■ The presenter and actor, 45, on hanging up his rucksack, not having kids and how a Rumpologist has predicted his future
Your new sitcom, Sick Of It, is a big departure for you…
Yes, a big change. Even though it’s still telly, it couldn’t be more different. I’d done all that travel stuff, I couldn’t do it any more.
So you’re sick of it?
Yeah! I’m sick of the jet lag — it ages you and knackers you up. I have a bad back from being sat on planes for 12 hours, then when you landed, you’d be dancing with a tribe or whatever. It was one extreme to another. You change over time too, you grow up. Steve [Merchant] wanted to broaden my mind and it did sort of have an effect. But when you’ve seen a lot of mad stuff, when you see more mad stuff it doesn’t have an effect. I remember talking to some bloke who said he’d had his arse bleached and I was just like, ‘Oh, right’. I thought, ‘Nothing shocks me any more.’
So how did Sick Of It come about?
Out of boredom. I’d paid for the house, which is what we all work for, bills and the mortgage. I sat about pottering, doing the gardening for about seven months, until Suzanne [Whiston], my girlfriend, said, ‘You’re driving me insane.’ I’m not really a social type so I found myself doing things that didn’t need doing, like the two glass panels on the oven door. I took the door apart but it wouldn’t go back together again. Suzanne said, ‘You could live another 30 or 40 years, you’re not ready for this!’ So I met Richard Yee, who directed some of my trips, and started writing with him.
Your character, Karl, is not very sociable and neither are you…
He hasn’t got kids and neither do I. But in Sick Of It, his ex wanted kids and in real life both Suzanne and I have said it’s not for us. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go anywhere with it. I think it makes it more of an interesting episode. That thing of, ‘I don’t want them, I hate them. Oh, hang on, maybe I do want one’. Hopefully you can do something people can relate to.
What’s your favoured medium? You write books, act, present, produce…
I don’t know what makes me happy. We went on holiday recently and at the time I never enjoy things. Some people are like, ‘I’m loving this, this is amazing!’ I’ve never done that in my life. I’m always, ‘Should I even be here, should I be enjoying this more than I am, would they be enjoying this more if I wasn’t here?’ People say live in the moment but I have to have the moment and then think of that moment three weeks later.
It hasn’t stopped you from being really successful…
No, but it has surprised me what I’ve done. At school I was useless. I left with one E in history GCSE. I didn’t even know I got that until Ricky [Gervais] and Steve found out years later because I didn’t bother picking up my results. The headteacher told my mum and dad that I wasn’t going to be a high-flyer. But at least they had no expectations and I didn’t either, so that frees you.
What would have happened if you hadn’t got the job with Ricky and Steve?
I’d have been all right because before I met them I’d already been on radio in Manchester and also hospital radio. It was only when a bloke I worked with came to Capital in London and put a word in for me… I’ve never got a job from an interview. I’d talk myself out of it. I’m not very good at self-promotion. I’m not doing this because I want to be on the telly but I like being creative and getting letters from people saying they’ve watched something I’ve done and it’s helped them with depression or something, that’s the best.
Do you feel like you’re out of Ricky and Steve’s shadow?
No, that’s always going to be there because without them, the podcasts and radio, I wouldn’t be doing this. I’m not daft. I can’t go, ‘That didn’t happen’, that’s a part of my life. Who knows, we might get back together and do some podcasts if we think of a way of it being different.
Do you see much of each other?
Not as much as we did because we’re all doing different things. I saw Steve in LA, where he spends most of his time, when I was there for the ELO gig a few weeks ago. Ricky’s in the UK more but we moved to Dorset when I’d had enough of London.
Who knows? You have to be realistic but I don’t want to be limited. Remember when Nick Knowles brought that album out? Everyone went, ‘Oh God, what’s he doing?!’ But he doesn’t have a bad voice. You can’t always do what you want because you’re a prisoner to what you’ve done in the past. I’m not saying I’m bringing out an album, though! On one of my shows a rumpologist, someone who feels your arse to tell you your future, said, ‘You’re going to move to Italy.’ It was weird, as we’d been thinking about it. I said, ‘What else does it say back there? Because you’re getting this pretty spot on!’
Sick Of It continues tonight at 10pm and 10.30pm on Sky 1 and Now TV