Interview: Karl Pilkington On New Comedy Sick Of It

Karl Pilkington is back on Sky One, this time with his first scripted comedy drama: a six-part Sky original production co-written with Richard Yee. Karl plays Karl, a crotchety cabbie who’s living with his auntie while trying to get over the loss of his long-term girlfriend. His closest mate is his alter ego, an uncensored version of himself who appears only to him and can say exactly what he thinks, without the risk of offending anyone. As Karl muddles through life, desperately trying to get back on track, the voice in his head just can’t seem to shut up. He imparts his wisdom, deals out criticism and shares his rather unorthodox philosophy on life – counsel that often lands Karl in trouble. 

Sick of It will air Thursday 27th September at 10pm exclusively on Sky One and NOW TV. 

This is your first scripted drama. What made you want to write?

I thought I’d had enough of telly. I’d bought my house and once I got it paid for I thought, well that’s all we’re working for. But after having a bit of time off, I just got bored. After doing all the travel stuff for God knows how long, I’d had enough of hanging around airports and feeling jetlagged. But then I met up with Richard. He directed some of the trips in An Idiot Abroad and The Moaning of Life and he asked me if I wanted to have a go at writing something. And we sat down and chatted about the programmes I liked and it just sort of went from there. It was just something to do.

Did you always plan to be in it?

I wasn’t going to be. I thought, I can’t act. With this, I’d spend a lot of time writing it and then the night before I’d be awake changing stuff. Richard would be getting emails from me at four in the morning. So I was really knackered and running on adrenaline. I was playing two roles all the time and I am in every scene. And then I wasn’t sleeping so it was pretty mental.

What differences are there between Karl and the Voice in His Head?

We wanted them to be slightly different. The idea was that the inner self would be more confident most of the time while Karl is a bit sort of downtrodden, a bit nervous and unsure. The inner self is trying to push him on so there is an energy difference between the two. But apart from that, they look the same, they sound the same. Yeah, there’s not much acting going on.

And is it fair to say there isn’t much difference between your personality and the Karl we see in the show?

Yeah. Well, it’s obviously made up, it’s not a biopic thing based on stories of my life or anything. But when we were writing it, I was saying this is what I think about that or this is how I might react to that. I have tried to keep it true to me because it makes it easy when writing. You don’t have to sit there and think what would he do in this situation, what would he say, how would he take that?

Karl’s main relationship in the series is with the Voice in His Head, isn’t it?

Yes. I didn’t want to write something with someone who has loads of mates because that seems to be covered in telly quite a lot. The extreme of it is Friends. You know, five people or whatever in a house, they all get on, they’re always there for each other. Life’s not like that. I’ve never been someone who’s surrounded myself with loads of mates or family. I prefer to work something out on my own. This is about having a relationship with yourself and getting through life with the one person you can’t get away from: you.

And where did that idea to include the Voice in His Head come from?

I’ve always said there’s a voice in my head. I remember doing a podcast with Ricky and Steve. I was saying how my thoughts are in my accent and wondering, is it the same for Stephen Hawking? When he was thinking about something, did he hear his own, old voice in his head or did he hear that computer voice? They were like, what are you talking about? You don’t have thoughts in a voice, you just have them. Well, I don’t. So that was the idea that was rattling around my head.

Karl lives with his Auntie Norma in the series. Tell us about their relationship.

It was nice to have someone there to point him in the right direction. I thought it was an interesting relationship to have – someone in the same position as Karl, who is alone and doesn’t always get it right. She’s someone who is close but would be honest in a different way to a wife or girlfriend. Also, I like the way that as much as Karl thinks he’s looking out for her, she’s kind of looking after him as well.

Norma is played by Sondra James. How did you cast her?

I didn’t want a programme where you would be watching the story and going, oh I know them, what have I seen them in? It can be quite distracting. I wanted new faces so it felt real – I prefer realism stuff. When you’re looking for actors in their 70s there aren’t many to choose from, and those there are I have seen in so much stuff. So Richard suggested she could be American, and as soon I saw a picture of Sondra, I was like, I like her. Her face was funny. And the size of her is, and the clothes she wears in the show are what she actually wears. As I am kind of mundane and miserable, I didn’t want anyone else in the show to be the same. We had a bit of lunch with her and got her take on the world and she was funny. She’s confident and cocky really.

Many of the episodes have themes, such as the photograph, the sofa and the crying baby. Where did these ideas come from?

The crying baby one started with us talking about noise. Noise is something I am rubbish around. I hate it. I can’t concentrate with the slightest bit of noise. Anyone who’s watched The Moaning of Life knows I’ve never wanted kids but that didn’t mean I had to have exactly the same outlook when we were making Sick of It. So episode two starts with a crying baby that’s doing my head in and goes on a bit of a mad journey that might surprise people who know what I’m like. It’s quite a sad episode really. A lot happens in 23 minutes. Episode four starts off with a photo of Uncle Vinnie that Karl takes to the charity shop and ends up in Eastbourne and I like that because that’s what life is like. It’s not always neat and there’s not always a simple storyline. I enjoy coming up with stories like that.

Does writing come naturally to you?

It’s not easy. It’s mad to think I have done this really. I I left school with no qualifications whatsoever, I’m rubbish at English. I’ve written more books than I’ve read. I’m not very good at switching off so if I try to read I can only do a couple of pages before I have to do something else. So it’s weird that I can sort of enjoy sitting down and making up a story.

What do you do to relax? What makes you happy?

I like messing about in the garden, sorting the lawn out. I’ve got a hot tub that needs looking after with chemicals and that.

Like the Karl of the series, are you happy holidaying on your own?

I’m not weird or anything, I just like my own company. I find after a bit that people just get on my nerves. Suzanne, my girlfriend, is quite sociable. She’ll always go out and play tennis whereas I’m fine to just stay at home or go for a walk on my own. That’s where the idea for the holiday episode came from. I’ve got a few close mates who I still see but I don’t need much of it. I quite like doing the housework. When I’ve finished this interview, I’ve got some washing up to be doing. I’ve got a dishwasher but I’m quite happy washing up. It clears your head and stuff.

Do you often find you have to keep schtum even though your inner voice is screaming at you not to?

In the past, at family events and stuff, if I thought someone was talking shit or whatever, I’ve just blurted it out. I’d just go, what are you talking about? But as you grow older, maybe you get calmer but you just realise it’s easier to keep your mouth shut. But in my head I’m in a debate with myself about how I don’t agree. Particularly with older people – they are just from another time aren’t they? I mean I could say, what are you talking about? But they’re not going to change their mind and I’m not going to change mine, so what’s the point? It’s sad in a way, because I quite like a disagreement. Not to the point of a full-on argument but a discussion is good.

It feels like we are living in a time when you say the wrong thing and people jump on you. Is your inner voice quite vocal when you are working too?

With the job, there are times when I think, this is alright and then I am on my own reading the scripts and the inner self comes out and says, that’s rubbish. It took you a whole day to come up with that shit? It feels like a battle. Maybe if I was checked out, someone would say I was mental. But it works for me so I am not going to change. Whether it’s madness or not, it’s made an idea for a TV programme.

The series has a great soundtrack, can you tell us about it.

It’s a bit of a security blanket for me. I wanted everything to be as good as it could be because I don’t think I’m great at acting, so as long as it looks nice and it has nice music and stuff that will do some of the work. I am a big music fan so going through music and finding tracks that link to the story was a nice thing to do. We spent a lot of time and effort on it. Though some people won’t notice, they’ll just say, oh, I’d have preferred it if you’d used Abba on it.

You don’t think you are a good actor. Why is that?

No, I don’t know how it works though. Maybe if you speak to Robert De Niro, he’d say he’s not very good too. When you are watching yourself, you just know it’s you.

Why should people watch the series?

You might as well give it a go. You’ve paid for Sky so you might as well watch it. And at least watch two episodes, because episode one is kind of setting it up with me, the voice in my head and my backstory. It really gets going in episode two.

How would you sum up the series?

It’s little simple and relatable stories about a man who’s a bit lost in life. There’s something that carries on through the series but it’s not hanging on a whodunit. It’s nothing too heavy – I liked the idea of making something that you could watch on the train or on the bus. Each episode is just 23 minutes but you’ll get something out of it. It’s about that relationship you have with yourself, how much we worry about what we say and do and how much we are truly being ourselves. Life can be complicated. And even though there are major things going on in the world, you are still caught up in your own bubble. You still have your own daft worries and it’s about dealing with them. Do you know what I mean?

Sick of It starring Karl Pilkington will air Thursday 27th September at 10pm exclusively on Sky One and NOW TV. 

Interview supplied by Sky.

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