Due to the pernicious influence of some friends of mine (Rich, Tony, and Greg, I'm looking at all of you), I'm obsessed with old XFM episodes of the Ricky Gervais Show. Yet, more than that, the man known as Steve Merchant ("Smerch" to his friends) has stolen my heart.
Yes, I'll admit to having a weakness for tall pale Englishmen (Steve is so white that "with his shirt off, you can see his heart beat, like a baby fish", according to Ricky). Steve is one of the quickest-witted comedians around, able to hold his own against Ricky Gervais for years on the radio, and providing half the writing skills for The Office and Extras (neither of which I've ever seen, can you believe it?).
I did not know Steve Merchant existed until I started listening to the free podcast first, and then the XFM episodes. What exactly do I love about him? He is very much the center of the show, keeping Ricky focused and controlled (as much as anyone can control him!). Steve works hard to give Karl his space to talk, encouraging him to finish his stories despite Ricky's abuse. Some of my favorite moments are Steve shouting "SHUT UP RICK! YOU'RE ANNOYING ME!"
Steve is often mocked by Karl for his looks ("freak" is the word he uses). Frankly, I can't understand it. What's not to like? Look at that cute sensitive face! He's tall and looks sharp in a suit. Great messy hair, fashionable specs, and that wide goofy grin: sweet.
I must say a few words about Steve's voice. Although Ricky can do a very proper "FM radio voice", and Karl has that bone-dry Mancunian delivery, Steve has a naturally warm and open manner. He's great at going from quiet and intimate to high-pitched and screaming when he's ranting. The rants are great - whether it's about people talking about the movies, paying £5 too much for a Playstation, or how hard it is to eat with Ricky in a restaurant. And the accent? Utterly, utterly charming.
A lot of Steve's charm comes from his self-deprecating anecdotes - growing up near Bristol, trying to be cool and meet girls, being "careful" with money, his struggles to learn the way the world works (for example, finding out the hard way that passports expire."When will I know these things?" he asks Ricky). He jokes about his lack of success with the ladies, but we know that's just a cover, don't we? Steve's probably dating models and actresses, now that he's rich and famous, and that's just fine. But we know he really needs to hook up with a brainy, tall, beautiful woman who really appreciates him for the comedy genius he is. Steve, call me anytime.
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