"An Idiot Abroad" - Karl Pilkington sees the world's wonders

For several years now, I’ve been a fan of Karl Pilkington. Well, that’s not precisely true. I’m a fan of Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant’s relentlessly mocking Karl Pilkington’s bullheaded ignorance and small-mindedness.

Pilkington (a “round-headed Manc twat,” in Gervais’s words) is notoriously intolerant of things being different from what he is used to (a “small Englander,” as Merchant puts it), Gervais thought it would be funny to send him to several places in the world and laugh at his anger, frustration, and stupidity.

So far, one episode has been broadcast (“China”), and I think the results are mixed. One of the reasons that the whole Gervais-Merchant-Pilkington shtik works is that Gervais and Merchant do their best not to let Pilkington say stupid things without opposition. One of the problems with this show is that Pilkington is essentially on his own, and, with a viewer’s natural tendency to start identifying with the protagonist, there’s a distinct danger that people will view this show as a celebration of Pilkington’s narrow-mindedness rather than mockery of it.

Another thing is that Pilkington often asks questions such as “Why do they do it this way?” but he is too lazy to actually seek out the answers. When Gervais and Merchant are around, they at least try to take a shot at explaining things. Here, things are just left hanging.

Anyone else watching this?

I guess the answer is “no”?

I saw the trailer and thought “I really want to watch that” but never caught it.

If you watched Ewan McGregor & Charlie Boorman on their motorcycle trips, you may have shared with me the sense of adventure and excitement their shows engendered. But when Boorman did a travel show on his own, it was dire. For example he’d walk through a market, point at something unusual, and go “look at that, isn’t that mad?!” then walk on without actually finding out what it was or educating the viewer in any way at all. It drove me nuts - McGregor would have found out what was going on. Sounds like our Karl is the same.

Still, Happyslapped by a Jellyfish is still one of the funniest books I’ve read for a long time. Maybe he works better on paper.

Interesting idea, but I think Ricky should be there with him.

I’ll have to catch it.

I laughrd a lot - but only from the point of view that he is an idiot - as you rightly say, a nuetral observer may feel obliged to identify with the xenophobic view of the presenter.
Thankfully, I am not neutral; know he is a twat; and can laugh at his idiocy. As suggested in the title.


I’m eagerly anticipating it; I haven’t gotten to it yet.

This premiered on North American TV last night. I’m familiar with Karl’s particular brand of lunacy, so that might make a difference, but I really felt no danger of identifying with his Ugly Traveler syndrome. It really is about watching someone who has no context for the world outside his home try to comprehend how the rest of the world lives.

I now have gotten to it, and it was hilarious, in my opinion. There were a few moments where I felt sorry for Karl for the things he was being forced to do, but mostly I had no problem pointing and laughing at him.

My SO and I watched the first one last night and we also found it laugh-out-loud funny. The whole bit about the scorpions on a stick, the lady forcing him to eat frogs and his observations about the Great Wall and the general shades of China’s grey were hilarious. Watched the preview to it as well and can’t wait to see Karl with his tent and Evian bottle in the jungle.

Edited to add: I don’t mind that Gervais isn’t there - he’s one of my favorite comedians but whenever he’s with Karl has that grating, shriekish laugh that gets on my nerves. And there is a little bit of back and forth with the camera man (oh yeah, the part with the pin and the balloon…ha ha ha ha!!)

Actually I really can tolerate Gervais these days in the Pilkington context. His standup act has become an endless rant against fat people, without any actual attempt to be funny.

Has anyone heard whether they’ve managed to bully Karl into doing another series?

I just saw the India episode. I really enjoyed it, Karl’s lack of understanding about anything outside of his comfort zone shtick is funny. But it seemed like Ricky and Steve were just messing with him, sending him to shitty hotels etc and then laughing at him about it.

I thought the phrase “en suite shed” was pretty accurate for a closet full of paint and thinner in one’s hotel room. Gervais thought that was the funniest thing ever.

I’ve tried to watch some of the old HBO show (last winter?) that was the three of them animated sitting around and talking. Yeah, Karl comes off as kind of a dope, but Gervais comes off as kind of a prick.

They were just messing with him. I don’t know what channel is showing the series (BBC America?) but when it was on Sky, Ricky said explicitly that this was all a practical joke, that he wanted to torture Karl, and that he was specifically sending him places he would hate (Stephen had more noble reasons but I think he knew they were pretty pointless since Karl can’t change and grow as a person).

ETA: I thought it was one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen. I hope they bully him into another series.

What stood out for me was Karl’s insistence that he was growing as a person because he had tried a new dessert that he liked, which he described as “carrots with milk” (I’m guessing was gajar ka halwa or something like it.)

And even with that, his immediate concern was whether he’d be able to find it in London!

  1. Duh! Is there any common Indian food you can’t find in London, of all places?

  2. Karl’s fear of learning to like something that he won’t be able to enjoy on a regular basis. Why can’t you just enjoy what’s in front of you without worrying about being able to obtain it in the future?

I’ve enjoyed the China and India episodes. While he’s staggeringly uninformed about some things, his commentary on others is absolutely on point.

For example, his commentary about some of the crappy aspects of foreign countries aren’t so far off- old men having to carry around a homemade potty chair is pretty f-ed up, no matter how you slice it. Same goes for the craptastic hotel room in Agra.

Well, the hotel was intentionally chosen for its deficiencies.

As for the potty chair … Fucked up, really? It’s not what I would prefer but it doesn’t seem like something all that horrible, especially in a part of the world where a lot of people don’t have access to any kind of plumbing.

HBO is running new animated podcast episodes at present. Friday nights.

I think that was the point though; for all the racket we hear about China being advanced, etc… you still have old men carrying around lawn chairs with the ass cut out so they can take a dump. That’s hardly advanced at all; that’s one step from a pit outhouse with the Sears catalog or corncobs.

How much of a pass should we give? I went to grad school with a bunch of straight-off-the-boat Chinese students. Is it intolerant or Karl-like to say that their breath smelled like heated, humid ass, and that they really need to learn to use toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss? Sure it may not be common where they’re from, but that doesn’t make their breath smell any more pleasant.

It wasn’t clear to me what circumstances the chair would be used in. (First of all, it didn’t look home made to me. It looked like a manufactured item.)

The Chinese generally use squat toilets and some people – especially old people – might not be flexible enough to squat. In that case, the chair is being used with plumbing. That doesn’t seem to me to be “hardly advanced at all” or “one step from a pit outhouse.”

Second, there’s a difference between being “not advanced” and the term you used – “fucked up,” which I take to mean something far worse – say, cruel, demeaning, unjust, intolerable, tortuous, etc.

In what circumstances are you being asked to give a pass of some kind? You’re saying that you’re being asked for a pass. A pass to excuse something? Is someone asking to be excused? For some kind of trespass or intolerable behaviour? Is a societal preference for squat toilets that requires some feeble people to carry a folding chair something that you feel an entire society has to beg your forgiveness for?

Again, what exactly is this being offered to prove? That different cultures have different expectations and different tolerances for body odours? Isn’t that somewhat tautological?

Is that “fucked up”?

I think it depends on what your reason is for bringing it up. If it’s simply an observation or a statement of preference for different aesthetic standards, that’s one thing. If you’re offering it as some kind of proof that the Chinese as a whole are deserving of some kind of unflattering label, that’s something else.

The offense that Karl keeps committing is that he identifies things that are matters of preference or custom or habit that are not necessarily subject to some kind of moral or value-driven analysis and then declaring that everyone in the world should just line up with his own preferences.

It’s like an orange! Like a f—king orange!