an actor? Do we write all of his lines for him? Does he really have a head like an orange?”
The live show has been earning Merchant – who, at 6’7”, is the same height as Peter Crouch – some great reviews.
“It’s had some good reviews,” he says modestly.
“I have been surprised by the kind words people have written. And the audiences have been applauding and laughing, which is the most you can hope for.”
The modesty is in contrast to his brash and critical comedy partner. It’s as if Merchant is happy to be in his shadow.
In the two series of The Office he made a brief appearance. But in Extras he was a regular on screen, playing the hopeless agent of Gervais’ character, Andy Millman.
Was that due to a growing confidence in front of the camera?
“I never felt the urge to rush to be on camera. I try and do good work rather than hurrying along. And I hope that’s what I’ve done.”
As both The Office and Extras have earned him and Gervais Emmy, Bafta and Golden Globe awards, that’s probably the case.
“I’m not very brave,” he admits.
“I’m quite a risk averse person. I need to do everything at my own pace.”
He adds: “With The Office, the fact that I was co-writing and directing the show was more than enough for me. If there had been a role I’m sure I would have done it but there wasn’t. I wasn’t itching to be on camera.
“Then, with Extras, we were a bit more confident and I felt that I could step in front of the camera. And I got other opportunities to perform after that.”
They included the films Tooth Fairy with Dwayne Johnson, Hall Pass with Owen Wilson and cameos in Hot Fuzz and Run Fat Boy Run alongside Simon Pegg.
He and Gervais co-wrote and shared directorial duties for the film Cemetery Junction but their next project is back on the small screen.
Life’s Too Short, which starts on Thursday on BBC2, is a sitcom starring Warwick Davis, the 3ft 6in actor who shot to accidental fame in Star Wars and went on to become a fixture in the Harry Potter series.
“He appeared in Extras and we kept in touch. He talked to us about doing a sitcom starring a little person and at first we thought it was a bit gimmicky. But the more we talked to him the more we were fascinated by his stories. Then we created a character for him and that really opened things up. It wasn’t really about him being small. It was about self-worth and pomposity and how you define yourself in the world.
“It’s a little bit like Extras in that there are celebrity cameos in it. Johnny Depp and Sting pop up but the main thing is Warwick who is so funny and warm and charismatic. As far as I’m concerned they should just post the Bafta to him now.”
There are no concrete plans but the idea is for a third series for Sky1 of An Idiot Abroad. The first series saw Pilkington, their former radio show producer, giving his less than enthused view of the Seven Wonders of the World. The current series sees him enduring a Bucket List.
Says Merchant: “We like the idea of fool’s gold, where we give him a million quid and he’s got to make two million. But I don’t think he’s going to do it.
“Ricky lobbied long and hard to get him to do the second series. He had to work very hard to persuade him.
“So I’ll be very surprised if he does another one. He’s vowed never to do it again.”
Merchant has no other plans after the current tour is finished.
“The idea of doing anything else ever seems so daunting to me. I’m so exhausted after this year. I’ve just been working constantly. And I really didn’t get into showbusiness to work this hard. I thought it would be a lot easier than this.
“And I thought there’d be a lot more sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.”

Stephen Merchant is at the Royal Concert Hall on Monday November 7 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £27.50, call 0115 989 5555 or visit
A live DVD of the Hello Ladies tour will be released on DVD and Blu Ray by Universal Pictures on November 14.

No comments:

Post a Comment