Monday, 24 January 2011

Fizzling Out

As you may have noticed, I have recently read an almost funny little book, An Idiot Abroad, by some of the luminaries of British comedy, Karl Pilkington, Ricky Gervais, and Stephen Merchant. I can't say I had exactly stratospheric expectations, but after thoroughly enjoying (and laughing my head off in the process) The Office, and even bits and pieces of Extras I've managed to find time to watch, I was surely hoping to be suitably amused.

Alas, my hopes were dashed, and my Fun got scuppered when the Idiot ship hit the very first rough seas of trying to actually be witty...

So, what went wrong? Well, pretty much everything, if you ask me!

The whole book (and I did manage to read it all - just) feels very much strained. Strained in the sense that the author(s) are actually seen to be trying very hard to be funny, or at least witty. Sadly, most they can manage is a play on a few worn out stereotypes about various people and places, stereotypes that stopped being funny well before they became politically incorrect (and some of them aren't - yet).

Also, the book loses pretty much all credibility (and it does try very hard to be a credible report of the rougher side of the world) by just trying too hard to put Karl in the rough spots along the way. It's one thing to make a sort of a "natural" non-idealised trip to India or Egypt, and quite another to overtly go out of one's way to make it as bad as possible without killing the traveller.

But then, what can one expect when it is Sky channel who commissioned the TV series part of the project? It didn't come as much of a surprise when the fact came out openly in the book around half way through (I admit to keeping well away of any Rupert Murdoch's property, so I wouldn't have known about the series anyway). One thing this "revelation" did was make me painfully aware that I have actually lined Rupert's pockets with some of my hard earned cash. I almost wished Amazon offered refunds even for e-books that have actually been read cover to cover.

So, are there any redeeming feature in this pamphlet? In fact, yes, and let me tell you about them.

First, the actual writing is good. Even if I don't think that just using a lot of rough language helps any book, it actually worked well in this one. While the situations Karl finds himself in were contrived (painfully so at times), at least his pain and angst were real and as such well and truly called for colourful language to portray them.

Second (and last, sadly) are the photos scattered around the book. Even on a grey-scale screen of a Kindle most of them are really, really good. They almost made me wish I had seen the TV series, too, but then, I think that would have been a step too far. I am not a masochist, after all. Plus, what's the guarantee the video camera work would be on par with the photography? I certainly wouldn't hold my breath, especially after seeing how a stack of "successful" comedy writer names does not necessarily guarantee quality of work any more.

Finally, to sum it all up: Ricky and Stephen have most definitely come off the boil (I can't say anything really about Karl as this is the first work of his I have come across). It does seem that their creativity (more Ricky's than Stephens it would seem) has been slowly fizzling out ever since that masterpiece that was The Office.

In the end, An Idiot Abroad was a fiver wasted. Mind you Ricky sort of redeemed himself with Cemetery Junction, a surprisingly nice film which more than repays the three quid I spent on it at the Sainsbury's heavily discounted DVDs stall.