What happens when a man who hates to travel is sent on a journey around the world? Better yet, what happens when a man who hates to travel and has no social filter is sent around the world with a bevy of cameramen? The result is an absurdly popular (and vaguely offensive) television show called "An Idiot Abroad."
Ricky Gervais, best known for his role in the British version of "The Office," came up with the idea along with his friend Steve Merchant and Karl Pilkington (both are former colleagues from his 2001 London radio program "The Ricky Gervais Show").
The concept is this: Karl (the "Idiot") doesn't like to venture too far outside of his comfort zone. He loathes that which is unfamiliar and when it comes to vacations, he prefers a quiet weekend at the beach.
Knowing this, his pals Gervais and Merchant sign him up for a whirlwind tour of the world—China, India, Egypt, Jordan, and more—which plays out over eight episodes on the Science Channel (the series aired for the first time on Jan 22; for run dates check the channel schedule). The duo enlist their friend for activities ranging from tasting toad in China to experiencing the religious celebration of Kumbh Mela in India.
"I knew he'd hate it and that's why I did it!" Gervais gloats and calls the show "the most expensive practical joke I've ever done."
Pilkington didn't want to participate, but his girlfriend convinced him it was a good idea. "I blame her for this," he told CNN. "She said I'd regret passing this up, and I can't say no to her."
Watch the trailer for the show:
Plenty of television personalities have explored these attractions before, but what makes "An Idiot Abroad" different is Pilkington's completely unfiltered, off-the-cuff take on what he's experiencing. He asks the kinds of questions children voice and adults wonder silently like "Am I missing something here?" when told that the Great Wall of China was recently renovated. "So the old stuff's gone? Then it shouldn't be a wonder. It's not the great wall of China, it's the all-right wall of China." When offered a steaming bowl of toad he points out "if I eat that and I start gagging, you'll think I'm rude!"
So far the series is a blockbuster hit. Since it's premiere, 4.3 million viewers have tuned in to watch Pilkington's adventures, making the program one of the Science Channel's highest rated TV shows ever.
It's an extreme perspective for sure, but anyone who has traveled to a foreign country can relate to at least some form of culture shock. In fact, one of the joys of traveling is experiencing that which is different, unknown—and sometimes the unknown can be downright frustrating, sometimes hilariously so. I lived in France for a time—it was my first time out of the U.S.—and I remember being regularly confounded by the toilets. Every toilet had a different way of flushing and sometimes it would take me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how this particular brand functioned—did I need to pull a string from above? Push a pedal on the floor? Touch a button on the wall? It was always an adventure.
Karl has a similarly laughable toilet experience. Watch it:
So my question to you is—can you relate to Karl or do you think he's just downright offensive?
If you can relate, what is the most hilarious cultural misunderstanding you've had abroad? I'm dying to know!
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