The Pilkington Experience: XFM Shows


Several of my previous posts have exposed my enjoyment of all things Karl Pilkington.  I think the man is a perfect mixture of creativity-LACK of creativity, over-complexity, and simplicity all rolled into one.  I started with Idiot Abroad Series 1, watched Series 2 and 3, have read his books, watched the HBO animated Ricky Gervais Show, and have since listened to all the old XFM radio broadcasts that started his association with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.  For a few posts I thought I would review everything Karl-related I’ve read, watched, and listened to in case others are interested in what else Karl can offer besides being annoyed around the world.  I’ll start from the beginning!

The Ricky Gervais Show on XFM

Hearing Ricky discuss the conditions of broadcasting on XFM you’d think they were producing a show out of someone’s garden shed.  Despite the supposed conditions, this show produced countless terrific moments and truly introduced the world to Karl Pilkington.  This show, more than any of the other shows Ricky, Stephen, and Karl have done, feels like a true, unedited chat between three mates sat in a room for long stretches at a time.  In fact many of the topics, conversation, and features show up again in the podcasts.  There are lots of terrific moments and segments in this show, but here are the best reasons to listen in:

1.)    Karl: Just experience how strange Karl sees and thinks of things.  Some great moments include Karl Getting his GCSE results (I won’t ruin it.  It’s worth the surprise), his desire to “educate Ricky” with pun-entitled facts, and his various misunderstandings of what he’s heard, read, or seen are always hilarious.

2.)    Karl’s Observations: Karl has a unique view of the world and can often focus on something you would never give second thought to.  For example Ricky told him a story of a chimpanzee son that got into an argument with his chimpanzee father and ran away.  Karl’s response was, “What were they arguing about?”  Some of his observations are even stranger, such as Chinese people not aging well, or his theoretical plan on how to shorten the queue for those attending the visitation of the Queen Mother.

3.)    Monkey News: This feature carried over into the later podcasts, but this is where it got its start.  Not only does it include the classics of the monkey who robbed a bank, the one who drove a car into Spain, and one who got a job in a hair salon; but it also includes the “Victorian Ape Woman,” a monkey porn film maker, and a chimp who got arrested in Russia for vagrancy.  While the stories themselves are hilariously unlikely, almost as good are Ricky’s explosive reactions to them usually ending with the show’s unofficial catch phrase “You’re an idiot! Play a record!”

4.)    White Van Karl: This concept was taken from the Sun newspaper that went to various “working class” individuals (who drove white work vans) and asked them their opinions on the week’s news.  Stephen turned it around to ask Karl what he thought of the news.  Some of the best are thoughts on celebrities coming out, Zoe Harris (Karl’s childhood girlfriend, he put a hole in her dress and dumped her), and (maybe my favorite moment of all time) the cloning of “man-moths.”

5.)    Rockbusters: Ricky and Stephen truly seemed to dislike this contest (Karl gives a “cryptic clue” that relates to the name of a band and the initials of the band, the listeners email answers to win lousy prizes, i.e. “exploding pet,” the band has the initials “AK,” the answer was “Atomic Kitten”) but some of his clues were absolutely brilliant.  And most of the bad ones made for such hysterical moments they were worth it. The best ones include “She has her husband’s gloves and a pair of her own,” band “HH,” answer “Herman’s Hermits;” “Do you think your kid will get that strawberry for me?” band “WP,” answer “Wilson Pickett;” and “the Scottish fellas can’t get into their emails,” initials “KL,” answer “Kenny Loggins.”  The worst ones: “The people from the East Midlands swear a lot;” band “TTD,” answer “‘Tourette’s’ Trent D’arby,” “Why are the Jamaican fellas twirling fish around their heads?” band, “DS,” answer the “‘De-trout’ Spinners,” and finally “a couple of people were arguing at the fruits and vegetables in the supermarket,” band “B,” answer “Banana-drama.”

6.)    Ricky and Stephen Stories: It’s important to remember whose show it is.  Ricky and Stephen have moments of pure comic gold as well.  Ricky’s training in boxing and Stephen’s terrific story of being tricked into picking up a pig after a party to impress a girl, then crying in the backseat after he got the car stuck and another guy had to move it.  It’s hard not to laugh at all of them.

7.)    Karl’s Childhood: Ricky and Stephen often comment that Karl grew up in a fairy tale.  Not in a good way, more like he grew up in a land filled with strange, mystical beings.  The magpie he tamed as a pet, the two boys at his school with big heads and webbed hands, the woman with a head “like a sack of potatoes,” the family with the horse in the house.  It’d all be too much to believe except I don’t think Karl possesses the guile and wherewithal to lie…

And that’s just for starters. There are also the shows where Karl is out and Claire Sturgess serves as producer.  She does an excellent job and is more like a “regular” producer.  Letting the show-runners talk and only adding comments occasionally.  It provides an example of what the program would be like without Karl…and it’s still funny!  Just not as…odd.

There are also several uncomfortable moments in the show, like all good friends Ricky, Stephen, and Karl have arguments.  They pick on and at one another (Karl at Stephen being very tall, with big “goggy” eyes, and unfortunate luck with women; Stephen on Karl being stupid, lazy, and with a head like an orange; Ricky…constantly picking on both…all the time…for everything.)  It can get too far and, in fact, the end of Series 2 Karl says he’s tired of working with the two of them and doesn’t want to come back for Series 3 (he does…negotiated an extra day off, for which Ricky and Stephen brutally mock him).

Not every show is equally strong, but when it is good it is some of the best humor you’ll ever experience.  If you like the podcasts and/or Idiot Abroad check them out. Almost all of them (I listened to 97 episodes) are on YouTube and are well worth the time!

Off the Charts: An Idiot Abroad Series 3

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Karl Pilkington has been around the world twice.  Once to see the seven wonders of the world and again to check things off the bucket list of someone more adventurous than he.  A viewer could tell Karl had about had it with his travels at the end of the second season.  Actually this was apparent at the end of the FIRST season, but thankfully he agreed to go on more adventures.

Season three of Idiot Abroad just finished broadcasting in the US.  It was, no pun intended, a mini-season, consisting of only three episodes and features a constant travelling companion for Karl, film star and friend of Ricky Gervais (who also appeared on the phone in the second season of Idiot Abroad when Karl visited the Chinese dwarf village at the end of the Trans-Siberian railway) Warwick Davis.

As a fan the concept was concerning to me.  We like to see Karl exploring on his own and hear his random, yet always honest, reflections about his experiences.  When I heard he would have “a little company” for season three, and it would consist of only three episodes, I thought it might prove to be disastrous.  After seeing it I’m happy to say it was a great conclusion (I REALLY don’t think Karl will be up for any more of this…) to the series and still loaded with Karl fun.

This season was billed as Karl, who hates doing new things, and Warwick, who’s up for anything as they trace the Marco Polo route from Venice to China.  This turned out not to be the case.  In a few ways:

  • First: They didn’t do the whole Marco Polo route.  Obviously in 3 episodes that journey wouldn’t be possible.  Unlike previous seasons, you got brief looks into each place they stopped, usually punctuated by one or two big events per episode.
  • Second: Karl was as up for doing new things, and looking back, he really always has been.  From using a water jetpack, to eating Chinese street delicacies (something he was totally against in series 1!).  There remains ONE thing Karl abjectly refuses to do though!
  • Third: Warwick was as apprehensive as Karl about some of the activities.  Including ones he tried to get Karl to do (like being lifted in the air by helium balloons) and enjoying a Venetian “Pleasure Machine” during a masquerade party.

Overall this season was filled with the same Karl blunt hilarity as the others.  Some viewers complained about the “shock” value of it, the inclusion of Warwick in general, the “Spider Sisters” event, but to me this was just more of the same.  Anyone who’s familiar with Karl knows he’s fascinated by “different” people, including the very tall Steve Merchant who produced the first two seasons and appears on the Ricky Gervais Show.  And it was no more shocking than bird fetus-eating and lady boy-visiting that appeared in previous seasons.  These inclusions always feel like Karl doing what Karl does.  Here are some of the highlights of season 3 for me:

  • Karl’s failure to use the water jetpack and Ricky Gervais’ very correct theory on why he chose to do it (essentially to try to find something Warwick would hate but he wound up hating it himself)
  • Flying Warwick on helium balloons in Macedonia (to quote Karl, “I’ve never had a kite…”)
  • Karl dressed as the slouchiest panda in genetic history. Also his plan on how to fend off an attacking panda.
  • The results of Karl and Warwick in a Bollywood film and how they both reviewed the experience.  Surprisingly the roles reversed in this case!
  • Random Karl quips and quotes about Warwick (comparing him to a leech, saying he’d trade him for a cat, constant references to his playing a “bear” in Star Wars, and his utter shock that Warwick was in ALL the Harry Potter films)
  • A favorite moment, that might seem uncomfortable to some, was Karl’s tough love to Warwick climbing the steps to a Buddhist temple.  Warwick wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to continue.  Karl’s blunt, seemingly vicious, criticisms eventually got Warwick to walk the entire length of the stairs.  Though to add to the comedy, Karl ended up taking a palanquin!
  • And my personal favorite moment, perhaps in the history of the show, what makes Karl laugh:

The only negatives in this series to me are; it can feel uncomfortable as you watch the two of them interact and interact with those around them at times, until you get used to what is going on.  Karl was right to be angry that Warwick had better lodging than him.  He was right that he got a different experience, eating the local food and getting sick, than Warwick.  It doesn’t detract from the show, but the tension makes it a little more “reality show” than the others. The other negative is there was no “Karl Comes Home” this season.  Obviously with only three episodes a clip show would be a waste, but I always enjoyed Karl’s final thoughts on his travels.  Warwick’s as well as he could review where they had been and what it’s like to travel with Karl.

I highly recommend the entire show, and this season was no exception.  It’s not for the easily-offended, but Karl never is.  If you’re looking for comedy and pure honesty on TV Idiot Abroad is the way to go!  Thanks to Karl for going through all this for our entertainment!

Off the Charts: Karl’s Travel Diary for Idiot Abroad Series 1

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In the last post I discussed Idiot Abroad Series 1 where Karl visits the seven wonders of the world.  In addition to the documentary that was made, Karl also kept a travel diary, logging his thoughts and experiences.  I found a UK edition on Amazon and picked it up after watching the show.  It’s a great addition to what’s seen during the series..

Karl started keeping a diary when he visited Gran Canaria years ago.  Passages of it were read on The Ricky Gervais XFM radio show and were absolutely some of my favorite moments from the podcasts.  This diary is different as it is more observations of a trip rather than observations of everyday life.

Much of what is said in the diary is said in voice over or interview on the show, but there were some real surprises.

Idiot Abroad Travel Diary

The first surprise was the episodes weren’t shown in the order they were filmed.  The diary starts with Karl getting his shots before travel and heading…to Egypt.  Those of us who watched the show on TV or on DVD were probably expecting China to be first as it’s the first episode shown.  He then goes to Brazil, India, Mexico, China, Jordan, and finally ending with Peru, just about the only episode shown in the order it was produced.  I’m not sure why they were shown out of order, but seeing the journey from beginning to in from Karl’s personal perspective provides a better view of his travels.

There were also sections Karl mentions in his diary that do not appear in the show or in the deleted scenes.  One was Karl learning to drive a rickshaw in India.   Anyone who knows how much Karl likes bikes would have known how well he’d do that but he was told he drove too fast by the instructor.  Another memorable incident is the dog farm he visited in China.  Dogs are raised for food and sold for that purpose.  Karl raises the concept that cows and chickens are raised for food and it doesn’t seem so different.  He found it more strange that the owner of the farm had a dog as a pet that he would never cook and eat.

Other items were expansions on things we did see in the show, but provided a better glimpse at Karl and his personality.  One moment, that was actually rather touching, was Karl’s interactions with Ashek, the rickshaw driver and restauranteur in India.  In the show it appeared as Karl didn’t want to stay with Ashek in the back of his shop and jumped at the chance to stay at a nicer place owned by Ashek’s friend when it was offered.  In the book (which contains a number of transcriptions of recorded conversations Karl had, including interactions with locals and phone calls from Steve and Ricky) you see Karl’s compassion for Ashek.  Ashek was ill, barely showed up to meet the Idiot Abroad team, and yet still worked both his jobs.  Instead of Karl immediately leaving Ashek’s crowded one-room home as shown in the program, Karl initially offers Ashek the nicer house.  He tells him, “How about this: I leave you to have a nice night’s sleep?  You’ve been working hard all day.  Why don’t you stay at your friend’s house, and we’ll stay here…I want you to have a bit of goodness in your life.”  Ashek, true to his customary hospitality and courtesy, refuses repeatedly and they eventually go to the nicer residence.

The diary, to me, only works as a companion to the show.  It might make sense and be a fun read for those who haven’t seen the show, but in my perspective some of the fun is left out if you can’t picture where Karl is and what he’s doing.  It does provide a much better view of the entire show, and is a terrific addition for fans, not only for what it adds to what’s on screen, but to what it adds to what fans may know of Karl’s personality.  It’s also a VERY quick read and well laid out.  The beginning of each “wonder’s” chapter has a famous quote from a philosopher, historian, or explorer about the wonder juxtaposed with one of Karl’s making for a great intro to each locale.

I’ve seen and enjoyed the second season of Idiot Abroad and Karl kept a diary for that trip too.  I know, having enjoyed this one, I’ll definitely get that one too.

If you were unfamiliar with the weird world of Karl Pilkington I hope this was a decent introduction.  It’s a consistently funny, sometimes enlightening, frequently confusing, and always entertaining place to visit!

Karl, Steve, and Ricky

Off the Charts: An Idiot Abroad Series 1

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As I mentioned in my last post, a friend at work suggested this show to me after finding out I enjoyed the show River Monsters.  I resisted it at first base solely on the title.  I couldn’t imagine a worse program, but I was picturing “idiots” on the level of the reality TV celebrities that appear on the covers of magazines at the grocery store.  I also don’t watch too much TV so to start a new show was one of those, “how will I work this into the schedule” prospects.  I saw part of a marathon on a Sunday several weeks ago and found it to be one of the funniest TV shows I’ve seen in ages.

The premise is simple, Ricky Gervais and Steve Merchant send Karl Pilkington around the world to see the seven wonders of the world.  Karl, as I mentioned in my last post is an individual with a simple and unique perspective on things.  He’s never cruel or judgmental, he just often expresses his naive or simplistic opinions in as blunt a manner possible.  Ricky wanted to torture Karl for fun, as he claims it’s the most expensive practical joke he’s ever played; Steven wanted to broaden Karl’s perspective.  Karl was just kind of along for the ride.

There are only eight episodes, and each one is full of terrific moments of Karl exploring foreign countries and cultures.  The best aspect of each show are Karl’s opinions and his narration where he breaks down complex social customs in the most simplistic way possible.  Often lost, hungry, obsessed with finding familiarity (especially in toilets), and out-of-his-depth, Karl is sent on various expeditions and takes part in numerous surprise activities assigned to him by Ricky and Steven via phone or text.  Here are my favorite moments in Series 1:

Episode 1: The Great Wall of China (China)

  • Karl experiences the street food vendors in China and witnesses scorpions, geckos, and toads for food.  Possibly my favorite moment is when he realizes his driver is eating an egg with a fetus in it!
  • Karl does some Kung Fu training with the Shaolin Monks, including watching his instructor throw a needle through a pane of glass (Karl hits the cameraman on his go…)
  • Karl’s description of the Great Wall as “the Alright Wall of China.”

Episode 2: The Taj Mahal (India)

  • Karl goes to the Kumbh Mela festival to see the various babas present.  He describes one as looking like Jim Morrison.  And is shocked at the somewhat horrifying abilities of Elephant Baba’s friend…and his walking stick…
  • In one of the most endearing moments of the series, Karl spends time with a swamiji.  He actually enjoys the experience and just describes him as a “good bloke” rather than any kind of mystical power.  And he seemed to be.
  • Karl thinks the Taj Mahal was built by  a guilty husband.  He claims if he built his girlfriend, Suzanne, something like that she’d say, “What’s been going on?!”

Episode 3: Petra (Jordan)

  • Karl goes through military training to learn what to do if he’s kidnapped.
  • Karl visits Christ’s birthplace but finds the nearby border wall between Palestine and Israel more impactful as it effects the people living on either side every day.
  • Karl proves his belief that “it is better to live in a hole and look at a palace than to live in a palace and look at the hole” by spending the night in a cave across from the treasury at Petra; an experience he truly enjoyed!

Episode 4: Chichen Itza (Mexico)

  • Karl does some Mexican wrestling with “The Shocker!”
  • Eating wasp larvae with Mayans and trading some Monster Munch “crisps” with some of the villagers (which they seemed to enjoy)
  • Dancing to British New Wave music and feeding a large lizard hobnobs at Chichen Itza.

Episode 5: The Great Pyramids (Egypt)

  • Belly dancing on his Nile Cruise!
  • Karl’s comment on a nice apartment near a call to prayer speaker was that the real estate agent only takes people to see the property when the call to prayer isn’t blaring.  Another moment where his simple opinion is likely 100% correct!
  • Karl description of the great pyramid as a “game of Jenga that’s got out of hand.”

Episode 6: Christ the Redeemer (Brazil)

  • Karl dances in a samba line during Rio Carnival!
  • Karl’s tour of Rio with local man, Celso.
  • Karl sees the Christ the Redeemer statue by helicopter.  He is more excited about having ridden in a helicopter than seeing the “wonder.”  In his words he “enjoyed riding in the helicopter…and the Jesus thing was alright as well.”

Episode 7: Machu Picchu (Peru)

  • Karl camps in the woods with his own home-made toilet (a camping chair with a hole cut into it).
  • Karl stays with a tribe that used to be cannibals and attempts to teach them Connect 4 (he thinks they don’t understand it because they never count higher than three in primitive tribes)
  • Karl describes Machu Picchu as “magnificent”…in an effort to not have to walk any further around it and just end the show with a long shot from the point they had reached.  When he saw the first buildings of the complex he remarks in a desire to stop before reaching the top, “It’s not like I’m looking for a house here.  I’m not saying ‘just like this but with more outside space…'”

Episode 8: Karl Comes Home

  • Karl reveals his secret word in case he got kidnapped in Israel was “Congress tart.”
  • Karl’s scenario where he gets a free night of chicken from NOT having plans and just “going with it.”
  • In one of the funniest moments of the series the clip is played (from when Karl was in Peru) where Ricky reveals they changed the name of the program from Karl Pilkington’s Seven Wonders to An Idiot Abroad.  Karl’s reaction is priceless.

Next time I’ll take a look at Karl’s travel diary.  I read it in only a couple days and it shed extra light on some of the events shown in the show, and and extra insight into the inner-workings of Karl’s mind.

This whole video is good as he talks about tribal customs and invisible fish but the discussion of the name change starts at 4:18 and as always beware the language.

Off the Top of My Head #4: The Unconventional Wit and Wisdom of Karl Pilkington

Off The Top of My Head

Genius is an objective concept.  What might seem like genius to one person may seem absolutely ridiculous to another.  What might seem simplistic may be brilliant.  What is absurd and what is genius can be blurred by perspective and not all of us agree on what is profound and what is nonsense.

Enter Karl Pilkington.

Karl Pilkington

A friend at work told me about the show Idiot Abroad and frankly due to the title and my lack of interest in the concept I resisted watching it.  I since have seen the show, The Ricky Gervais Show HBO episodes, and read two of Karl’s books.  Despite what Ricky Gervais believes, I think Karl is a kind of genius (which according to Ricky makes me an idiot too…), but like Ricky…I can’t get enough of his peculiar form of brilliant insanity.  I’ve included several of videos featuring Karl in this post.  All are hilarious, but be aware there is some  typical Ricky Gervais-language in them.

For those who don’t know him, Karl Pilkington was a radio producer on Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s radio show.  They found his unique outlook and simplistic views on things to be so entertaining they have since put him in their podcasts and twice sent him around the world.

Ricky refers to Karl as a “moron, he is a round, empty-headed chimp-like, mank moron.  Buffoon.  Idiot…but absolutely lovable.”  Stephen Merchant states Karl is, “Some kind of real-life Homer Simpson…small minded, petty, but at his core a  good person.”

I find Karl to be rather more intellectual and philosophical than idiotic; albeit in quite an unconventional way.  Karl can ponder the functions of the human mind, the future, and discuss the nature of virtual life vs. real life.  At the same time he believes dolphins with rifles escaped during Hurricane Katrina; that longer days on Mars are the cause for Martian technological advancement; and that monkeys can steal cars, serve as doctors, and fly spaceships via training with a banana chute.

Hearing Karl’s unconventional and sometimes seemingly mad ideas (like population control could be accomplished by having old women give birth to the next generation right before they die) it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that he is an idiot as Ricky describes.  To me, despite his sometimes pessimistic tendencies, he seems to think with a positive attitude, meaning when he finds a story that interests him he doesn’t come at it from a perspective of, “this can’t be true.”  Instead he comes at it from the angle, “why can’t this be true?”  He approaches the stories he reads with a certain level of naivety, accepting what is presented simply because he “read it.”  This can lead him to very unusual conclusions, and it doesn’t help that even legitimate stories he reads get, as Karl would say, “bungled in” with other stories and facts (like Mt. Everest growing and a piano being found on top of it.)  I find his willingness to accept unrealistic concepts as refreshing and creative (even if he doesn’t always see it as creativity).  Also, as he says when he selects a dictionary as the book he’d most want to bring to a desert island, he isn’t always able to express his thoughts in the clearest way.  I know I’ve been there, so I identify with him when he struggles to put his thoughts into words.

His views are also completely void of vitriol or malice.  When he talks about unusual people (he calls them all “freaks”), other cultures, poetry, and vacationing in other countries he doesn’t express a hateful opinion just his honest one.  I actually prefer his honest, yet sometimes ignorant, perspective far more than the crowd-pleasing, phony, politically correct beliefs we see from most pundits.

It’s like Karl lives in his own world, and that would be a fascinating place to be…

If you are unfamiliar with Karl, look him up on the internet and/or get a copy of The Ricky Gervais Show on podcast or video.  Even if you don’t think he’s a modern day philosopher (as I do!) you’re bound to laugh at his antics.

My next post will be a review of the first season of Karl’s travel program, An Idiot Abroad.  A terrific show that puts an unconventional man in unfamiliar surroundings and hilarity ensues.  For now, enjoy this, one of my favorite videos!

And check out Karl’s official site here!