Oh, Karl Pilkington, how do I describe thee? You are the most 1. hilarious, 2.humorless, and 3. good-humored man I’ve ever listened too. What do I mean? It’d be best to show you here, but I’d understand if you’re too lazy to click or you’re intimated by the three and a half hour run time. If you do watch, I think you’ll find three and a half hours is not enough.
But anyways, for those too lazy for YouTube (but not lazy enough for a blog, oddly enough). If you followed the link to The Ricky Gervais Show, you’d find that the hosts, Gervais and Stephen Merchant, are total assholes to co-host Pilkington. They insult him to his face, dismiss everything he says, and dive into arguably homophobic humor just for a cheap laugh at his expense. Pilkington doesn’t get angry. He doesn’t challenge them. He doesn’t self-deprecate. He doesn’t react at all. He continues spouting the stupidest, most inane idea and theories this side of the solar system. “Oh, that seems like it’d be funny once and a while.” No. Every single answer he gives is golden. Whether it’s his insistence that we don’t really need airplanes or that leaf-like bugs come from bug mating with leaf, or even spending game shows guessing who’s going to answer instead of what the answer really is, Pilkington shows us all how far man has come in the past 60,000 years. What goes on inside this man’s perfect spherical head? Does he want us to stop making fun of him? Does he think that humor is a name you give your dog? I may never know. And therein lies part of the problem, though it’s not the biggest aspect.
If I were to write a character like Karl Pilkington (or, more to the point, when I write Karl Pilkington), I can choose whether he’s too nice or too stupid to respond to the constant mockings from his supposed friends. But there’s the meaty question: Who would believe a character like this? I believe him now like I believe a lounge version of Down With The Sickness. This is the same reason you’ll never see a movie about Theodore Roosevelt: executives see his life as too fantastic for audiences to buy. And I’m not going to pretend every idea of his is awful (he’s right about human beings utilizing more than five senses). But goddamn is he batting a .00001 on The Ricky Gervais Show. Mind you, this is a man with a successful producing career, a house, and a girlfriend, so he’s already doing better than me. He somehow shaves without mistaking his razor for hard candy, and people have (no joke) approached him for movie ideas. How do you put him in fiction, let alone make this stuff up in general? (And no, I’m not counting An Idiot Abroad, because that stars real Karl undergoing real experiences, not a fictionalized one serving a literary purpose).
There are a couple of options here. One is to downplay his constant mind drools, make him “redeemable” in a sense. Maybe he’s a genius at, I dunno, underwater chess, where you also have to concentrate on keeping your pieces from floating to the surface. The movie Gladiator had a scene in its first draft with Maximus selling out, based on how gladiators operated, cut for reality being unrealistic. But that misses the point of Karl, doesn’t it? He’s proof that there’s a loving God that protects us all from evolution, oncoming buses, and eating silica packets. I wouldn’t go that route.
Maybe the problem comes from spotlighting him. If he just has a line or two in a book, in a moment when you need a stupid guy, he wouldn’t draw that much attention. But again, you could replace that character with any anti-vaxxer and change little. No, we need our Karl as center stage as possible, taking names and forgetting them minutes later.
This may be a roundabout way of saying I want a biography on this man’s life (or autobiography! Ohh, both!) This may be a project beyond fiction’s reach. But that’s avoiding the question, isn’t it? We want to put Karl in the French Resistance, or the presidency, or as a kindergarten teacher. How will we make it so audiences buy him?
I think the answer here lies in the medium. After all, there are unfuctionable idiots in fiction, like Homer Simpson. Pilkington belongs in a cartoon- the Youtube clips reinforce this. But not a slapstick-heavy, action-oriented cartoon either. More The Looney Tunes Show, less Looney Tunes. The humor has to come from situations and dialogue. The only difficulty I can think of is Pilkington may be too mellow and low key to provide much of a boon to animation besides the clips I linked to. But even then, he provides contrast. Put him in conversation with Daffy Duck and you’ve got some diamond material there.
But let’s say you don’t have an entire animation department to work with, like me. In fact, let’s stop this extended coffee break of a blog body and settle once and until I change my mind how I’d write Karl in my fiction. To be honest, I’d cheat a little and go for the ‘dumb on purpose’ angle. Does he think it’s good for a laugh? Is he trying to lower our defenses for a scheme? Who knows. Well, I will, just not right now. The thing is, I wouldn’t outright state he’s having a go. He might crack up once (in private, since he doesn’t do it in public) or have a character suspect it herself. Now there’s an answer for those curious enough to grab a word shovel, and the rest of us can laugh at the silly man who’s ramblings bear thematic similarity and may add up to something, but who cares, he just said there’ll be no pants in the future. This does regulate him to side-character role, but that’s for the best. Protagonists, likeable or not, need to be understood, and I just can’t wrap my fingers around Karl’s head, unhinge his scalp, and study that parts inside that rotted off.
Am I a bit too cruel to Karl, wethinks? He doesn’t show it when Gervais does the same. But let me balance it out. Karl, if you’re reading, I would love to interview you more than anyone else in the world (except Tommy Wiseau, maybe). And not to take the piss either. I find you interesting and complex, and want to know what oils your head engine. You don’t have any evil or malicious qualities to you. Plus, you have an attribute no one can claim to possess- you’re too big for fiction.