"If you feel a little bit of an outsider then maybe you use humor and you feel more in control," he says sitting in the courtyard of a hotel here, his long legs at an angle as they don't fit under the glass-topped table.
"I felt very self-conscious. I remember doing some school plays where I got to joke around and got a good reaction from other kids and parents saying, 'You were very good in that play.' And I was always a big fan of comedy. I watched it religiously and when they published the scripts I would read them," he says.
Merchant translated his insecurity into standup and
hilarious bits with Gervais, which included his role as Ricky's
horribly inept manager in "Extras." A lifetime fan of Pythoner John
Cleese, Merchant says, "He was born in a place very near to
But he was like him. The first time Merchant tried standup at 22 (his parents had to drop him off as he didn't have a car), he triumphed. The second time, he bombed.
"My experience of comedy since then has been that same roller-coaster. Sometimes it kills, sometimes it doesn't. But it was very formative in that regard because it gave me confidence that I could do it, that I wasn't wasting my time. But at the same time it rattled me because it wasn't as easy as I thought it was. I couldn't do it every time. I had to work at it."
He and Gervais met at a radio station. "We had a
radio show and would also do other stuff at the radio station, and I
left and joined the
"And while I was at the BBC I was able to film this kind of character that Ricky had created who, in essence, became
They complemented each other: Gervais' outrage at the craziness around him fit snugly with Merchant's impervious lunacy.
When they edited the film, "We just realized we had something special. Even at the time I remember thinking there's like an alchemy, there's something happened here, being really excited. It was like panning for gold and you see a little glisten and you thought maybe there's more gold in these hills. And that was a big moment, just seeing the quality of his performance and realizing that if we managed it right, we were on to something."
They were on to something all right.
The pair is still at it. On Friday "The Ricky
Gervais Show" premieres on HBO. Spawned from their podcast, the show
features an animated trio where Gervais and Merchant simply wing it
with another station employee,
"We met this guy who was just a goldmine of oddball, eccentric, weird anecdotes and strange views about the universe — just a real eccentric that we started chatting with," says Merchant.
"Then we started doing podcasts off the radio show and they became this cult thing all over the world, and we continued to do them with Karl and now they've animated them for HBO, hopefully for a whole new audience."
As a bizarre counterpoint to Gervais and Merchant, Pilkington is not a performer. "He's just a guy that we met, but he comes out with things that are often funnier than we could ever write because he sees the world differently, through different eyes."
At 35, Merchant admits that he's much more at ease with himself than he used to be. But he doesn't tell anyone. "Because it undermines my comic persona. The truth is it's funnier to be hopeless. It's funnier to be neurotic and unsuccessful, is the truth of it. Luckily your neurosis is magnified in different ways."
Still not married, Merchant confesses he's not very smooth with women. In fact, he does a bit in his standup about the absurdities of the dating ritual. "Sometimes I wonder if I want to meet girls so I've got something to say in my standup routine. I've got a nice house, do I need somebody else in there? Of course, of course. I don't know about being married but it doesn't concern me terribly. I don't feel lonely. Don't think if I'm not married by next year I'm going to hang myself."
If you can get your kid's nose out of his computer
games, the Syfy Channel has a treat in store with its updated version
of the King Arthur legend, "Merlin." If that sounds familiar, it is.
"The thing about 'Merlin' is it's an opportunity to play with stuff I haven't played in a while," says Head. "It is quite contained admittedly, but I do get to throw my weight around a bit."
Marriage is hard enough, but what if one of the
spouses is incarcerated? That's a whole other deal, say the folks who
are featured on Investigation Discovery's "Prison Wives," which airs
Wednesday. Not all of them are wives, either. One of them is retired
(c) 2010, McClatchy-Tribune News Service.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.