‘Hello Ladies’ Stephen Merchant on Excluding Ricky Gervais, British vs. American TV (Exclusive Video)

'Hello Ladies' Stephen Merchant on Excluding Ricky Gervais, British vs. American TV (Exclusive Video)

The continental difference is not just senses of humor — it's syndication rights

As a 6'7” rail-thin comedy writer, pretty much anything Stephen Merchant does is going to be awkward. In his HBO show, “Hello Ladies,” Merchant capitalizes on that God-given talent — and body.

If you don't know Stephen Merchant by name, then you know him by IMDb page. He's the other guy behind all of the projects that made Ricky Gervais rich and famous (“The Office,” “Extras,” “The Ricky Gervais Show,” et al.)

There was one good reason that Merchant did not work with Gervais on the current HBO project — Ricky doesn't know what dating is like: ”I suppose I could have collaborated with Ricky,” Merchant said. “But he's been in a relationship with the same girl since he was 20.”

See video: Stephen Merchant Uses Abortion Joke to Pick Up Women in ‘Hello Ladies’ Teaser

That's normally a good thing, but it's problematic in the comedy. Merchant plays Stuart Pritchard, a nerdy, less-than-suave Englishman who comes to Los Angeles to reverse his lousy luck in love. It's not exactly an acting stretch for the self-deprecating, self-described “lonely, single” comic whose stand-up special of the same name chronicled his lack of game.

“Much of my dating life has been around fearing embarrassment,” he told TheWrap. Merchant was so convincing as an ineligible bachelor in his “Hello Ladies” stand-up show that HBO actually approached him to turn it into a TV series here in the States.

His strategy was simple, somewhat pathetic, but honest and brilliant: ”I wanted the audience to feel superior to me,” Merchant said of the stand-up special in a Wrap interview. “My heroes: Bob Hope, Woody Allen … were always the butt of the joke.”

As is Merchant in “Hello Ladies.”

See video: Joseph Gordon-Levitt Out Lip-Syncs Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Merchant With Nicki Minaj's ‘Superbass’

In the spin-off, Stuart is such a self-absorbed failure that at times the show can be tough to watch, which Merchant didn't originally consider. ”It never occurs to me that people will see it as anything other than comic, really,” he told TheWrap.

But now that the show has been on the air for a few weeks, Merchant said he understands viewer investment in the characters, and only half-joked that he may have to tone down his dating shortcomings in a second season — if HBO will have him back, that is. Still no word on that, Merchant says.

The style of comedy suits Merchant very well. He allows viewers to laugh at him instead of with him. Stuart's a jerk, technically, but you can't help but root for him.

“The idea that I never understood in comedy is trying to be sexy and cool,” Merchant told TheWrap, citing Eddie Murphy‘s stand-up specials in the 80s, where the then-rockstar comic wore leather jumpsuits. As a lad, Merchant could never figure out if they were meant to be cool, or part of the joke.

See video: 6 Things to Expect on HBO's ‘Girls’ Season 3

That wouldn't have worked in his native country. When asked, Merchant thoughtfully sums up the difference between British sitcoms and American sitcoms quite well: “[In British comedy] You can sort of start in a sadder place, and what you're rooting for is the characters to meet moments of happiness, of upswings,” he said.

In America, it's the exact opposite: The characters start out OK, then they meet moments that make them “wobble,” but then they end up OK again, Merchant says.

But the other big difference between the TV industry on each side of the Atlantic Ocean is the business itself.

“Syndication doesn't exist in England,” Merchant said. “There's no financial incentive to keep something going that long. You're never going to make millions and millions of dollars for your backers. Theres so much vested interest in America.”

See video: Katy Perry Freaks Out Over ‘Ja'mie: Private School Girl’ Surprise Call

This Sunday, Stuart gets mixed up with the wrong crowd as tries to blend in with a Long Beach crew. Meanwhile his friend  – and tenant — Jessica (Christine Woods) unsuccessfully attempts to define her relationship with friend-with-benefits Glenn (Sean Wing). It does not go quite as she hoped, as viewers will see below.

Watch the exclusive clip from this coming Sunday's “Hello Ladies”:

  • 2nd chance?

    Is this show worth giving a 2nd chance? I like Merchant, but I watched the pilot and was just really turned off because… it just wasn't that funny.

    • Evelz6

      You just don't get the humor in it then. I find myself laughing at it quite frequently cause I get the jokes. Tis why comedy is such a hard platform, not everyone thinks the same things are funny. Case in point, Britsih comedy like “Monte Python.” Some people just don't get/like Python, lol.

      That said, (to name a few) one my favorite shows since it's 1st season is “It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and it's still on (will be next season) 10 years later. It was followed by show-after-show thru the years, something funny failed to always follow the show up… then came “The League,” which I could tell from the beginning was an instant hit. Joel McHale on “The Soup,” I loved “Talk Soup” growing up but I stopped watching it during John Henson's run…til Joel re-vamped it. He's been on it for so long now I don't even know how many season it's been.

      My point here is that I find I must have some good taste, cause the shows I watch go on for at least 4-5 years and in most cases more.

      Give Merchant and “Hello Ladies” another chance, there have been like 5 more episodes. It can be a bit of a downer in points due to the content, but to make you laugh and then hit you so you feel as low as the character, that's a talent all in itself.

  • Watcher

    I've watched several episodes and I can’t help but compare Merchant's character Stewart Pritchard to Basil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers. In a good way. It’s a compliment. Merchant is funny. Sad funny. Just like Basil, Stewart is a sad, opportunistic jerk that you tend to root for but still laugh at him when he fails. He kisses peoples ass if he thinks it'll get him what he wants, and if anyone can't advance his agenda he's rude and obnoxious to them. His pathetically selfish plans always come back to bite him in the ass. But unlike Basil, Stewart’s obsession is to meet beautiful women, models preferably. Yeah, I’ll keep watching. But I’m almost certain that most of my fellow Americans’ are simply uncomfortable with this type of darker sadder humor. I haven’t seen Merchant’s standup act and I’m not a Ricky Gervais fan either, but I like this show.

    • Pinky

      I think it's hilarious. It's one of my favorite new comedies–better than anything on Network television. HBO needs to let this one last and pick up steam. It's a breath of fresh air amidst a tidal wave of mediocre stank.

  • LateNightPeek&Boo

    I'm having serious trouble with believing anyone can be as big of a tool and as clueless as the main character Stewart. Is the show meant to be complete hyperbole or are we supposed to think that someone out there in the world can truly act as pathetic and exude such blind confidence as Stewart? Or is the show just a brand of British humor that I'll never understand because I'm American? I am familiar with many comedy series on BBC so I hope I have some inkling of the British brand humor across the pond. For as much hype as HBO used in promoting Hello Ladies, I have to say I'm disappointed and annoyed 75% of each episode. I tend to use the fast foward option often in the middle of the episode when the story begins to drag. After reading the article above I'm a tad more educated on the overall approach in the show's writing. Maybe Merchant is as awkward in real life as Stewart in on the show. I would just think that he would have had a friend at one point in his life sit him down and explain a more correct successful way of picking up woman and how to treat people. Everyone has either that nerdy girl in the friend zone that secretly likes you and always points out your flaws or an annoying sibling that just enjoys correcting your behavior so you are not an embarrassment. Hang me out to dry, but I enjoyed the show Luck with Dennis Hoffman and that show was canceled in it's first season and I wasn't the least bit surprised because that show lacked a pace to the progression of the storyling as well. HBO viewers have come to expect a certain level of shock and awe in HBO comedy series that fuel the success of Bored to Death and Eastbound and Down. Unfortunately, Hello Ladies just hasn't struck my funny bone yet and I'm no longer making it a point to watch the show. I think I mainly tune in just to see if Stewart has gotten any closer to hooking up with the lousy but sexy actress that lives in his pool house. If it was an underdog story filled with dating faux paus where Stewart is progressing in attempts of landing the hot actress then I would be more entertained. If that plot is actually happening then boy did I miss it!

    • Evelz6

      Then don't watch…

    • Lindsey Adams

      There are people like that. Everywhere. If you've ever been to LA you will see many people like this. Most of them work for Geek Squad.

    • Jimmy

      You come across as too serious/angry to appreciate this comedy. Perhaps stick to your american same-old formulas.

  • big fan

    I love this show! Its sad & hilarious at the same time. Stuart's awkwardness around beautiful women is something most guys have felt one time or another. I hope HBO renews it for another season.

  • DidntPullOutInTimeCop

    Love this show. Miles ahead of Derek, this is more along the lines of what you'd expect from one of the creators of The Office.

  • ALL MEDIA NEWS TODAY

    Dying fat retarded communist homosexual british Ricky Gervais is the reason and the proof that television has had its day. As long as this typical ingrate is the normality of viewership, no one will watch a primitive idiot and a fool blathering on about why it's such a primitive idiot and a fool. This is yesterdays done retard story, and it's been done to death. Stick a fork in this dumb pompous blathering smelly fat oink, but don't eat it for dread of poisoning. It is done.

    • Lindsey Adams

      Who hurt you?

  • CARNATION BLEEP

    HAHA Ricky the Retard, the typical britard subject strikes again! Hated, loathsome, fat and fagotty, the brit master of all things british dishes it out and rapes the little schoolboys proper but can never take the truth back. God save the queen, fat little bricky the retard! HAHA

    • Lindsey Adams

      So, I fail to see how this has anything to do with Gervais but who am I to try and communicate with an apparent angry, sad individual like yourself? Don't be so angry. Try happiness on for size. It's a one size fits all type of thing and the best part of it is that it looks fantastic on anyone.

  • tar

    Great show. Love it. More please.

  • Missy

    I think Stephen Merchant is obviously a huge catch (or at least a tall one) and he should be the next Bachelor with beautiful women competing over him. Oh wait – that is his reality now in L.A. So at times I find it hard to believe in the premise he uses as the “awkward loser at love” in his comedy. Surely he is the type that is turning down the many, many opportunities he has – he can pick and choose!

  • Kay Siva

    ok show, Derek is a fair superior show though on all counts, ricky is just a better writer