Stephen Merchant talks to Ryan Cullen about his stand-up, cialis The Office and Karl Pilkington

clinic serif;”>Cult status? I thought I was a household name?” says Stephen Merchant, returning to stand-up performance after nearly a decade’s absence. The writer and star of Extras and The Office, Merchant has taken to the stage for his new tour “Hello Ladies…” about the geeky stars escapades and his search for love and companionship. “The show is about my failed search for a wife and how I thought fame would be the answer to everything and it isn’t. My life has always revolved around my search for a mate and the show explores every aspect of that, from teenage hopelessness, to the time I got thrown out of a wedding. It’s very confessional. I don’t use chat-up lines but if I did it would be, ‘Would you like to meet Karl Pilkington?’”

So why after so much success in relation to the Office, Extras and co-presenting The Ricky Gervais show, has he decided to re-attempt the daunting task of a stand-up tour? “Well, originally I did stand-up after I left university and I was a finalist in some comedy competitions. I was good enough to get paid, I used to gig regularly, but somewhere along the line I lost interest. Once The Office took off, it just seemed easier not do it. I didn’t get enough of a kick from performing to warrant driving up and down the motorway to gigs, eating Ginsters in service stations at midnight. I used to look at Ricky doing stand-up and think, ‘Why’s he bothering? It’s so much effort.’ Then I just woke up one day and I had the itch again. I felt I’d never really nailed stand-up. So I started doing five or ten minute slots here and there and I’ve been pottering around the circuit for a few years now. This tour is the result of that itch.”

After his many collaborations with friend Ricky Gervais, many critics have found it difficult to separate the pair as independent sources of comedy and after asking Stephen if he found it difficult to be recognised in his own right?, he said that “It doesn’t concern me. I don’t do anything for recognition, I do it because I love writing or performing or directing. I wanted to make TV and films when I was a kid and so I spent years learning the craft. I did it because it interested me, not because I wanted to be in Heat Magazine.”

Stephen’s modesty flows from the off and he speaks of how he never expected the office to take off to the heights of acclaim that it has achieved and how his time on XFM helped him develop his ideas as well as meeting fellow popular co-stars Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington. “Ricky had a boss character that he would sometimes perform for me in our office at the radio station. After I got a job at the BBC we were able to develop that character into an entire show. We thought it would be popular with a small cult audience – we never imagined it would go global in the way it has. Nobody predicted that. Ricky and I were fired from XFM but after our TV success we got invited back to host a radio show. Karl was our producer and once we started asking him questions on air we realized he was a comedy goldmine.”

For all Stephen Merchant’s success as co-writer and director of The Office and Extras, writing and directing his first feature film ‘Cemetery Junction’, there is something deliciously modest and level headed about the 32-year-old. He tells us that people at home still treat him the same “When I visit my parents my mum still makes me unload the dishwasher and peg out laundry like she always did.” Looking at his life, the evidence is piling up that he is becoming a hugely influential figure in British comedy, with aspects of his writings extending to America. He feels that stand up is yet to be a form of entertainment yet to be conquered. “Yes, stand-up is really difficult. It’s also very raw and direct. There is nowhere to hide. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself by getting back to what I had started my career doing. It seems to have gone well so far.” He notes his influences as a child being a little more obscure, even though highly popular names in comedy. His love for Woody Allen and John Cleese, have had an influence on his style and material. “I’m sure I have learned from the people I’ve worked with but I was doing stand-up long before I worked in TV or films, so I developed my style a long time ago.”

His resume is ever expanding and the awards are tallying up. Stephen tells the College Tribune that he has done a new sitcom called “Life’s Too Short” starring Ricky Gervais and dwarf actor Warwick Davis. “In the show Warwick is hustling for work and contending with a divorce, a failing career, a giant tax bill and the fact that he is only 3’6″. Warwick is exceptional in it : great at comedy and drama, tremendous at physical comedy as well. Big stars pop up on occasion such Johnny Depp, Liam Neeson and Sting are all in the show.

 Ryan Cullen