The Career of Karl Pilkington, a Unique Entertainer

Updated on September 5, 2019
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Poppy lives in Enoshima and likes to read novels and play video games, especially open-world RPGs.

Many successful or famous people get to where they are from years of preparation and hard work. Some slave for months or years taking classes, marketing themselves, and making important connections. Some people, however, fall into showbiz by accident. One such person is the much-loved Karl Pilkington, a comedian, entertainer, writer, and actor from Manchester.


First Steps to Fame

Arguably, Pilkington did enter the entertainment industry by making important connections. He was a friend of Ricky Gervais, a known comedian and actor who shot to stardom after the 2001 hit comedy show, The Office.

Pilkington was working in the radio station of XFM when Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant returned, high on life after the success of The Office. Gervais and Pilkington quickly made friends, which would be the prequel to Pilkington's catapulting career.

How Did You Discover Karl Pilkington?

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“An Idiot Abroad”

Gervais warmed to Pilkington instantly because of his sense of humour. "He's not trying to be funny, he just thinks stuff and says it out loud. When I write, I'm consciously trying to be funny, constructing a punchline, but Karl does it in conversation" (quote from The Independent).

Gervais then organised with Sky TV to send Pilkington around the world for a travel show. What made An Idiot Abroad unique, though, was that they sent Pilkington to all the worst places, made him do things he didn't want to do, and allowed him to say whatever he liked about it. Gervais describes this project as "the most expensive practical joke I have ever done."

Commercial Success

An Idiot Abroad was an instant hit after the release of its first episode in September 2010. Pilkington speaks his mind, often with poorly executed yet unique insights to the things he did and saw. He was a reluctant traveller who never pretended to enjoy what he did or acted like he was fascinated. This made him unique... and extremely likable.

After three years and three seasons of An Idiot Abroad, Pilkington was famous. If you've never seen An Idiot Abroad, you can watch various clips on YouTube or the entire three seasons on Netflix (depending on your country of residence).


Enjoying the enormous success of An Idiot Abroad, Karl Pilkington, Ricky Gervais, and Stephen Merchant continued with several other projects. One of these was the popular podcasts and audiobooks.

The Ricky Gervais Show

The animated podcast series was called The Ricky Gervais Show, but it was really Pilkington that made it what it was. The self-described "pointless conversations" entertained thousands of fans and the entire show is available to watch and listen to for free on YouTube.

Pilkington has unique insights on all sorts of aspects of life, and Ricky constantly teases and mocks him. Their chemistry is just perfect, with Gervais often shrieking with laughter at the things Pilkington says. They are enormous fun to listen to and Pilkington's career blossomed further with these shows.

Bonus Podcasts

The show spawned several bonus podcasts, including Monkey News, where Pilkington shared (often hideously inaccurate) news that involved chimps in some way. Another popular segment was Karl's Diary, where parts of Pilkington's real diary were read out loud by Merchant (and often mocked by him and Gervais). You can see a clip of Karl's Diary below.


Karl Pilkington has also appeared in TV shows and as an extra in movies, such as Cemetery Junction (2010) and Chingari (2012). He played a character called Dougie in Derek (2012-2014) and appeared as himself in The Moaning of Life (2013-2015).

I don't personally feel that Karl Pilkington is a serious actor; he is pretty much the same in everything he appears in and seems to mainly appear as an extra in Ricky Gervais' movies and shows. As he openly admits, he often takes on projects because "the money is right," not because he's particularly passionate about them. This honesty is another endearing feature that fans love.



As if he wasn't busy enough, Karl Pilkington has also released several books, mostly based on his rambles and thoughts about life and travel. Happyslapped by a Jellyfish takes you on a journey through Pilkington's eyes, with amazingly observant thoughts expressed in the classic Karl way.

More of Pilkington's books include An Idiot Abroad: The Travel Diaries of Karl Pilkington, which offer additional insight into Karl's experience with the show, and The Moaning of Life: The Worldly Wisdom of Karl Pilkington.

Rumours About the Trio

In the past few years, there have been rumours that Karl Pilkington, Ricky Gervais, and Stephen Merchant have had a falling out, which is why they don't work together anymore. However, according to NME, these are just rumours, and the trio are simply off doing their own thing nowadays. We can never be certain of this, though.



In 2016, Karl Pilkington said in an interview that he was retiring. He said that he had had enough of people stopping him in the street to take pictures with him (although that wasn't the only reason) and was looking forward to trying something new away from the spotlight.

Fans were disappointed at the news, but I agreed with a lot of what he said; he didn't want to still be hanging around for years to come, complaining about the "good old days." He wanted to quit while he was ahead. I personally hope he enjoys the rewards of his hard work.

Is It Really the End?

Despite declaring his retirement in 2016, Karl Pilkington might have had a change of heart. Sky One will soon be airing a new show starring Pilkington called Sick of It, which is supposed to be an insight into how his life might have worked out if he had never met Gervais and Merchant and if he had broken up with his long-term partner, Suzanne.

Although no official date has been announced yet, fans are looking forward to seeing Pilkington on-screen once more, and I wish him the best of luck with his new show.

Karl Pilkington, in many ways, is a unique celebrity. He fell into showbiz completely by accident, thanks to the encouragement of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. He gained fans by being himself - another thing that is rare in the entertainment industry. He never tries to be fake, but instead we see an honest, somewhat pessimistic, and completely genuine person.

I am a huge fan of this "round-headed part-chimp Manc" as Gervais describes him, and wish him all the best in his future career as well as his private life. If Sick of It is really happening, I can't wait to see it.

© 2018 Poppy


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    • poppyr profile imageAUTHOR


      20 months ago from Enoshima, Japan

      Hi, Erich! You can hear a lot of his podcasts for free on YouTube with Ricky Gervais, as well as free clips of An Idiot Abroad. I hope you enjoy it.

    • Erich Kortum profile image

      Erich Kortum 

      20 months ago

      Having never heard of this actor before I really appreciated this rundown of who he is. I’ll be sure to check out some of his work! This was a good read for sure!

    • poppyr profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from Enoshima, Japan

      Thank you, Liz! Do watch the show if you can.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      2 years ago from UK

      Not having access to Sky, I never got into 'An Idiot Abroad', but I found this article interesting to read. I feel like I've learned a lot about Karl Pilkington from this well-written article.

    • poppyr profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from Enoshima, Japan

      Thank you for your comment, Louise! An Idiot Abroad is great for sure.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      2 years ago from Norfolk, England

      I've seen An Idiot Abroad and he is very funny. My brother is a big fan of his.


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