The Pilkington Experience: Karl Finale


As a wrap up to my Karl Pilkington posts I thought I’d do a list of Karl Superlative Awards, a range of favorite moments from throughout the Karl library I’ve had the good fortune to experience so far:

  • Best XFM Feature:  This was a tough one.  Though Monkey News seems to be popular for me it was a toss-up between Rockbusters and White Van Karl but I think I have to go with the latter.  While Rockbusters had several moments of genius and the reactions of Ricky and Stephen to the competition can be as hilarious as the “cryptic clues” and their answers, White Van Karl was consistently hilarious and didn’t have any of the antagonism Rockbusters picked up later.  White Van also brought about some of the funniest moments in the history of the show.
  • Best XFM Karl Moment:  Without a doubt…the horse in the house.  Brought about by a White Van question about genetically enhanced babies, the horse in the house story became so legendary it was referred to without any explanation years later.  While other stories Karl told are forgotten or require re-telling over the years of Ricky-Stephen-Karl broadcasting, the horse in the house is without a doubt the most memorable!  (Though a VERY close runner-up is the “man-moth.”)
  • Best XFM Ricky Gervais Moment:  During a series of links where Ricky and Stephen swap stories about past run-ins with police and firefighters Ricky tells a story of being out on a Saturday in the early 80s (dressed in period-typical new-wave clothing, gelled hair, etc) when a police car cruised by and one cop yelled out the window “You look like a couple of prats!” To which Ricky’s friends asked Ricky, “Is that an offense?”  Hearing Ricky tell this one is a great moment in XFM story-telling.
  • Best XFM Stephen Merchant Moment:  Almost the funniest overall moment in the whole XFM run is Stephen’s story of him, a girl he fancied, a guy she liked, a Volvo Estate, and a pig named Vera.  If THAT doesn’t get your attention I don’t know what will.  I won’t go into the details.  No one can do this story justice like Stephen can.
  • Most Moving XFM Karl Moment:  Karl’s stories of “bad gift giving” are remarkable, but one of the saddest stories from the XFM series is the story of him buying his mother a Victoria Plum figure, excited he found his gnome-figure loving mother the prefect present.  When she saw it in the shops before Christmas she responded, “that’s bloody awful” dashing young Karl’s hopes that he found the perfect gift!
  • Best Ricky Gervais Show (HBO) Feature:  Again Monkey News loses out.  Karl’s diary is by far my favorite feature.  Karl’s words, read by Stephen, animated in that style, with Ricky’s commentary/reactions was the perfect storm of humor.
  • Best Ricky Gervais Show (HBO) Moment:  What Karl would do if it was the last day before the end of the world.  Just thinking about that sends me into hysterics.  The first time I laughed uncontrollably at the show.
  • Best Ricky Gervais Show (HBO) Ricky Gervais Moment:  I’ve got to go with Ricky’s story of having a construction worker tell him “Oi Rick, not as fat as on telly!” because of Ricky’s analysis of the statement, “He was saying, ‘you’re still FAT but you look ever FATTER on telly.’”  To which Ricky could only say, “Cheers mate!”
  • Best Ricky Gervais Show (HBO) Stephen Merchant Moment:  Another tough one.  It was a toss-up between Stephen’s night out at a club and his experiences in Rio.  I’m going to have to go with Rio.  Not only is the story hilarious (it involves Stephen going into the sea to “have a wee,” a wave taking him out to sea, pulling his trunks off, and washing him down shore away from his friends and in front of a beach full of lovely women) but Ricky’s response to Stephen’s question whether he would’ve saved him is also priceless, “I couldn’t have helped you.  Not with your knob out and your glasses off.”
  • Most Moving Ricky Gervais Show (HBO) Moment:  Fittingly the last moment of the last episode, which imagines the three of them still together in an old-age home, still laughing and re-telling their favorite stories.
  • Best Ricky Gervais Show Episode:  It was a tough one.  Too tough to choose.  I’m going to have to declare a tie between Insects and Karl’s Day though there were many others that came in REALLY close second…
  • Funniest Idiot Abroad Moment:  I’ve said it before, ANYTHING to do with the bungee jump.  From his “daring” land dive, to his lie about jumping in Africa, to Ricky’s discovery of and reaction to Karl’s lie.  It couldn’t have been any funnier if it had been written!
  • Best Idiot Abroad “Wonder” Episode:  This is another tie for me.  Either Mexico, which features wrestling, the search for the jumping bean, and dancing to Depeche Mode outside Chichen Itza; or Peru, which has the stay with former cannibals, the news of the title of the show (NOT Karl Pilkington’s Seven Wonders like Karl thought it would be…) and Karl slyly getting out of going any further up Machu Picchu by declaring the view to be “magnificent,” a word Stephen had never before heard Karl use, raising his suspicions that Karl might be trying something sneaky.
  • Best Idiot Abroad “Bucket List” Episode:  My favorite is Meet a Gorilla.  It has the end of the bungee-jump runner, Karl’s shopping in the market, and his meeting a hippo-in-the-house.
  • Most moving Idiot Abroad Moment:  By far Karl’s self-reflection during his climb up Mt. Fuji.
  • Best Book:  Definitely Karlology.  The most pure collection of Karl’s thoughts and experiences.

That’s my wrap up of all things Karl I’ve experienced thus far.  I’m looking forward to The Moaning Life and highly recommend the above media for anyone who needs a good laugh!

For the best random interview, check this out!

The Pilkington Experience: Karlology


This is the book where Karl really comes into his own as an author.  Though some of the material is repeated in some of the podcasts, unlike the previous books Karl sat down to specifically write a complete book of his thoughts on various topics.  In Karlology we are treated to his musings on The Natural History Museum, the London Zoo, and the Tower of London.

Each chapter consists of Karl’s visit to a place of “culture,” usually a museum or gallery of some kind, and he then comments on what he’s seen.  In the Tate modern he comments on street performers outside the location, what he thinks art is (“stuff to fill a space that would otherwise be empty” according to Karl), and his opinions on the art he sees in the gallery (such as dwarf sculptures and creepy videos).

Included in karl’s random thoughts are:

  • Medical words are too complex, that’s why doctors have bad handwriting.
  • Maybe humans and dinosaurs did live together but there weren’t many people so we haven’t found traces yet.  “A bit like pug dogs – they’ve been around for years but I only saw one for the first time about nine years ago.”
  • Chinese surgeons are apparently the best because “they’re always dealing with kids with four legs or two heads in China.”
  • Extensive thoughts on stick insects, including, “If reincarnation does exist, I wouldn’t want to come back as a stick insect.  I’d rather come back as a real twig: a least I wouldn’t have any enemies, and I’d be the real thing as opposed to an imitator.”
  • And of course, in relation to the astronauts’ short duration of time spent on the Moon “I suppose once you’ve seen one bit of the Moon, you’ve seen it all.”

In addition to the main text there are lists of facts concerning the topics covered each chapter, brief quotes from other individuals describing things they’ve learned, and occasional random incidents such as Karl’s Brain scan, his attempts at a Mensa test and “what can I learn from the news?” where Karl keeps a log of what’s reported on the news for a whole week.  Though I’m sure more news was reported than he records, it really gives a good log of all the nonsense the “news” talks about, such as it being “talk like a pirate day” and fish born with two heads.  He also mentions the Middle East war (surprisingly!) and comments “I don’t know how the can keep the anger up.”  A great point I think…

Several of the thoughts in Karlology are heard in conversation during the “Ricky Gervais Guide to…” podcasts, but unlike previous efforts this book doesn’t have the feeling of a tie in.  Though natural history, medicine, and art are topics in the “guides to” Karlology isn’t a collection of the podcasts in written form or Karl’s thoughts on the previous discussions, they are, instead, Karl’s pure thoughts on what he sees in the places he visits.  In fact he covers stick insects again on Idiot Abroad giving the impression that he tends to stick with what he believes!  Karlology may be Karl’s best book.  Because it is Karl in his purest form, viewing familiar subjects (though Gunther van Hagens’ Bodies exhibit might not be exactly “familiar” it was something that many people visited) through his own unique lens.  It’s highly recommended for Karl fans, and it would be interesting to see what people who don’t know Karl think of his commentary!

Here’s a nice clip of Ricky and Stephen talking to Karl about his book.

It’s available here!

The Pilkington Experience: Karl the Author


I’ve previously reviewed Karl’s two Idiot Abroad tie ins, but Karl was actually a published author well before that show.  This post will briefly cover his first two books, The World of Karl Pilkington and Happyslapped by a Jellyfish.  Bother are must-haves for Karl fans and are similar in nature to the two Idiot Abroad books in a way.

The World of Karl Pilkington

This is the first book (as far as I can tell, though there may have been at least one article in a monkey magazine that was previously discussed…) Karl “wrote.”  I use “wrote” in quotations because much of the book consists of transcripts of some of the best bits of both the XFM shows and the early podcasts.  I read this book a little over a year ago after watching the first Ricky Gervais Show animations.  The origins of this book can likely be traced to an off-side statement Ricky made in the XFM days when he requested someone to write down everything Karl says for a year because he wanted to make a book out of them.  The results are terrific, especially since I didn’t find the XFM shows until WELL after I read the book.  This was my first introduction to “the horse in the house,” and this story alone is worth reading the book for.  Also included are several “monkey news” stories (I was surprised after seeing the animations that these were different, as I mentioned in my XFM review, this feature goes back to their old radio show days!)  It really gives the full stories of some of the best conversations between Ricky, Steve, and Karl.

Happyslapped by a Jellyfish

The first thing I had to do was look up the term “happyslapped” which apparently means to have a mean prank pulled on you.  This book is almost the Idiot Abroad books in prototype.  It consists of several of Karl’s diary entries mixed in with stories and reminisces.  Several of these diary entries were read on the podcasts so much of it will be familiar.  The book covers Karl’s holiday travels with Suzanne.  Included are his trips to Malaga, Tenerife, Madeira, the Cotswolds, and several locations in the US (in at least one of which Karl and company were broke!)  The title refers to an incident that occurred where Karl was stung by a jellyfish in the Caribbean thus bringing about an epic rivalry between Karl and the invertebrate that continues to this very day!  It’s a great peak into Karl’s adventures (on his own terms, for the most part…) in his own words.

Fans of Karl will definitely enjoy these reads, even if sometimes they might seem a bit redundant if you’ve recently listened to the radio shows or podcasts.  I, for one, listened to the audio, read the books, and laughed out loud both times!

The Pilkington Experience: The Further Adventures of an Idiot Abroad


Unlike the first companion book that went with the original season of Idiot Abroad, the second series book is NOT a travel diary.  Karl explains he didn’t feel well enough or have the time to complete a diary on these trips and decided to write his thoughts on his travels after the fact.

In some ways it works out better. He’s able to look back and discuss exactly what happened on his travels with the benefit of hindsight.  There are times when you do miss his instant thoughts on a subject and the format of the diary that appears in the first book.

The layout is very similar to the first book.  Each chapter consists of one episode, starting with Ricky and Steve’s pitch (often expanded from what appears on the show), and then continues with Karl’s thoughts on the events of the specific adventure.  Like the show, the final bucket list item is only part of the chapter, and we get Karl’s thoughts on the mini-bucket list items Ricky and Steve tried to get him to do.

The main text expands on what happens on the program and adds some extras (like doing “zorbing” in New Zealand or Karl’s expanded Glee performance where he had lines and got them in the wrong order).  A fan of the series will definitely like the additions, and it helps better understand the order of events (like Karl’s option to do a wing-walk or participate in the International Mr. Leather Competition).

One of the best features of the book is the running checklist of “bucket list” items that Karl checks off.  He says at the beginning of the book, after analyzing the bucket list he realized he actually completed a lot more of the list than he thought, and probably more than most people.  Of course, in traditional Karl fashion, he takes liberties with his “completed” list.  To him having been offered the chance to do something is as good as completing it.  For example, experiencing weightlessness and doing a bungee jump are both checked off the list.  While he certainly had some experiences with both of these choices whether or not you could say he really experienced them in the way they are intended in the bucket list is a bit debatable.  In a way I can see the purity in this kind of thinking.  Most of us don’t have the opportunity to experience the bucket list items.  And there is pressure, especially on a travel program; to do everything that comes you’re asked to do for the program.  When present with something he didn’t want to do, Karl wouldn’t do it…however he actively chose not to do these activities after a real opportunity to do them.  How many of us would get the chance to experience travelling into space?  Karl had the chance and the fact that he decided NOT to do it is as good as participating to him!  I can understand that.  Thinking of skydiving, I could say it’s something I would not want to do, and I’ve never been asked to.  I’d think if someone did give me the chance and I said “no!” that would be good enough for me to cross it off the list!

One of the bubbles that shows two things Karl decided not to do!

Most interestingly, “get in the Guinness World Book of Records” IS something he checked off the list and deserved to for the “most downloaded podcast,” the Ricky Gervais Show, which many of us know was really all about him.

Similarly interesting are the things he doesn’t check off as completed and his thoughts on why he didn’t do them and wouldn’t.   Researching your family would only be interesting to Karl if he could trace his family all the way back to the earliest stages of life (“an ape, jellyfish, or slug” according to him!), that he’d only want to “continue his gene pool,” if there was some kind of “try before you buy” program, or that it would be good to see orangutans…but he would want to see them in London and not travel all the way to Borneo to do it.

Like the first companion book, The Further Adventures of an Idiot Abroad is a must-read for fans of the show.  We only see snippets of Karl’s adventures on the show.  The books always fill in the gaps and give readers more of his unique philosophy.

As a bonus, there are some comments on the THIRD season of Idiot Abroad in this book.  While he doesn’t go into detail, some of what happens during the Marco Polo Trail episodes is mentioned.  Since we aren’t likely to get a book about THAT series it was a nice surprise!

A video of Karl at his first ever book signing:

It’s available here!

The Pilkington Experience: Idiot Abroad Season 2


When I originally watched the first season of Idiot Abroad and reviewed it I decided I would put off my review of the second season until I had a chance to read Karl’s accompanying book.  It took a long time for me to get my hands on the book but I’ve since read it and now feel I’ve completely experienced season 2.

An Idiot Abroad 2 - The Bucket List

Anyone tuning in to Idiot Abroad Season 2 will be familiar with it immediately.  The first season featured Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant sending Karl Pilkington around the world to visit the “Seven Wonders” and experience different cultures.  Ricky did this specifically to annoy Karl and put him in situations he’d hate.  The second season featured even MORE of this concept.  For season 2 they sent him around the world so he could cross things off the “bucket list,” or things to do before you die.

Immediately Karl was confused (in fact he’s had this confusion before) by thinking that it was things to do RIGHT before you died (his quote was “If I was on me death bed, I wouldn’t want to be climbin’ Mt. Kilimanjaro.”)  But after discovering what was actually intended he agrees and goes around the world again.

Karl tries to pick things off a list of 100 choices that seem the least awful to him.  Among these are: Spend the night on a desert island, drive Route 66, go whale watching, swim with dolphins, and travel the Trans-Siberian Express.  Of course Ricky and Stephen crop up throughout the show to send Karl on unexpected adventures and even change the rules.  Even Karl says, “Nothing has been what I thought it would be.’  Of course this was to be expected, but even I was surprised with what they’d make Karl do.  From swimming with sharks rather than dolphins (Karl puts it when comparing sharks to dolphins, “It’s the most dangerous thing on the planet to the nicest.  Harmless.  Armless.”) to seeing whales from the deck of a fishing boat…after chopping bait and nearly being sick.

Side adventures include: Meeting up with ladyboys in Thailand, Sumo wrestling in Japan, visiting the Dwarf Village in China, having some Russian Cosmonaut training, and participating in Glee in America.


Favorite moments for me:

1.)    ANYTHING to do with bungee jumping:  Possibly the best runner in the history of the show, Ricky and Stephen continually try to get Karl to do bungee jumping.  Anything related to it, from his first “experience” in New Zealand, to a “land dive” in Vanuatu, to a bungee ambush in South Africa, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much as I did during these sections.

2.)    The Cuddle Party in America:  Imagine either Statler or Waldorf at a party where everyone gets together for a hug.  Karl is one of the world’s least-snuggly person.  And there he is in a room with dozens of people who just want to cuddle.  To quote him, “How long does this go on for…”

3.)    Trying the Dish that Started Sushi: It looked like the worst food in the world.  Even the chef who gave it to him didn’t look like he wanted to be near it.  It’s not a spoiler to announce that Karl ended up sick in a Japanese garden…

This season also has the most moving moment in the history of the show.  While climbing Mt. Fuji Karl admits that he never finishes much in life.  He never really completed school; he hasn’t gotten married.  In his words, “Unless it’s a packet of biscuits I don’t finish it.”  So he really put everything into climbing Mt. Fuji.  To reaching the top just so he could say it’s something he completed.  It’s extra impressive to see someone who is known as a complainer and pessimist giving his all to do something he really wants to.  He also wanted to invent something new, something he achieved during his travels in Japan!  His last thoughts on climbing Mt. Fuji are not only very Karl, but also what just about anyone would say.

As a bonus, here is the invention Karl created during his climb up Mt. Fuji, the Pilko-Pump-Pant.  Ricky and Stephen mock it…but as a person who sits in the floor a lot I can see the benefits of owning a pair!

Next post is a review of Karl’s companion book to Season 2, The Further Adventures of an Idiot Abroad.

Extra bonus, the full video of Karl selling his pants on TV!

The Pilkington Experience: The Ricky Gervais Show (HBO)


The Ricky Gervais Show on HBO

The XFM shows had a real unpolished, by-the-seat-of-the-pants feel to them.  There were strange errors, failed games, and awkward conversations.  Those shows really did feel like you were listening in on three buddies who were only vaguely aware that you’re listening.

I haven’t had a chance to listen to all the podcasts yet (though I have several of them on order) but they are a far slicker version of the XFM radio shows.  I saw the HBO cartoon version before I listened to the XFM shows and I was surprised at how many of the features and conversations are slightly repeated.  Though the podcasts are clearly as unscripted as the XFM shows.  Like many good friends, I think they just like to hear some of the same stories again.  We’ve all been sitting around with our friends and said, “Hey tell that one again!” always to the same raucous laughter.  Also, since XFM was a local London radio station, the podcasts opened up stories that only the limited radio audience had heard to a wider audience.


As before here’s my list of favorite aspects of the show:

1.)    The Animation: The cartoon representations of Ricky, Stephen, and Karl are terrific.  Slightly inaccurate, beautifully simple and exaggerated caricatures of what are now well-known celebrities with great expressions and classic style (no spikey-angled anime look here, much more Hanna-Barbara).  The animations of the stories they tell are equally terrific.  Seeing cartoon Karl act out his famous fight in the bathroom (over a “woman” at the age of seven) or Stephen’s experiences at carnival in Rio are priceless.

2.)    Themes: I’ve not listened to the podcasts, but the HBO shows tend to revolve loosely around a theme.  It could be philosophy, crime, war, metaphors, films, sports, or history.  It’s interesting to watch the conversations meander from topic to topic, and go WAY off topic, always with hilarious results.  Surprisingly they do tend to bring the very loose threads back together in some way.

3.)    Monkey News: Monkey News made a “triumphant” return on the podcasts and also on the HBO cartoons.  The ones in the cartoon are slightly less ridiculous than the original XFM examples.  In fact Karl’s news about the chimp that went into space isn’t too far off the mark.  It IS off the mark, but not “there was this monkey, right, that stole a car and went to Spain” ridiculous.

4.)    Karl’s Diary: This is the best feature on the Ricky Gervais Shows I’ve heard.  It’s far better than Monkey News, Rockbusters, or any of the various features they put together over the years.  This feature was simply Stephen reading from Karl’s Diary, with commentary from Ricky and further explanation from Karl.  Highlights include: Karl and Ricky at a work meeting (Ricky tries to wrestle him); the “mirrored wall” in Karl’s flat; Karl’s opinion that ultrasound infants look like frogs; Karl’s vacation to the Cotswolds; and of course Karl’s first poem.

5.)    One-Shot Features: There were several little vignettes that appear during the show that are priceless.  These include: Desert Island Discs (what would you take to a desert island? Karl’s bringing a dictionary…); a tricky puzzle involving identical doors to heaven and hell; Karl and the problem of free will (featuring the brain’s “Onion Lobe”), a virtual reality flotation tank that simulates real life; and my favorite, Karl’s Future Predictions, which not only has one of the funniest lists I’ve seen, it also has one of the funniest conclusions in comedy history.


My next big project is listening to all the podcasts to see how much they’ve edited out for the animated show.  I’m looking forward to seeing what I’ve missed.

If you are a fan of Idiot Abroad and don’t want to listen to hours and hours of XFM radio shows (which are brilliant but can be hit or miss at times) and want an impression of how Ricky and Stephen first started with Karl, the HBO shows are brief snippets of how they got their start together!

Enjoy Karl’s Future Predictions!