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

Yeah. Karl never struck me as that odd or ridiculous; just a bit askew. So given that the premise of the animated show was “pointing and laughing at Karl”, it just didn’t work for me. And if this new one is “pointing at laughing at Karl…abroad”, I’ll pass.

Although I enjoy the shows, I can easily see how a lot of people might find them irritating or otherwise not entertaining.

However, I don’t agree that Karl is just a little askew. I think it’s much more insidious.

Karl is so mentally lazy, unable to think logically, unable to analyze complex issues, and unable to understand the difference between reliable observations and glurge. And when Ricky and Steve try to set him straight, he usually just goes blank.

On the other hand, Karl is like a barroom lawyer, who thinks his “common sense” argument style makes him very clever. He really thinks he is scoring points, just like a bunch of guys downing beers and watching the game.

The reason I say this is insidious is that unfortunately, I think a lot of people in this world are as uninformed, illogical, and impervious to education as Karl is. It explains a lot of the crazy stuff that goes on in the world.

I didn’t mean “fucked up” to mean anything else than bizarre and kind of wrong, in a very colloquial sense.

I realize that cultures have different expectations and norms, but I’m also not a cultural relativist (if there is such a thing).

By the standards of the culture I live in, old people having to lug around chairs so they can take a shit is bizarre and generally unacceptable for more than one reason- they have to advertise that they intend to take a crap (Karl’s observation), there’s no accommodation for old, infirm or disabled people, and apparently little regard for sanitation, if people are cool with old folks carting around their crap chairs into all sorts of public places.

That’s what I meant by fucked up. Maybe that’s the way they do it in China and that’s their business, but it is also fucked up by the standards of where I’m from.

The grad students probably think we’re crazy for brushing our teeth all the time, etc…, but they weren’t in China, they were in the US where not brushing and having bad breath is frowned on. That was basically the point I was trying to make- just commenting that their breath was fetid and nasty (heated humid ass) and suggesting that they should brush and floss wasn’t trying to cast aspersions on Chinese, but merely say that by the standards of the culture they were in, their breath was totally out of the bounds of acceptable.

i despise the HBO show. i adore this new one. the difference? Karl gets to finish a thought. you get a way better sense of who karl is, and why he thinks the way he does. he’s really not that profoundly odd, nor uniquely stupid. close-minded is probably the description of karl, which is pretty easy to find just about anywhere. there are even times where his minimalistic, atheistic, non-apologetic brand of philosophic commentary comes off as quite profound.

in the podcast show, it’s much like how attack ads and other slanted media would take soundbytes totally out of context and put it under a microscope. with zero context, no rebuttals, and maniacal laughter, my eyes start rolling pretty fast. in this one, the original premise of “let’s punk karl” is overshadowed by the “karl steps outside of his comfort zone” aspect and (intended or not) becomes a very relateable show.

another bonus is that this show, as shown as strictly a travel show, is fantastic. the host isn’t just mindlessly gushing over the wonders and awe of a different culture, not pampered with the best-of-the-best amenities, and not carefully edited to have sweeping shots of him/her gazing out into a grand vista looking contemplative. it’s just karl going to some place and hating it. that makes the depiction more accurate, and the rare instances where he is “wowed” more special (spoiler, very poignant and shockingly profound moment in the Jordan episode).

*addendum about karl - i don’t think he’s an utter buffoon. i think he’s actually a very fair representative of the western masses. mildly educated, closed minded, very content with his current lifestyle, and very libertarian in the sense of “you can go on doing what you want as long as it doesn’t interfere with me doing mine.” he might throw in a few jokes here or there but it’s definitely not scripted or even a character. that’s just who karl pilkington is. i have friends from HS who are perfect american facsimiles of Karl. rednecky, deep south, good ol’ boys who are quite happy driving around their lifted trucks (complete with gun rack and PA system), who don’t care much for foreigners, welfare, or animals. i can see how such guys would rub certain dopers the wrong way though.

**addendum about ricky - it’s a roller coaster of like/dislike with this man. i loved the british office. i hated ghost town. i loved extras. i hated invention of lying. i loved his stand up. i hated his other stand ups (whoever said it’s degenerated into fat bashing is pretty spot on). i hated the podcast show but i LOVE this “idiot abroad” show. it’s really curious how i can harbor such bipolar feelings about his work, but i do. i suspect that deep down i don’t like ricky at all and the only reason i like the works that i do is because it’s Merchant who’s the one that’s making me laugh.

***addendum about 2nd series. wikipedia said that a second season where Karl goes around the world crossing “bucket list” items off his list. no doubt it’ll consist of bungee jumps, skydives, and probably an aboriginal walkabout. am i the only one who’s supremely jealous of this radio producer striking gold in getting a chance of a lifetime to go globetrotting and experiencing so many crazy and different things?

Perhaps the difference is that I’ve listened to almost all of the dozens of hours of conversations with the three of them going back to 2001. Karl has had plenty of opportunity to hold forth on his thoughts, philosophies, logic, personality, etc. Yeah, Ricky interrupts and calls him names and howls on endlessly, but over the years he keeps coming back to give him more opportunities to explain himself.

It’s very clear exactly how he thinks, to the extent that after listening to him for so long, it’s often possible to predict exactly what his reaction is going to be to certain kinds of information. And that is part of the reason why Ricky starts cackling almost as soon as Karl opens his mouth, because he often knows how stupid it’s going to get very soon.

I think it’s not really fair to characterize these as out-of-context soundbites cherry-picked to slant one’s impression of Karl. Because Ricky comes back to these issues over and over to allow Karl the opportunity to explain himself fully.

I don’t believe he is uniquely stupid or unusual. But I think that is exactly the problem, why I say that Karl’s stupidity is insidious. There are many, many people just as bullheaded and closed-minded as Karl, and thinking of it in those terms, it should be a cause for great concern about the kind of people we live among.

I agree with your analysis but not your conclusion. Yes, he is a very fair representative of perhaps a large contingent of the western masses, mildly educated, closed-minded, etc. My conclusion is that we live among a large population of buffoons – impatient, closed-minded, incurious, quick to make assumptions and jump to conclusions with insufficient information or understanding, quick to dismiss or demean things outside their experience, unsympathetic, unempathetic, quick to blame the victim mentality.

It’s not just that Karl is badly educated. What is education after all but the seeking out of knowledge? Karl does seek out knowledge … he reads a lot … he finds a lot of things interesting. But he has absolutely no critical mind with which to evaluate the information he’s taking in. And he doesn’t have the patience to fully understand what is in front of him.

For example, many of his crazy stories are, in fact, based on some kind of underlying truth, but he doesn’t have the patience or the mental fortitude to really understand the original story. So he gleans some very vague aspect of it and essentially fills in the details with his own fantasies, based on his own prejudices, preferences, and prior inclinations.

Another large proportion of his stories are myths, hoaxes, or even hoary old jokes, which he accepts as face value, especially when they confirm his assumptions and attitudes.

These two things by themselves are dangerous to human welfare as a whole, because if a lot of people are like this, then there are a lot of people with a voice in the public policy-making sphere that are skewing the conversation with opinions that are half-understood, badly thought out, fallaciously reasoned, and based on faulty original facts.

And, yes, I agree with you, this kind of malfunctioning interaction with the world is a key ingredient of certain kinds of bullheaded, bloody-minded libertarianism.

But that’s only the surface of this kind of libertarian mindset. It has a much more insidious, harmful side to it when you dig down deeper. “You can go on doing what you want as long as it doesn’t interfere with me doing mine” is only the surface, public-relations attitude that covers up a host of hostility, mean-mindedness, and harmful policy making.

For example, Karl just cannot stand the fact that people can seek medical assistance for health problems. He has stated over and over and over again, that once a person starts experiencing chronic health problems, it’s just a sign of the inevitability of the body breaking down. Well, yes, that can be a valid philosophical proposal.

But what is his conclusion? He literally gets angry at the thought of having to treat people for their illnesses, the idea of having to do research to come up with treatments and cures, the idea of having to invent new things to deal with afflictions.

This is not just the fair-minded libertarianism of “You can do on doing what you want as long as it doesn’t interfere with me doing mine.” It reveals something much more sinister about libertarianism – actual anger and resentment that society is trying to help individuals in need, even if such attempt doesn’t actually require any input or effort from him. I’ve listened to enough hours of Karl holding forth on this … he literally gets angry about it.

It’s resentment at the very thought that someone somewhere is trying to do something good for someone else. And when you have enough people with this kind of mindset, it’s making the world a worse place to live in.

So why does Karl hang around with Gervais and Merchant? And vice versa? Are they just parasites feeding off each other?

Other aspects of this mindset lead Karl to conclude –

– There’s no point in doing anything about the environment or climate change. We all get old. It’s just the world getting old. He just doesn’t want to be bothered with suggestions that people can or should do anything about pollution.

– He has this bizarre idea that there are too many different species of animals in the world. He has some kind of phobia that the world is too full of too many different things. He’s always asking “can’t we just get rid of them?” He resents it when anyone suggests that any particular species should be saved. “Everything dies. Just let it die.” He even actively fantasizes about eliminating species that offend him in some way. He’s always asking “but what is it doing? Everything has to have a purpose. Do we need 'em?” Although it has been explained to him over and over, he just can’t grasp the idea of a food chain, or the interconnectedness of any ecology.

– Although he superficially thinks he understands and believes in evolution, he ultimately doesn’t understand its implications. Although he concedes that species have evolved, whenever he encounters something with some kind of remarkable characteristic, his first instinct is to ask “Why was it made that way?” His instinct is that everything was made. He just can’t take in the idea that everything is evolving together and characteristics of any one species have evolved in tandem with the characteristics of the species surrounding them in their environment. He has a bizarre resentment, in particular, of jellyfish and octopodes. Somehow he just resents their existence and he’s always fantasizing about eliminating them. He even did a series of interviews with actual scientists titled “Can We Get Rid of 'Em?” in which he pushed them to say that it would be okay to “get rid of” certain things. They failed to make him understand that everything lives in an interconnected ecology.

– His nominal atheism I think is just an accident of his upbringing. People around him apparently weren’t serious believers, so he isn’t either. It’s not because he has thought about the issue or arrived at his belief or has sustained it through any kind of reasoning process. For example, he adamantly believes in ghosts, and is constantly repeating stories of “weird” things happening. It doesn’t bother him at all that most of these stories aren’t verified at all, they’re just stories. To the extent that some of his weird stories might have some kind of factual basis, he has no patience to get all the facts, nor the ability to examine them critically.

– Karl also has some kind of phobia about overcrowding. He constantly talks about how much he hates living in London, because its so full of people, and he’s always fantasizing about letting people die from their illnesses and misfortunes, just to thin out the population.

Aside from the fact that they all have profited from this association, especially Karl, I think they’re friends. I think they genuinely like each other and like hanging around together. Ricky, in particular, often expresses affection for Karl, although sometimes it seems his affection is kind of like the way he might love a pet.

Like Pancakes, I too have some rednecky friends, who I like just find as people. Although I would object to their opinions and views on a lot of issues and would prefer that they didn’t vote, on a one-on-one personal level, they’re actually quite good people.

They appear to be genuine friends, as the topics of conversation on the podcasts/animated show is often about Karl going over to Ricky’s house, etc…so it’s not like they are only together when they do the shows. If Karl was really pissed by Ricky calling him a round-headed buffoon, I’m sure they wouldn’t hang out in the off hours.

These two points exactly. Travel shows and people who love travel are always 'Everything was great!" so much so that one has to wonder why did they come home?

They (Rick and Stephen) push Karl into non-tourist areas of these countries. That is very interesting on so many levels. I know a lot of people like Karl. I am bit like Karl myself in someways. I’ll admit that when I do travel I wonder what the toilet will be like.
But no man could look at that Yogi with the stick and not nearly faint.

Some other aspects of Karl’s personality that make him different than your run-of-the-mill average joe (these might all be interconnected) –

– He has some kind of phobia about holidays. He often expresses anger about the idea of being “forced” to get together with family and be “expected” to have fun. He gets angry that there are national holidays that will mean that most shops are closed. “If you want to have a turkey, have a turkey. Don’t wait till Christmas.” Of course, this entirely misses the point. Christmas is not about having turkey. He also hates the idea that these things are planned, because the raise expectations. Things you like to do should be done on a whim, he says. Of course, it would be impossible to make a full turkey dinner and have all your loved ones over without some degree of planning, right?

– He’s got some kind of phobia about giving gifts. He apparently had some disastrous gift-giving experiences in his childhood, but they seem like a slim excuse for his resentment about the idea of giving people gifts, in particular, his long-time girlfriend. He hates having to get gifts or plan outings for holidays, Christmas, birthdays, St. Valentine’s Day, etc. He has expressed relief that his girlfriend was ill on one occasion and thus he didn’t have to do anything for Valentine’s. He always says that his girlfriend shouldn’t expect a gift just because it was a traditional gift-giving occasion. He says that he treats her only when she “deserves it,” whatever that means. It doesn’t seem to me that he finds that she deserves it very often. One year, Stephen and Ricky guilted him into getting her a Christmas present and he got her an industrial-sized package of condoms that was on sale. (Stephen: “Does she get to use them with anyone?”) On the other hand, he happily accepts and enjoys gifts given to him.

– He is militantly resistant to polite indulgence of loved ones. On one occasion he got into a big fight with his sister, because he refused to look at pictures of her new baby. The reason he gave was that he had seen plenty of baby pictures of her other children and babies look pretty much the same.

– He refuses to keep works of art in his apartment, because “there’s a window. You can just look outside.”

Hey that’s not fair. There’s also a mirrored wall. It’s like living art. And you can watch the telly through it.

He wallpapered the mirrored wall, remember?

One of my favourite bits from the Ricky Gervais show is where Karl tells a story about visiting Ricky’s house and questions Ricky’s choice of pets, and Stephen takes Karl’s side. Ricky had a pet lizard (or was it a salamander?) that was less lively than the food it ate (crickets). Karl’s idea was to chuck away the lizard and keep the crickets. Stephen agreed.

in the recap episode of “Idiot Abroad” Karl has 2 things to say about the people who claim that Merchant and Gervais are bullying him:

1 - He’s a grown ass man, so don’t worry about him.
2 - If people are so concerned, why don’t they do anything? Letter-writing campaigns, etc.

I think Karl’s personality is entirely Karl’s, but he also has a wicked sense of humor. He’s the ultimate straight man.

I don’t quite remember that one. I do remember an occasion in which Karl was annoyed by the fact that Ricky’s cat liked to sit on Ricky’s lap and be stroked. He thought that Ricky was over-indulging the cat.

I’ve often wondered how elderly people and people with knee injuries used the squat toilets. Now I know.

I’m watching the India show now. That American guy with the jovial old guru has a set of chompers, doesn’t he? He has the kind of teeth I associate with demonic eaters of human flesh.

I think he’s a good sport about the whole thing. I mean, like when he’s in China and people are eating all the weird stuff like scorpions and chicken fetuses and stuff, and he just takes it in. Or when he’s in Israel and they kidnap him. He’s ok with it. I mean, he’s better than I’d be, at least.

OK I just saw the Jordan episode and I’m not sure what you are talking about. Care to put it in a spoiler box?
I thought the staged kidnapping was a bit much on Ricky and Stephen’s part.

Just guessing, but I think the moment in the Jordan episode may have been when:

Karl was more affected by the sight of the wall between the Palestinians and the Israelis than he was by seeing the Church of the Nativity - “I got more of a feeling from seeing that [pointing at wall], than I did from seeing the place where Jesus was born.”