Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Stephen Merchant | Talks at Google

Difficulty: 0

>>Interviewer: Welcome everyone and welcome to another at Google event. We're here today

from the Mountain View campus and we're very excited to welcome Stephen Merchant who's

coming through. [Applause]


>>Interviewer: That's just to prove we don't do laugh tracks.

>>Stephen Merchant: That was not as spontaneous as I was hoping for.


>>Stephen Merchant: Cause we got, [Claps]

>>Stephen Merchant: "Oh, alright. I'm trying to eat."


>>Interviewer: So Stephen is actually performing tonight. He's doing his stand up routine,

"Hello Ladies" at Cobb's Comedy Club in San Francisco and we were lucky to grab him on

his way through. So I was just gonna kind of ask some questions but start

>>Stephen Merchant: Yeah.

>>Interviewer: with how's the tour going? This is final

>>Stephen Merchant: This is the final show.

>>Interviewer: show

>>Stephen Merchant: final show, yes. Well, I did about 3 months in the UK and then I

found out that there were 72 fans of me in America.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: And so I decided to do

some shows here. So I did some in New York and a couple in Los Angeles and I'm doing

this one in San Francisco. So far they've gone very well. America's always been excellent.

>>Interviewer: So 74 fans?

>>Stephen Merchant: 74 dynamite fans [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: And, um, sometimes in the UK the audience can be a bit, even though

they're fans they can be a bit sort of [Sigh]

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: "We had to come out, it

was raining. This better be funny." [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: Where in America, generally I find people have been really up front and

just set a really good atmosphere and everything. So, yeah it's been good fun. So yeah, this

is the last show.

>>Interviewer: So coming to the last show I know in doing a little, in reviewing some

of your interviews and stuff, that standup you've done before, you kind of started that


>>Stephen Merchant: Yeah.

>>Interviewer: but now you kind of had to rediscover the muscle or how to exercise --

>>Stephen Merchant: Right.

>>Interviewer: --this kind of muscle. So how are the muscles feeling at the end of the


>>Stephen Merchant: Muscles are lean and tight [Laughter]

>>Interviewer: You're ready for a long distance?

>>Stephen Merchant: Well I, yes, I used to do standup when I first left university and

the audience was generally indifferent completely indifferent, occasionally rising

to annoyance or anger. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: I did it on and off for a while then we started doing these TV shows

and we won awards and things and there was no reason to carry on doing standup in small

clubs. Why was I going to drive for 3 hours to amuse 50 people? And then just recently

I sort of had the urge to go back and start doing it again and its bit, like I know, it's

a bit like boxing, I imagine. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: Um, once you've been out of the ring for awhile you've gotta get back

in and take some punches and get match fit and everything. And so I just worked the show

in all the clubs here and there and then over time it sort of developed and expanded and

I started touring. So by the time I came to America I was in pretty good shape, I hope.

>>Interviewer: So how much prep work did you put in before you actually?

>>Stephen Merchant: Oh, a long time, I sort of dabbled with it on and off for a couple

of years. Not relentlessly but just when I had free times and things. Just because I

wanted to remind myself of, sort of, whether I could do it and my, sort of, what I would

talk about and the thing I kept on returning to, anecdotally, was just sort of my failure

with women [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: You know people that work in computers would understand that

>>Interviewer: Is that


>>Stephen Merchant: but out there in the real world it can be tough meeting girls.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: So, yeah, it was a lot

about my experience growing up as something of a geek which I know is a surprise to a

lot of you but I was a bit of a nerd. And yeah, so that's the sort of spine of the show

but there's more stuff we talk about as well.

>>Interviewer: Did you find the show evolves every time? We actually had Mazer in awhile

ago and he kind of evolved the show with each performance.

>>Stephen Merchant: Yeah.

>>Interviewer: Do you find that helps?

>>Stephen Merchant: Well it's interesting cause he, I remember reading a quote with

him once where he said, "the thing with standup is you sort of walk to the edge of the precipice

and then step off." And that's the only way that you can sort of be brave enough to be

more interesting or experimental because you've got to be willing to fall and fail, potentially.

I don't have that bravery. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: Unlike Eddy, so I try to be quite cautious and that was why I spent

so long, I think, working out in just small clubs because I didn't, I didn't, I suppose

I was a reputation I had and a certain expectation and it's uncomfortable the idea of sort of

performing to a thousand people and trying an idea and it just crashing and burning and

it's just that can be, it's just agonizing. So I think in a weird way I probably braver

when I was younger but I think I'm better at it now if you know what I mean.

>>Interviewer: And did you find that there's that kind of joke that hits one night and

doesn't really hit the second night?

>>Stephen Merchant: So bizarre, it's so bizarre and I can't under, there's no rhyme or reason

it can sometimes be to do with the shape of the room, the size of the room. They always

say in comedy never blame the audience. It's never the audiences fault. It's always the

audiences fault. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: If they don't laugh it has nothing to do with me. It's because they

are not paying attention, because they're stupid

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: whatever the reason.

>>Interviewer: Well, you know your audience.

>>Stephen Merchant: Yeah, I know my audience. Yeah I just, there's no rhyme or reason to

it it's just sometimes the audience doesn't gel as an audience, you know, it's like there's

little pockets of people but they're not this one organism laughing and enjoying it. Other

times they're all, they move as one, they think as one, they laugh as one and it's a

very strange experience.

>>Interviewer: Are there parts of the act that you had worked on or had done in the

UK and then when you came to the US they had a profoundly different reaction? Or stuff

that really resonated different?

>>Stephen Merchant: I was concerned about that and, actually, there's a comedian friend

of mine who I actually sent the show to, a taping of the show, for him to look through

and point out all the references that wouldn't make sense and substitutions and, just little

things like we say pedophile, you say pedophile [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: You know just little things like that. Just to give you a flavor of the

show. [Laughter]

>>Interviewer: How much of a break did you actually take from writing TV while doing


>>Stephen Merchant: Well once I was on the road I didn't, I didn't do anything except

do the show really. I mean, it's just schlepping around, journey after journey and I thought

it would be a lot more exciting on the road. I thought it would be a lot more glamorous,

I thought there'd be a lot more groupies [Laughter]

>>Interviewer: What's a lot more?

>>Stephen Merchant: Some, some groupies. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: but there wasn't. There wasn't disappointing, disappointingly and

I, a lot of, a lot of the groupies I have tend to be, sort of, middle age guys who work,

who work in tech support. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: No disrespect if there's any here.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: Yeah, but not the kind

of playboy bunnies that I was expecting. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: but there we are. But so just kind of touring, it's not as exciting

as I thought and endless hotels rooms and you get very bored of club sandwiches and

those little bottles of shampoo [Laughter]

>>Interviewer: Does boredom kind of bring back the creative ideas about future shows?

>>Stephen Merchant: It lets your mind wander into other areas, I suppose. So you're thinking

about other possible screen plays or TV shows and stuff but nothing solid. A lot of it was

just sitting around in my underwear [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: in hotel rooms and, you know, just counting the hours until, cause

it, when you know you got to do a show in the evening there's this kind of strange low

hum of anxiety that builds all day. It sometimes can be a bit hard to concentrate on anything


>>Interviewer: Well, I know you started off with radio as one of your main, "The Steve


>>Stephen Merchant: Right.

>>Interviewer: Which is well named

>>Stephen Merchant: Right.

>>Interviewer: And then you came, you keep coming back to it as a medium that you're

comfortable with.

>>Stephen Merchant: Radio?

>>Interviewer: Yeah.

>>Stephen Merchant: Yes.

>>Interviewer: Is that something that you, what is it about radio that you think

kind of keeps you coming back?

>>Stephen Merchant: Well, radio and then, obviously, later pod casting, one of the great

things is that it's a lot more, you know, freedom, generally, in just terms of the sense

that the audience isn't expecting laughs a minute, they have to pay attention, they have

to concentrate so you can, you delve down more, sort of, unusual avenues or you can

just ramble a lot which can be very engaging and you, I think there's a sort of intimacy

with radio. It's like you're eavesdropping on a conversation with friends, hopefully

when it's at its best. With TV and with films and things there's just so much more manufactured,

you know, there's so much more production involved, it just takes longer, there's so

much more money, there's so much more personnel and so you just feel like you've got to just

sort of refine it and polish it and so on. Whereas with radio you can really talk rubbish

for as long as possible and that's fine. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: And, yeah, there's just something different about it. It's unique,

it's immediate, I think, an idea occurs to you and you can just say it.

>>Interviewer: And is having that sort of diversity of maybe working on TV and then

radio and then doing standup, it just keeps the ideas flowing cause I've heard, talking

to the other comedians who do go down the TV route and they do a lot of it, it's kind

of tough to stay fresh. They feel they need to push themselves more.

>>Stephen Merchant: it's not only that I think it's also, it's very insular TV. You know,

you, we don't work with a live audience so you just sort of, there's a danger of forgetting

what it is that makes people laugh or how to make people laugh. And so coming back out

and doing standup I think it's sort of reminded myself, I think it's sort of, I think hopefully

it will feed back into the writing in a positive way. And, also, I felt like I was getting

a bit, in kind of complacent and it was good to, sort of, you know, to get out of your

comfort zone, as they say. often on American Idol or whatever


>>Interviewer: Does having a partner help keep you out of your comfort zone? Is that

one of the reasons you decided to

>>Stephen Merchant: a working partner?

>>Interviewer: yeah, go with a working partner? [Laughter]

>>Interviewer: I know you're so worried about the other

>>Stephen Merchant: Yeah, I was gonna say I don't have a love partner.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: A love partner.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: this is my partner in

love. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: Um, yes, no it's good. It's good having a working partner because

you, you know, you just, you're constantly bouncing ideas back and forth and you suggest

something and then he builds on it and it can expand that way and stuff. But the good

thing about standup is that the difference from that is that you are, you're on your

own so you have, you're working on your own, you know, on your own and there's something

challenging about that. It's exciting. You know there's nowhere to run, you can't hide

behind anyone or anything. So, yeah, it forces you to sort of, to take responsibility for


>>Interviewer: And when you were first starting saying, "Okay, I definitely wanna do comedy"

were you saying, "I wanna be like" you know, "those guys" Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, the

Pythons? Or were you saying, "No, it's just gonna be me." Or did you just kind of?

>>Stephen Merchant: No, I shamelessly ripped off various people and continue to do so;

John Cleese, was one of my first influences and then later Woody Allen. And then, my act,

my standup act is really, it's Woody Allen with a bit of Jack Benny and Bob Hope but

it's disguised with an English accent so hopefully [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: You won't realize. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: So it's all shamelessly ripped off from other people.

>>Interviewer: And you find you go back to a lot of those kind of heroes and re watch

their stuff?

>>Stephen Merchant: I tend not to so much now. Partly cause I'm worried I will literally

just steal joke ideas [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: But I think what it is, is you respond to certain comic traits. Like,

Woody Allen, what I find revolutionary when I first started listening to him was how,

sort of, confessional it felt and how honest and the fact that he felt like he was talking

about adult problems, you know, sex and love and death and all these other things which

I never, sort of, heard in comedy before. So I think that's why those people are important

to you, not, it's not just cause you steal from them but more that you feel, you feel

sort of empowered. Someone's done; someone's trodden the path that you can kind of follow

them down.

>>Interviewer: Yeah you don't really wanna meet them and say, "I really enjoyed stealing

from you over the years."

>>Stephen Merchant: There, again, Woody Allen's always been really honest about who he's sort

of lifted his persona from, so, yeah, I have no shame in that. An also, I'm 6 foot 7, John

Cleese is very tall and he was always very physical and used his body in every comic

way which is something I do in the standup as well.

>>Interviewer: And as you perform more and more over time, you first, when you started

with the "Office" you only, I think it was second season [inaudible], yeah, and then

with "Extras" with Darren Lamb and taking on more of a central role in performing in

that kind of comfort zone and was that just performing in general or were you kind of

>>Stephen Merchant: Well we realized after the "Office" that I'd missed a trick because

Ricky was getting paid three times [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: as a writer, director and an actor, I was only being paid twice.

Plus he was also getting sent a lot of free stuff.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: Um, I don't know if you're

aware of this but if you are on TV people just send you things for free; computers,

watches, clothes. And I was angry about that and jealous and decided I wanted some free

stuff, so pretty, much I've started performing for free stuff.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: That's my sole reason

to do it.

>>Interviewer: So you're flat as well

>>Stephen Merchant: I got lots of free stuff, ya, TV and all sorts of stuff that I didn't

even pay for. [Laughter]

>>Interviewer: So I was back in, I was actually living in England when the "Office" has hit

and it was a huge success and then they were talking, they had just broken the news that

it was gonna be moving over the states, the US, and how did that process work? Did you

have, once you guys practiced did you think, "Oh this is definitely something we would


>>Stephen Merchant: Well I was always a huge fan of American sitcoms. They were, again,

a big influence on me. "Mash" when I was younger, the later "Roseanne" which I adored and "Friends"

and "Seinfeld" and I liked, one of the particular things about "Friends" was it was kind of

a soap opera with laughs. You know, had a continued narrative, the romance and so on,

which we didn't tend to do in UK TV. So that was one of the things that was important for

us was to have a sort of, a story arc, if you like, which as I say, British sitcoms

didn't do very often and have a romantic thread running through it. So when the idea of transporting

it to American happened it didn't seem crazy to me. People thought of it as being very

British and very small and insular but, actually, in our minds it was very influenced by American

things; by Billy Wilder films, This is Spinal Tap and in some way by "Friends" as well.

So it didn't seem crazy to us that they would try and transpose it but what was important

was that Ricky and I didn't get involved closely because we thought we would end up trying

to replicate ours bit by bit and that we always knew was gonna be madness, really. So we felt

it was important to just find someone here who could just, cause what do we really know

about the mechanics of working 9 to 5 in America? So it was important that we work with Greg

Daniels, very closely.

>>Interviewer: And now that kind of approach, you've got what, I think there's "Office"

in Israel, Germany, France, French Canadian

>>Stephen Merchant: French Canadian

>>Interviewer: Sweden?

>>Stephen Merchant: I don't think there's one in Sweden, there's one in South America


>>Interviewer: Yeah, Brazil and Chile.

>>Stephen Merchant: Chile, that's right. I thought it was Bolivia.

>>Interviewer: Not in Brazil?

>>Stephen Merchant: Not in Brazil, thank you for that.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: My accountant there.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: Not in bloody Brazil.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: I got to see a Japanese

version where they just do a really good days work and go home.


>>Interviewer: But looking back in hindsight, the idea, there's always, the work environment,

there's something strangely familiar.

>>Stephen Merchant: I think the work environment is, well I don't know, I don't work here and

I don't know, I know there's this, Google's got kind of a relaxed approach but my suspicion

is wherever you work, NASA, the mob, anywhere [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: You still get annoyed about, in a power politics and then someone

borrowed your chair, you've written your name on the back and this is my chair. This is

Dave's, he's got Dave's, and people still get annoyed with that.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: So, to us, there were

certain universal things like the fact that you're often, you work alongside people who,

and you spend more time with them, probably, than your friends and family at times, so

if you don't get along it can cause a lot of friction. And there just seems to be a

number of just universal aspects of working in offices which, hopefully, is what we translated.

>>Interviewer: And looking back, obviously, in hindsight, it's kind of clear that that

structure worked and paid off but do you think it's something you'd ever like to revisit?

>>Stephen Merchant: The show itself?

>>Interviewer: Yeah and actually do it again cause you only, there was only 2 seasons and

now US is, I think, on its 8th season?

>>Stephen Merchant: Yeah. Would we revisit? I've got affection for it I just think going

back to it now would be, would probably be a mistake. So, I directed an episode of the

American version which was great, it was like being in a kind of bizarro parallel universe

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: Looked very similar but

everyone was better looking [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: I don't think we will go back to it but never say never. Once some

of the free stuff starts coming, stops coming in

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: and we need the money

and I'm living in my car then we'll definitely do it, yeah.

>>Interviewer: And kind of continuing on TV, you've recently finished the first season

of "Life's too Short" how to did that come to pass?

>>Stephen Merchant: Well, we worked with Warwick Davis in our show extras and Warwick was in

"Willow" and he's in the "Harry Potter" he was in "Return of the Jedi" and he worked

with us on a lot of extras and he said, "I wonder if there's a show sort of exploring

the adventures or misadventures of a little person which is what he is and the more he

told us about kind of the experiences from his own life the more it amused us and it

sort of seemed like an interesting perspective and it allowed us to, we like characters who

have chips on their shoulder in some way. You know, David Brent had issues and all the

characters we've had and what we liked about Warwick's character was making him a small

person with a small man complex. You know, he's Napoleonic in some way, he feels like

he deserves more and that he would be perfectly happy as the real Warwick is if he just accepted

who he is and just lived is life as best he could. But the character of Warwick in the

show is very desperate and so, although it's, the little person aspect is just something

to sort of motivate his behavior, it could have been anything. And so, a little bit like

"Extras" there are celebrity appearances; Liam Neeson pops up, Johnny Depp is in one,

Sting and all the time, Warwick is kind of hustling trying to climb the ladder. He plays

a version of himself, the real Warwick is very successful, in the show he's making much

less so, and in the show he's sort of battling with a divorce and he's got a terrible tax

bill and so he's constantly, and he also runs an agency for small actors all of who he's

exploiting. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: Making them do the worst possible jobs while he takes the good stuff

for himself. So yeah, so that's the sort of,

>>Interviewer: And you and Ricky play yourselves?

>>Stephen Merchant: Ricky and I are in it occasionally as ourselves. He comes to us

and he's desperate for work and he's, sort of, constantly bothering us. And the joke

is it's as though everyone we've ever worked with is constantly hassling us for work and

they keep coming to our office and we can never get anything done and then the one episode

Johnny Depp is making Tim Burton's "Rumpelstiltskin" [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: And wants to get in the mindset of a small person so he's spending

time with Warwick and [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: And through that encounters Ricky and badmouths him at the Golden Globes

and so it's, it's his opportunity for revenge.

>>Interviewer: And how is it to play yourself after, you're obviously writing for it but

you're yourself in the

>>Stephen Merchant: We don't, it's not hard. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: It's

>>Interviewer: Do you practice in the mirror or, are you me? Am I you?


>>Stephen Merchant: I heard Jerry Seinfeld won an Emmy for his role in Seinfeld and then

a year later he lost and he made the point that, "Oh, I wasn't as convincing as myself

this year as I was last year." [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: Yeah, Ricky and I just sit there and it's a lot of improvising and

it's not difficult. Most of the time in the scenes I'm just texting or not paying attention.


>>Interviewer: Ordering free stuff.

>>Stephen Merchant: Yeah. Exactly, exactly.

>>Interviewer: Well, I wanna open up to questions in a sec so folks wanna go over to the mic.

You've also built up a lot of experience in voice over now, both in animated as well as

in video games with weekly. How did that, when they originally called you and said,

"Hey, video game, wanna try it?" were you into it? Were you a gamer?

>>Stephen Merchant: I was a big video gamer when I was younger and then when I got a life

I stopped. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: No I just stopped, I just stopped playing cause I didn't have the time

to play as much and I was never very good so it would take me months to finish a game.

And so I sort of, I think we knew what was happening in the video game world and then

they contacted me and I just thought that would be interesting, something different

to do and then when I mention it to people, people got very excited, the Portal 2, they

obviously heard a lot about the first one, they played it, they loved it, so then I started

feeling this tremendous responsibility of this weight of expectation

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: And I worked really hard

on that and I thought I just swung in in and do a sort of half assed voice over, take the

money [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: and I was in this booth for hours shouting down imaginary corridors

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: and then, of course, what

I didn't realize was with a video game every possible option that you could play you've

got to cover. So if some idiot goes down the wrong corridor

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: and doesn't know how to

get out of it you've got to have things for them and it went on and on just every option.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: And I was thinking, oh,

anyway, eventually we did like four four hour sessions or something and then it just seemed

to be really popular and they let me improvise but they were very good, the guys involved,

and it turned out to be really good.

>>Interviewer: Have you started actually playing?

>>Stephen Merchant: They told me they'd send a free copy.


>>Interviewer: Only right.

>>Stephen Merchant: They didn't, they haven't sent one. I've already, I'm not gonna buy

money. I'm not gonna spend money on a game I was involved with.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: So I haven't played it,

I don't know.

>>Interviewer: And the name Wheatley, have you come to own that.

>>Stephen Merchant: I'm amazed at how many people, particularly, a lot of the people

that wait for me outside the stage door and have pictures of Wheatley they've drawn or

they've made models of Wheatley and stuff, which is crazy, amazing.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: I know pathetic, right?

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: I'm sorry, no, I mean

beautiful. But, no, seriously great, it's amazing. I don't think I realized how much

people engage with video games. It sort of, in my, in the same way you do with a TV show

or a film that they respond to, people respond to video games in the same way. So I was,

it was revolutional, I just was amazing and dumbfounded.

>>Interviewer: Why don't we turn it over to some questions from the group?

>>male #1: Hi, thanks for coming out, in the recent interview with, I think it was with

Dinner Party Download, you admitted that you've never seen any of the Rocky movies.

>>Stephen Merchant: The Rocky movies? No, I've never seen any of the Rocky movies, no.

>>male #1: Yeah, they kind of gave you a hard time about that like couldn't believe you

hadn't seen the movies. [Laughter]

>>male #1: Yeah, so I was wondering if you have an equivalent British movie or show that

you elicit the same reaction from you, like I

>>Stephen Merchant: Oh, like if someone said they hadn't seen it? Um, well, I'm constantly,

I mean it never surprises me the people, that people aren't aware of great British TV and

films. What would be the one that I would be surprised by? Hm, I guess something like

"I'm Alan Partridge" or "Fawlty Towers." That was baffling to me, you know, cause they're

just such a phenomenon. The weirdest one is there's a double act that were huge in Britain

in the 70s called "Morcambe and Wise" who were the biggest thing on British television

and they still are legends. Now they were, they used to get sort of 18 million viewers

at Christmas. Their Christmas special was the most hotly anticipated thing every year

and no one over here generally knows them. And, again, I have shamelessly stolen from

their act knowing no one over here know anything about it.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: So whenever I do a film

over here I'm just ripping those guys off. Safe from the knowledge no one knows.

>>male #2: Yeah, hi, thank you for coming.

>>Stephen Merchant: Thank you.

>>male #2: I have to confess I did bring my copy of Portal 2


>>Stephen Merchant: Not a problem.

>>male #2: I hope that's not to sad or pathetic.

>>Stephen Merchant: Don't worry, don't worry. [Laughter]

>>male #2: But I think, I think among all major or kind of, kind of well known British

comedians, I think you're probably the last person who hasn't been on Doctor Who yet.

>>Stephen Merchant: Right.

>>male #2: Has Stephen Merchant, or Stephen Moffat, rather, contacted you at all?

>>Stephen Merchant: I've had no contact from Doctor Who. We did an episode of "Extras"

where we mocked the way the comedians would pop up in Doctor Who

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: as a monster, we had Ricky

in a sort of bad prosthetic, and the guy that was playing Doctor Who, named David Tennant,

throw salt in his eyes cause he's like a giant slug.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: He throws salt at him

and he's like, "Ah!" [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: So maybe we upset the people at Doctor Who.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: with that and neither

him or I have had any calls from them. So who knows, I'd rather play Doctor Who.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: I'd rather do that I think.

It's basically like Sherlock Holmes in space isn't it?

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: And I always liked the

idea of doing Sherlock Holmes as well. I was also angling for the role of Q in the James

Bond films but [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: But they gave that to some good looking young bloke, you know, which

annoyed me but [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: Come on Bond pay attention! [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: It'd be brilliant. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: Amazing. [Applause]

>>Interviewer: I think you got the part.

>>male #3: I hate to say it but I'm yet another one of the Portal 2 fans.


>>Stephen Merchant: Sure.

>>male #3: I hope you're not offended but I actually had not heard of you

>>Stephen Merchant: Okay.

>>male #3: before Portal 2 came out but what I was wondering was of course you were known

for the "Office" and stuff before you actually did that and, of course, now you have a different

set of fans

>>Stephen Merchant: Yes.

>>male #2: because you did Portal 2. The question is did you notice anything change in like

how fans, like how those sets of fans acted differently toward you?

>>Stephen Merchant: Um, they, they are, well, it's interesting because occasionally I would

stumble across conversations, often online, about, between Portal fans and people who

knew me before. I mean it's, "You only know him cause he was Wheatley, we've know him

before! We knew him for five years before that!"

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: And they just get so angry,

"He's not just a computer! He's not just a robot!"

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: And it's incredible, I

mean, thank you, it's fine. They're both welcome and it's amazing.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: Passionate people. I don't

go near blogs and things cause those people terrify me.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: It's absolutely terrifying.

And I think I would have been the same. I would have been those people. I would have

been equally, kind of, angry and passionate about things. But, the sort of Wheatley people,

pertaining to the fans that I've met are far more, are far more passionate than people

I've met through the TV stuff. Quite a lot of sort of younger girls, like 15 year old

women who kind of quiver as they come up, "It's Wheatley" they draw a picture or something,

it's very sweet, very nice but yeah. As I say it's like they, the character itself is

really important to them. I guess, again, if you spend, you know, five or six hours

and I'm just talking to you the whole time

>>Interviewer: Five or six?

>>Stephen Merchant: Or longer, yeah, it may seem like we're friends

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: by the end of it but we're

not, we're definitely not. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: So kindly step away. [Laughter]

>>male #4: Thanks for coming

>>Stephen Merchant: Thank you.

>>male #4: I just have to ask, is Karl Pilkington real?


>>Stephen Merchant: Is Karl Pilkington real? Uh, well

>>male #4: Is he a prod and go type guy?

>>Stephen Merchant: Yeah, he is a humanoid. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: He, I mean, Karl is unique. There's no one like him. I mean, he, I can't

explain Karl to people, it's sort of, I mean, he is obviously a moron.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: but sort of like a genius

moron like an idiot savant. It's, sometimes he doesn't know what he's talking about, occasionally

he does and he'll stumble across an amazing point, a profound point. We were talking to

him once about how there's a lot of these reality stars who are only famous because

of the people that, their fathers, their fathers or parents, you know; Kim Kardashian or whoever.

And Karl said, "Well, you could say the same about Jesus."


>>male #4: Thank you.

>>Interviewer: And, actually, just to take one moment to give a little more context for

folks who haven't seen it, Karl was, worked on the show

>>Stephen Merchant: Right, so Karl worked on a radio show and then we started asking

him questions and he was just a guy pressing buttons and things, and we started asking

him questions and he just started saying the most bizarre things. What was that one thing,

"You never see, you never see a young Chinese person."


>>audience member: You never see an old man eat a Twix.

>>Stephen Merchant: "You never see an old man eat a Twix which is a candy bar." Or no,

"You only ever see really old Chinese people or very young Chinese people. You never see

Chinese people in the middle" was his observation. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: Bizarre.

>>Interviewer: And then you invited him in to regulate

>>Stephen Merchant: And then we started asking, every week we'd ask him questions and he would

just come out with just utter gobbly goop. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: He's fascinated by monkeys, he's fascinated by insects, to him insects

are, he can't compute that they have no motivation for what they're doing beyond a sort of basic

insect motivation. To him they're rationalizing it. Like, an ant carrying a twig going, "I

don't know why I'm carrying this twig. Where am I taking it?"

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: He can't imagine that

they just do things because of instinct.

>>Interviewer: So the perfect person to send into other climates.

>>Stephen Merchant: Not only to send into other climates but you just, on the radio

or on the podcast, you just prod him and he'll go down avenues which can seem offensive but

you know are born out of ignorance not through any malice.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: Just pure ignorance

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: And you try to explain

to him things like the infinite monkeys, model of infinity, you know, an infinite number

of monkeys given enough typewriters will eventually do the complete works of Shakespeare, and

he's like "So have they read Shakespeare?" [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: No, it's just random, it's just random. "Okay, they must know first,

they know the plots, they know the plots." [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: He's remarkable.

>>Interviewer: And there's "An idiot Abroad" one and two and now three?

>>Stephen Merchant: No, "An Idiot Abroad" two just started airing on the science channel

in the U.S. the Science Channel, that's absurd! [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: This is why we send Collin around, this time he's doing the Bucket List,

so it's things to do before you die. And he chose the list but obviously when he shows

up it's obviously not the things he thought. So he thought he'd be swimming with dolphins,

he swam with sharks. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: And so, just routine mischief.

>>male #5: Hi Stephen, a question about the "Office."

>>Stephen Merchant: Yes.

>>male #5: Obviously I think the character of David Brent kind of predated the show itself

and it was kind of Ricky's creation but were there any aspects of the Office that you would

like to take credit for now, whether that's characters or plots, do you have clearly defined

roles as writers or do you just bounce it back and forth?

>>Stephen Merchant: Not really, um, Ricky had some observations about sort of office

types. But they weren't sort of coalesced into characters really and then when we started

working on it we sort of expanded that character and then we started slotting in the other

kinds of people that we felt we'd worked with in offices in the past. But it was never as

demarcated as this is my bit and this is his. We always sit in a room together and we just

keep talking until ideas bubble up and then often we'll share anecdotes so we'll talk

about people that we've met who are like David Brent or who are like Garret and then any

kind of things that spark from them we make notes of. So it's a much more organic process

than one of us going away and writing dialogue for Tim and Dawn or something. We're always

in a room together. So it's not really as defined as that. I'm sure there are aspects

that have come from me but I can't, I can't remember specifics

>>male #5: Sorry, I was just gonna say in terms of comedy writing partnerships, you

were in the movie "Hall Pass" last year, I may go as far as to say you were the best


>>Stephen Merchant: Thank you.

>>male #5: about "Hall Pass" last year. [Laughter]

>>male #5: I actually met the Farrelly brothers last year and they're really nice people.

>>Stephen Merchant: Lovely guys.

>>male #5: And I was just kind of wondering what your experience was kind of seeing how

they work?

>>Stephen Merchant: I love the Farrelly brothers, they're amazing. They, obviously being brothers

they have a strange sort of simpatico way of thinking and working. But they're not dissimilar

to the way Ricky and I work. They sit, they huddle behind little monitors looking at the

performances and are gossiping with each other, probably saying the tall English guy was a

terrible mistake. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: "You're doing a great job!" "What are we gonna do with this"

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: Which is very much like

Ricky and I operate. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: "Well done, Johnny Depp!" "This is crazy, what were we thinking?"

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: But they, they're just

very easy going. They let the actors improvise and play around with the script, they're not

precious, they create a great atmosphere on the set, you know, it all sort of seems very

supported and particularly in comedy I think you need that. You need the opportunity, like

I was saying earlier, you need that with any to walk to edge and walk off and do silly

things or brave things. So I really enjoyed working with them. They're great, they're

really good.

>>male #5: Great, thank you.

>>male #6: Hi, Stephen. Thanks for coming in today and I'm with you on the Malcombe

and Wise comment, absolutely great. Anyway my, just developing the idea of the "Office"

what's your favorite scene from the "Office" or are you most proud of looking back on it?

And that's the British Office.

>>Stephen Merchant: Well, I'm very proud of the moments of drama, I feel like that was

stuff that always felt like the hardest dive. And there's an episode where the character,

Tim, decides to sort of confess his feelings to the receptionist and he takes his microphone

off and sort of, it's like a fake interview and takes it off and unplugs it and the show

goes silent at that point, you can't hear what he's saying to her. And that was one

of those moments where I just felt like everything coalesced, you know, the star of the show,

the fake documentary and it was realistic but it was also kind of dramatic and you couldn't

do that in any other medium cause you wouldn't have a microphone to pull off and so I just

thought that was a moment where everything kind of, and it was really effective and the

performances were great in that, you know? It was just one of the moments where what

you imagined in the writing room was just sort of better than you could have hoped for,

really. So that's the stuff that I really love. But, also the funny dance.


>>male #6: Thank you.

>>Interviewer: And with "Cemetery Junction" that's a dromedary, dromedary, dramedy, would

you like to do more drama in the future?

>>Stephen Merchant: Yeah and I don't know that I'm naturally inclined to it. The thing

I love most is drama, it's the thing I watch as a fan, you know, "The Wild" "The Sopranos"

and that's the stuff I'd rather do but I'm always fearful of being one of those comedy

people who goes into drama and is just terrible at it and that makes me anxious. So I feel

like I'll ease my way into it and hopefully add more drama to the humor. But the thing

I think we've done is hopefully born out of truth, in some way, or observations we've

experienced, in the standup or in the TV shows. No matter how silly they get it's always hopefully

grounded in some kind of reality. And that seems, to me, sort of the basis of drama as

well so I feel there is some sort of middle ground somewhere.

>>Interviewer: And now you have a three way as a writer, actor and director.

>>Stephen Merchant: Right.

>>Interviewer: Is there one that you're really feeling right now?

>>Stephen Merchant: Well, as an actor I always feel that I'm just, when I do something like

the Farrelly brother's movie, I'm just showing up cause I know it's gonna be good fun. You

know, it's just, I don't have any responsibilities I just have to learn my lines and be silly

on screen and that's easy. So I love that, that's like taking a day off, it's like a

holiday, that stuff whereas the writing and the stuff Ricky and I make or anything I might

do on my own, that's just labor intensive. You know, the standup, it's hard work to then

make it look easy. And I never got into show business for hard work.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: I got into it for the

groupies, that didn't work out. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: And for the free stuff and that is.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: So, yeah. I don't know,

maybe do another film.

>>female #1: Hi, Stephen.

>>Stephen Merchant: Hello.

>>female #1: thank you for coming. Besides being a Googler I'm also a filmmaker because

for some reason I like to live in perpetual suffering.

>>Stephen Merchant: Sure. [Chuckles]

>>female #1: I wanted to ask you, by any chance, if you have any advice for someone wanting

to write and direct comedy?

>>Stephen Merchant: Writing and directing comedy? Right, well, steal from the best.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: That's the first one.

Um, it's tricky, I do think, it seems a cliché but I think the writing what you know, at

least to begin with, seems a good way in. I think, uh, it was sort of what we did with

the "Office" we; it was all based on our observations and experiences of that. Sometime, the more

unique you are in your own experience the more people seem to relate to it. It's when

you start trying to second guess the audience, that's when it gets harder. You know, when

you try and write something imaging what people are gonna find funny, that I've always found

troublesome whereas if you write something that you think is very funny and is very personal

to you and is, perhaps, a unique experience it's amazing how many people connect with

that. So that's the way I always sort of proceed. But I do think writing in partnership is good.

I think, you know, particularly in comedy it's good to have someone to bounce ideas

off. It's much harder to just sit in front of a typewriter on your own. A typewriter.


>>Stephen Merchant: And also I think having it read out loud. The sooner you can have

people read it, perhaps in a room like this in front of people, the sooner you'll realize

what isn't funny and what is and how hard it is. That's the best I can offer you.

>>female #1: And about directing?

>>Stephen Merchant: And directing, um, point the camera in the right direction

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: Just make sure it's on

the face unless it should be on something else.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: Again, I think, keep it

simple. Don't, there's no need, personally I'm a fan of people like Billy Wilder who

were never terribly flash in the way they shot things they just tried to, it was all

about the performances and making them as effective as possible because in the end

[Clears throat] >>Stephen Merchant: telling the story is the

most important thing. That's what people engage with. You can show off all you'd like with

crane shots and tracking shots and shooting from behind a fireplace and people can applaud

but it's not necessarily engaging or useful to the story. I think, so keep it simple.

>>Interviewer: Were you surprised at how much hard work just writing in the entertainment

world was?

>>Stephen Merchant: yeah, it's crazy. It's terrible. It's really hard work. But it's

not as hard as doing Portal 2. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: That is the hardest thing. It's just shouting.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: Yeah I suppose, it's funny,

it's just weird and I feel like for the first time I can say this is what I do now, professionally.

I always felt like I was sort of keen amateur who couldn't quite believe that they were

doing this for a living.

>>Interviewer: Someone was gonna clue in and

>>Stephen Merchant: Yeah eddy points all is gonna sort say, "This is silly go back to

a real job." But, no, so far we've got away with it.

>>Interviewer: So if you were doing a real job what would that be?

>>Stephen Merchant: If I was doing a real job, um,

>>Interviewer: Carphone warehouse?

>>Stephen Merchant: Carphone warehouse. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: probably, I don't know, maybe a teacher, I guess. I like to think

of myself as a kind of dead poet society Robin Williams figure

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: energizing kid's imaginations

but I wouldn't. I'd just be one of those ones that shows up and takes the money

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: I don't give a damn about

these kids [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: goes home again.

>>male #7: Last year we had Phil Rosenthal who created "Everybody Loves Raymond" the

traditional sitcom and I got to ask him the same question I wanted to ask you. How do

you feel about four camera shows where there's a live audience versus the one camera show

like the "Office" and "30 Rock?"

>>Stephen Merchant: I don't have snobbery toward them. I know some people are a bit

snooty about the four camera traditional sitcom. A lot of my favorites, as I say, were always

shot like that, "Friends" "Seinfeld" and probably "Roseanne." I've no, I don't have a, I think

if a show is right for it it can be very good. I think "The Big Bang Theory" is very charming

and often very funny and that works well because there are very kind of cartoony characters

and they are clearly playing off the audience a lot. A shot of the "Office" would have never

worked that way because it had to be like a fake documentary that was built into the

fabric of the show. But, I suppose, with the single cameras it's a little more cinematic

maybe, a little bit more in the lineage of comedy movies. But, as I say, I think that

sort of live performance in front of an audience brings a different dynamic, there's an energy

to those shows that is very engage, very infectious I think. So, I see now, I just think it's

all about what is right for the subject matter. I certainly don't think there's any reason

why we should try and get rid of one or the other.

>>male #7: Have you seen their movie "Exporting Raymond" where they take

>>Stephen Merchant: No I've heard it's very interesting, yes, that's where they take it

all over the world, right?

>>male #7: They take it to Russia, yeah. They've showed that here.

>>Stephen Merchant: The Russian "Everyone Loves Raymond" wow, fascinating, yeah.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: Where is the Russian "Office?"

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: I mean there's a lot of

people in that country. [Laughter]

>>Interviewer: I wanna take a quick moment and see do we have folks on VC? I know London

and, ask a question or is that too tough? Okay, out of time, okay we'll do about two

more questions, one more question maybe now. [Laughter]

>>male #8: Going back to the real job question, you like free stuff, we have tons of free

stuff here at Google.

>>Stephen Merchant: Keep talking. [Laughter]

>>male #8: We're hiring.

>>Stephen Merchant: Okay.

>>male #8: So, would you like to come work here at Google?


>>Stephen Merchant: Okay, let me ask you this, what do you do at Google?


>>male #8: Well, there's launch and then there's

>>Stephen Merchant: I mean, isn't, isn't it, all I know is I type something into Google

and it tells me, but that's the computer doing that, right? That's not you people

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: When I'm typing in, you

know, "porn" you're not going, "Steve wants porn what's, what do you think he's in to?"

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: You're not, that's not

you doing that right? So what are you, what's going on? Are you feeding all the information

into Google? I'm so confused. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: I can't understand how it's this big. I honestly

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: It's like a man and I

guess there's some IT guys who've got to keep the computers up and running


>>Interviewer: And the typewriters

>>Stephen Merchant: And someone who changes the little Google thing like if it's Halloween

they put little [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: they put a little jack-o-lantern but it's just, aside from that what are you

up to? [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: That's pretty much it, right?


>>male #8: I gotta get back to work.

>>Stephen Merchant: Okay, good. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: But doing what? [Laughter]

>>Interviewer: Okay, I think, I wanna allow one more.

>>female #2: Um, one quick question, so obviously there's a big philosophical difference between

American television shows and British television shows

>>Stephen Merchant: Right.

>>female #2: Where Americans, you wanna keep it on as long as possible and all this syndication,

how do you feel about that, especially with a lot of the projects that you've been working


>>Stephen Merchant: Um, the idea of keeping the shows running a long time, well obviously

it's financially it's better for me. [Laughter]

>>Stephen Merchant: So don't forget to watch the "Office" Thursdays, NBC.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: But, I don't, I mean I

was always a big fan, as I said, of American shows and I love the fact that they were on

every week, you know, for like 25 weeks a year and I could watch "Make a Date" every

week, that was great to me. I never, I mean, obviously creatively there's probably a point

at which you're gonna run out of steam but they, you know, they rejuvenate the show by

bringing in new writers and so on. In the end I think what makes it suffer is that the

actors grow weary and they wanna move on and do other stuff. I remember toward the end

of "Roseanne" where John Goodman was doing more and more films so every week they'd be

like, "Where's Dad?" "He's away doing some work out of town."

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: Hm? And so yeah, I think

it can be disappointing from a viewers point of view but I don't sort of see a, yeah, it

obviously makes more sense to be able to wrap it up nicely and conclude it but I think,

for instance, the last series of "Friends" I thought they found a new energy and sort

of rejuvenated the show and it, and I thought the ending was very beautifully done. The

last episode of "Mash" was fantastic so I'm, I don't think that just the theory of it is

wrong, I just think it's hard to execute well.

>>Interviewer: Well I think, unfortunately, that's all we have time for today. But, actually,

one last question, so what's next?

>>Stephen Merchant: Just put my feet up, I think, really I just feel very tired. Hopefully

spend some more time in the states because I find it very nice here.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: I like it. And I, who

knows, I don't know. Maybe some more standup, I honestly couldn't tell you, I really couldn't.

>>Interviewer: That'd be a nice place to be in.

>>Stephen Merchant: Yeah, maybe I'll work here at Google.

[Laughter] >>Stephen Merchant: If I knew what you did.

[Laughter] [Applause]

>>Interviewer: Thanks again.


The Description of Stephen Merchant | Talks at Google