Before "The Office" and the international celebrity that followed, but after a failed musical career, Ricky Gervais was a comic performer on the radio, first at the local station where he had been head of talk programming, and later on BBC Radio 4. Those shows, as Gervais describes them in this interview (20:08, Real Audio) with Terri Gross on "Fresh Air," were little more than "a couple of blokes in a room talking like we did in the pub." Those other blokes, who can be heard on this short clip (4:58, Windows Media) from XFM London in 2002, were "The Office" co-creator Stephen Merchant and radio producer Karl Pilkington. The trio joined together again last December to create "The Ricky Gervais Show," a weekly, half-hour podcast that Guinness World Records recently declared the most downloaded in history, with an average of 261,670 downloads per week during its first month. Pilkington, a minor player in the London radio days, is the star of the podcast, which features his replies to reader e-mails, readings from his diary and, most famous, his updates from the world of "monkey news."
Gervais insists that the hilariously misinformed and thick-headed Pilkington is not playing a character when, for instance, he suggests that were it not for the invention of the airplane, humans might already have developed wings. Fans of "The Office" will recognize Pilkington's obsessions with survival and the animal kingdom and his tendency to elide or misunderstand the most important details of a story as likely inspirations for the character Gareth Keenan. "The lake was frozen over where I was walking," Pilkington writes in one passage from his diary. "The ducks look worried." When Merchant queries Pilkington on the matter, he adds, "How long is a duck's memory? Because I wondered whether they're going, 'This doesn't seem right, but I don't know why.'"
The show's first series of 12 episodes was made available free of charge at Guardian Unlimited, where episodes 11 (33:22, MP3) and 12 (32:04, MP3) can still be found for a limited time. But starting three weeks ago, since "Karl needs a little bit of money," the charge is $1.95 per episode via Audible or iTunes. It's the best half-hour of drivel money can buy.
-- Ira Boudway