The biggest laugh on Ricky Gervais's recent HBO standup special might have been when Gervais dropped Karl Pilkington's name and, in reaction to the audience's appreciative whoops, said, "Right, head like a fucking orange." Early in the season premiere of The Ricky Gervais Show, Gervais says that it's become his mission in life to make Karl famous, and, well, he's getting the job done.
The Ricky Gervais Show forms half of HBO's two-headed experiment in the recycling of multimedia comedy to plug a hole in the weekend cable schedule. The "pointless conversations" that Gervais, Merchant, and Pilkington have already peddled in podcasts are handed over to a team of animators to be given visual form, and voila: instant TV. It doesn't make a lot of sense that this should work out about a thousand times better than the web skit anthology Funny or Die but so far, it has. Like previous examples of stapling cartoon visuals onto a standup rap, such as John Magnuson's short film of Lenny Bruce's Thank You Mask Man and the TV version of Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks's The 2000 Year Old Man, the form gives the animators a chance to party with verbal images so sprightly they demand to be seen. These collaborations combine the charms of two of the great termite art forms, animated cartoons and talking funny shit, to create something more charmingly warped than either can supply on its own. It also gives you the chance to see what Gervais would look like if he were a resident of Bedrock.
The season premiere jumps right in at the deep end with Karl's description of a movie pitch he concocted, on the spot ("If you just talk, I find that your mouth comes out with stuff… If you sit there and try to use your brain, it doesn't work the same.") for a couple of producers who actually sought him out for this purpose. It's about as good an example as you could hope for of this show's fullest possibilities at work; aside from the choice excerpts of Karl's imaginary vehicle for Clive Warren ("The one who was in Closer!") and Rebecca De Mornay—about a romance that survives beyond the grave thanks to an experimental partial-brain transplant operation, but then gets weird—there's a priceless throwaway montage of a cross-section of Hollywood types trying to figure out who this Clive Warren is. There's also an image of a twitching, chittering monkey brain on a stick that kind of sums this show up the way that the shoot-out on the stairs inside Union Station in The Untouchables sums up Brian De Palma.
The live audience's reaction, at Gervais's standup show, to the very mention of Karl confirms that Karl Pilkington hasn't just become famous, he's turned into a semi-beloved figure, who is regarded with bemused affection by his fan base. This is a good thing, because without that undercurrent of real affection, the show could easily feel like an exercise in bear-baiting: a rich smart-ass and his rich smart-ass sidekick holding one of their lackeys up for public ridicule by goading him to committing ever more flamboyant acts of spoken idiocy. Gervais has responded to questions about whether the show is actually scripted by saying that if he could invent a character like Karl, he wouldn't waste him on a podcast (or, presumably, a cable cartoon spin-off). But if Karl is the show, Gervais earns having his name in the title by setting the tone with his own raucous laughter. Never has one man laughed in the face of another, stupider man so infectiously.
- "It's the greatest love story ever told, set in a head."
- "So the point of this film is, the dead man can remind her what breakfast cereal she likes?" "Wait a minute, this is only act one."
- "Box jellyfish. Crocodiles. Snakes. Blue ring octopus. Funnel-web spiders. Great white sharks. Just some of the reasons that put me off going to Australia."