Sunday, October 27, 2013

Geeky Stephen Merchant looks for love in LA

(Published Oct. 25, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Bespectacled English comedian and actor Stephen Merchant is single, “but there are always ladies in my life, as you can imagine.”

This was revealed by Merchant to Asian journalists in a recent phone interview while promoting his new HBO sitcom “Hello Ladies.”

“The great thing about going to Los Angeles is, I get turned down by some of the most beautiful women in the world,” he said.

Merchant, 38, created the original version of the sitcom “The Office” with actor-comic buddy Ricky Gervais in 2001. The duo eventually collaborated on the US version of “The Office” as executive producers.

He met his future “Hello Ladies” co-creators, writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, while working on the US remake. “I would occasionally go there and direct an episode, and I did some acting work. I’ve known [Lee and Gene] socially as well as professionally. So we had a pretty good rapport already,” Merchant said.

The 6’7”-tall comedian plays an exaggerated version of himself, Stuart—an awkward, LA-based web designer ignored by gorgeous women. Merchant described the character as “a loser” and stated that “Hello Ladies” will have “a romantic heart at the center.”

Excerpts from the phone interview:

How easy is working with more Americans on “Hello Ladies?”
To be honest with you, it was not as much of a culture shock as I was expecting. The film crews were as talented as the ones I worked with in England. So the biggest difference, really, was just driving to work in sunshine rather than pouring rain, like in London. It was not dissimilar to the way I worked before. The writing process was similar; it was just in a warmer town.

How would you describe the evolution of your comedy?
It’s funny because sometimes people say, “Oh, I watch your shows and they make me cringe!” And I never set out to make people cringe. It’s not my aim. There are certain things that make me laugh … people who are being socially awkward, a bit out of place. But in this show, I try to bring in a more physical comedy, more slapstick-y stuff because when I was growing up, I was a huge fan of “Laurel and Hardy,” John Cleese and “Fawlty Towers.” And I just really wanted to make use of my physical size, because I’m so tall and gangly.

Stuart and his housemate Jessica (Christine Woods) show some compatibility; will that angle be explored?
You don’t have to work very hard for people to start making those connections. But certainly, the thing about those “will they, won’t they” stories on TV, as soon as you bring them together, you lose a little bit of the tension that makes things fun. So I don’t want to confirm or deny whether they wind up together at this stage.

In your experience, do nice guys really finish last?
You have to put yourself out there. You can’t sit in the corner like a quiet wallflower and hope that the girl that you like would somehow see into your soul and realize you’re a nice person … Unless you talk to the girl, she just thinks you’re like a creepy weirdo who keeps staring at her. At some point, the nice guy at least has to go over and ask her out. That’s the thing that took me a long time to realize!
Who are your favorite comedians?
Woody Allen’s stand-up routines from the 1960s were very important to me. I think Louis C.K. is undoubtedly the best in the world at the moment—just unmatched because he’s so raw and honest, like a comedy philosopher in some ways. I think Richard Pryor was rightly held up as one of the best, because he was an amazing storyteller who inhabited the stage and the stories. Eddie Izzard— just a unique comedic voice … all my early stand-up comedy was me doing a version of Eddie Izzard, badly. Billy Connolly—you can’t see how he’s doing it; it seems like he’s just talking, and yet people are crying with laughter! That’s an amazing skill.

“Hello Ladies” airs Mondays, 9:30 p.m., on HBO and HBO HD.

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