As I move on to the second installment of "5 Degrees of David Mitchell," I find myself troubled by the sheer volume of options. It is like grocery shopping while hungry; everyone has been in my cart at some point. But, I decided to cover a person who has been present on the UK comedy scene for over fifteen years and who is beginning to make a name for himself stateside.
Name: Stephen Merchant (Beaker in human form)
Genre: Stephen Merchant established his career as a radio personality, but was acknowledged primarily as a writer on a variety of British comedy programs. Through a partnership with Ricky Gervais, he was a involved with some rather well known TV shows both as a writer and as a performer. He appeared in primarily bit parts initially, worked his way up to supporting roles, and is now the star of his own show, which is based upon his debut stand-up comedy performance of the same name: Hello Ladies.
Degrees divorced from David Mitchell: This can go a number of ways and I included the most obvious (excepting chat shows they have both made the rounds of) .Please add more in the comments and I will update the list
1.David Mitchell was on Bruiser with Martin Freeman who was on The Office, on which Stephen Merchant wrote and guest starred (2 degrees)
2.David Mitchell went to Cambridge with and has worked extensively with Olivia Coleman, who worked on The Green Wing, on which Stephen Merchant had a small lab tech role (2 degrees)
3.David Mitchell went to Cambridge with and has worked with Richard Ayoade and Matthew Holness, who worked on Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, on which Stephen Merchant had a small chef role (2 degrees)
4.David Mitchell has not escaped sharing company with the odious Jonathan Ross on The Big, Fat Quiz of the Year or The Jonathan Ross Show and Ross was the star of an episode of Extras, on which Stephen Merchant plays Darren Lamb (2 degrees)
Where you might know him from: His relationship with the controversial Ricky Gervais, chat shows, the recent media push (which coincides with all the chat shows) to sell Hello Ladies, or his award winning voice work as Wheatley from Portal 2 are the most likely ways for the average American to stumble across Merchant. Although, in the UK, he has been a regular staple on the comedy scene, winning a number of awards for his work on The Office and Extras.
If you have not seen the Jimmy Fallon Show lip sync off video that went viral, then you have been much deprived. As part of a recent publicity tour to introduce himself to a wider audience stateside, Merchant made the rounds, visiting the execrable Jonathan Ross Show, Conan, Jimmy Kimmel, the Daily Show, Have I got News for You?, and the rest. But, nowhere did he make more of an impact than when he went head to head in a lip sync battle with Jimmy Fallon and your boyfriend Joseph Gordon Levitt (I don't get it ladies. In my head, he is still ten.). Both Levitt and Merchant bested Fallon and though I side with Merchant, it is debatable who came out on top.
It is perhaps his close association with Ricky Gervais that makes Merchant feel likable, if his rendition of "Single Ladies" wasn't draw enough.Gervais, himself, is aware of how provocative his public persona can be; "'People hate my mere existence. Some people hate me because I'm an atheist. What do you do? Go around suddenly believing in God? It's ridiculous. You can't worry about criticism. It's all subjective."Even that essentially true statement makes him seem like an ass. But, the contrast of Gervais' confidence and Merchant's awkward shyness makes each of their personas feel amplified when in each other's company. Gervais seems even more of a self-important tosser and Merchant becomes a soft spoken giant. However, as Paste magazine argues in a stunning examination of the work the two have done separately in the last year, "It turns out that Gervais is a softie while Merchant is a cynic, but the truth is that neither succeeds quite as well without a foil. Put simply, Derek is a tender show without an edge, and Hello Ladies is a funny show without a heart."Gervais and Merchant are perceived as a pair and that is to the benefit of Merchant, perhaps more than Gervais.
Why he is worth keeping an eye on: He is 6'7" tall, so just try not keeping an eye on him. Says Merchant, of his height, "I'm too tall. I am 6ft 7in, so I've been most people's height at some point in my life, and 6ft 4in is the best. You're tall, but you don't have to bend when you go through a door." But, grandpa humor aside, Merchant's contributions to the sitcom have been substantial.The popularity of sitcoms framed by documentary camera flourishes shows the effect on storytelling alone.
Although, I don't think his latest venture Hello Ladies will be picked up for a second season on HBO, Merchant has developed a fan base and I doubt he will disappear from the scene for long. My hope is that he returns with stronger material. But, I think his band of female followers will be satisfied with any effort he makes. Self-identified as Smerchettes, his fans can be found on Tumblr (smerchetteproblems, fyeahsmerchettes, and foreverasmerchette are just a few), as Steam communities, and on Deviantart. There is even smerch on Etsy.Anyone with such a rabid internet fanbase is going to keep working and you might as well fall in line now.
Must Watches: Between the stand-up that inspired it and the scripted show Hello Ladies, I would advocate for the stand up. The NYT dubs the television show "a diverting curiosity, nice to look at and good for a few squirmy laughs."Although, Forbes defends it by claiming, "It is more of a meditation about connections — mostly missed but a few rare and tenuous ones made — in greater Los Angeles." But, the stand-up does that as well and it does it better. If you have watched The Office and felt you had to step away because of the cringe factor, the HBO half hour comedy is not for you. However, if you love The Office (and I do), give it a try but keep your expectations low. Otherwise, enjoy his writing and acting on The Office and Extras.Bask in his personality via interviews. Try to enjoy him on Drunk History as Abraham Lincoln (although being purchased by Comedy Central ruined that show). And watch Life's Too Short because Warwick Davis, the man who played Willow, is a treasure. An Idiot Abroad is also lovely. He has a bit part in Burke and Hare; don't watch it for him. Just watch it. I can't speak for Portal, but people seem kind of into it.
zap rowsdower recommends "watching The Ricky Gervais Show on HBO and listening to the podcast that it borrows from including the The Ricky Gervais Guide to.... specials. It's certainly more about Karl Pilkington but I think that Stephen also shines through particularly through him and Karl arguing all the time."
Could Skips:Hello Ladies the TV show, for the reasons above. Movie 43. The Invention of Lying. Hall Pass.
Guess What? His father also had a small role on The Office.