May 11, 2024

stephen merchant, the outlaws

Photograph by GREG WILLIAMS

How important is a little bit of nonsense now and then to you?
It’s the most important thing. I once had a school report card that criticised me for ‘always finding the joke in everything’. I’ve tried my damnedest to do that ever since.

What, if anything, makes you believe in magic?
Derren Brown, the mentalist and illusionist. I know everything he does is misdirection and stagecraft but his mind reading is mind-blowing – and he’s performed tricks on me that defy explanation. I’m angry that I’ll go to my grave not knowing how they’re done.

What was your last act of true cowardice?
I told a restaurant chef his food was ‘absolutely friggin’ incredible’ when it was really bland. 

What single thing do you miss most when you’re away from home?
The basement room I turned into a movie theatre. 

Do you have any odd habits or rituals?
In my movie theatre, no one is allowed to talk. Or eat. And they have to drink from sippy cups. Not a joke.

What is your party trick?
I eat anything. Nowadays everyone has a lactose intolerance or wheat allergy, but you can serve me whatever and I’ll clear my plate.

What is your mantra?
‘Everyone’s guessing.’ No one has life figured out, despite what they may tell you. Everybody is just stumbling along, trying to make their way. Once I realised that, a great burden was lifted from
my shoulders.

What is your favourite smell?
Napalm in the morning.

What do you always carry with you?
The ability to laugh at myself. I don’t trust people who refuse to be the butt of the joke. 

What is your guilty pleasure?
I kind of enjoyed the lockdown. 

Who is the silliest person you know?
My partner, Mircea. She can make me laugh so hard with a silly dance.

What would be your least favourite way to die?
Without featuring in the Oscars’ ‘In Memoriam’ section.

Stephen Merchant transitioned from stand-up to the screen when he collaborated with Ricky Gervais on writing The Office. It became zeitgeist TV, spawning two series, a Christmas special and the US version. Merchant co-starred in his and Gervais’ follow-up show, Extras. While juggling award-winning stand-up, radio shows, podcasts, producing, directing and screenwriting, Merchant has also acted in numerous films including Hall Pass, Logan and JoJo Rabbit. He is the co-creator, executive producer and writer of The Outlaws, which he also stars in. The third season will be released this summer on BBC and Amazon Prime.

Photograph by GREG WILLIAMS

*Arguably one of the most memorable (and quotable) scenes in 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is when Mr Salt mumbles, ‘It’s a lot of nonsense,’ to which Wonka replies, in a sing-song voice, ‘A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.’

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