'Maybe if I was checked out, someone would say I was mental' | Karl Pilkington on his new Sky comedy Sick Of It

'Maybe if I was checked out, someone would say I was mental'

Karl Pilkington on his new Sky comedy Sick Of It

Karl Pilkington returns to Sky One later this month with his first scripted comedy-drama, Sick Of It, which he co-wrote with Richard Yee and in which he plays a character also called Karl, a crotchety cabbie living with his auntie while trying to get over the loss of his long-term girlfriend. He also plays 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. Here Pilkington talks about the series.

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.

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, I can’t do it.' But then Richard was like, ‘you could do a cameo, couldn’t you?’ And I was like, yeah I could do. And then he was like, have a bigger role. And then it turned from me not being in it to me being in it twice. 

If I’d been told at the beginning I was going to write it and be in it, I’d probably have scared myself off doing it. But coming up with the storylines gave me time to think about it, so it made it easier to take on. 

And did you enjoy it? 

It was hard work, but I think I did enjoy it. My girlfriend Suzanne said I did because when I do the travel stuff, I call her and moan. And with this, I was only a bit pissed off for two days in eight weeks, so that’s pretty good for me. 

The writing part was good. I’d just do three days a week, so I still had time to do the garden and the little jobs around the house I like doing. But once you’re filming, that’s proper stress time because I am just rubbish at not worrying about stuff. 

It’s not like the travel series when you are just winging it. 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 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.  

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. But 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 [the character] do in this situation? 

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. 

I’ve always said there’s a voice in my head. I remember doing a podcast with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. 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.

 Does writing come naturally to you? 

It’s not easy. It’s mad to think I have done this, really. 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 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 shtum 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? 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 all right 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 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. 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 starts on Sky One at 10pm on Thursday September 27.

Published: 7 Sep 2018

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