As far as comedy partnerships go, there’s few around today that can match the pedigree set by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. After creating and writing The Office, which would go on to become the most successful British sitcom of all time, and following it up with the critically acclaimed Extras and Cemetery Junction, you would assume both would be household names. However, you’d be wrong.
Gervais’s starring role as David Brent shot him to international fame, resulting in his embarking on several world stand-up tours and even writing and appearing in an episode of The Simpsons. Merchant, however, was largely overlooked by the mainstream media, the Bristol-born Film graduate instead preferring to lie low, often claiming it was his time spent in the writing room he most enjoyed about the lifestyle.
As the pair released their world record breaking podcast series along with Karl Pilkington, more and more fans grew to appreciate Merchant, his natural wit often a pleasant comedown from Gervais’s loud abrasiveness. Couple this with his hilarious role in Extras, and Merchant’s place within the famous writing partnership became more obvious. In fact, many of those who have devotedly followed the pair for the past decade or so often cite Merchant as the true talent, a claim possibly vindicated recently by Derek; a comedy written alone by Gervais which many felt failed to live up to the standards set by his previous work.
And so now, the true test for Stephen Merchant lies ahead. After his highly successful stand-up tour, Hello Ladies, American cable giant HBO have commissioned Hello Ladies: The Sitcom; a comedy featuring Merchant as a fictionalised version of himself, haplessly looking for love in Los Angeles. Co-written alongside Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (writers of The Office USA), Hello Ladies will finally allow Merchant to take centre stage, and, judging by the teaser trailer released this week, employ much of the clever wit and cringey social faux pas prominent within his work alongside Gervais – despite this time working without his famous friend.
You can watch the trailer for yourselves using our player below;
As metaphorical shadows go, Ricky Gervais’s is nothing short of gigantic (once listed on TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the World) and come the 29th of September, Hello Ladies will show us just how far Stephen Merchant is able to step out from behind it. If his brilliantly written stand up show and performance as Darren Lamb in Extras was anything to go by, the 6ft7 Bristolian should have little to worry about – in fact, it could be his old partner back in London who starts to jitter as Merchant blazes across the American comedy scene.
This article was first posted on June 13, 2013