Stephen Merchant: Love on the Edge Interview | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Stephen Merchant

Love on the Edge

Sep 26, 2013 Stephen Merchant
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Fans of the TV shows The Office, Extras, and An Idiot Abroad know that actor/writer Stephen Merchant has a real gift for placing characters in delectably wince-inducing situations and then setting them loose to squirm their way out. And as long as humans remain reliably driven by the sometimes dubious inclinations of their nature, he should never be bereft of comic fodder. Now, should he find himself tasked with writing scenes for rooms filled with robots…

“Well, it’s funny you should say that. I can’t really get into Lord of the Rings and stuff like that because I just don’t understand what’s going on. I don’t understand what the roles are. I don’t understand the powers that everyone’s got. Gandalf: can he fly? Can he disappear and come back?

“For some reason, I’ve always been more interested in walking into a bar and seeing relationships going on there than I am going to the world of Avatar and seeing blue aliens,” Merchant explains. “It seems like the world’s big enough; we don’t need robots and vampires as well.”

Merchant returned to stand-up comedy in late 2011 with a show called Hello Ladies, and when some HBO folks caught the show in L.A. they suggested it might have sitcom potential.

“The basic premise of the show is me as a nerdy web designer who’s living in L.A. It’s a big stretch for me,” Merchant jokes. “It’s me basically trying to meet women, to integrate myself into the glamorous world of Los Angeles. I’ve grown up imagining beautiful people and beautiful parties, and the beautiful women and the beautiful parties don’t really want me to be part of them. That’s the jumping-off point of the show. It takes in the aspects of modern dating but we expand into other territory as well.”

Merchant sees inherent jeopardy in dating that offers up countless creative possibilities for use in his chosen field. “Every time you go on a date there’s a sort of tension built in. When you go on a date, you don’t want to be undignified. You’re trying to kind of be something that you’re not. Everyone says ‘Be yourself,’ but we all know that’s bullshit. You’re not being yourself. You’re trying to be James Bond.

“It’s sort of a fundamental thing that everyone can relate to. Even if you haven’t been on a date for years, you understand that tension. It’s such a rich area, particularly for comedy.”

After co-creating, co-writing, and co-directing with Ricky Gervais both the British version of The Office in 2001-2003 and HBO’s Extras (in which he had a supporting role opposite Gervais) in 2005-2007, Hello Ladies also puts Merchant front and center as an actor, along with contributing as co-writer and executive producer. While he enjoys being before the camera, Merchant still relishes his place at the writers’ table, which, as he explains it, sounds at least as amusing and considerably safer.

“You can just create these agonizing scenarios and then just have fun, like taking a character and then chasing them up a tree and then throwing rocks at them. And I still feel like that’s a fun thing to do.”

[This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s August/September 2013 print issue.]


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