It’s not easy to always be in someone else’s shadow — but it’s particularly difficult when you’re 6’7″ — you’re supposed to be the shadow. Stephen Merchant — co-creator with Ricky Gervais of The Office, An Idiot Abroad, and Extras — is able to literally rise above in his standup one-man show, Hello Ladies. Merchant quips in the show that he’s returning to standup “so he doesn’t have to share the profits with anyone,” but it’s also a chance for Merchant to introduce himself as a presence apart from the shows he’s helped create and apart from seemingly constant man of the hour Gervais (particularly the week after the Golden Globes).
At the recent Los Angeles stop on his brief American tour, Merchant delved into questions of self-esteem, bedroom antics of the height-enhanced, and the perils of having less-than-cool parents (especially when you are already less than cool). He’s ostensibly on a search for a wife, and in a world filled with YouTube videos featuring a girl with 12 cats that proclaim to women “this is why you’re single,” it’s refreshing to see Merchant’s mug coming at you from a fisheye lens, showing his less than sexy bedroom eyes, admitting “this is why he’s single.”
Merchant’s self-deprecating take on his life experience continues throughout the show, starting out with a hilarious ride through Merchant’s life via newspaper — first being cut out of a newspaper clip from the 2004 Golden Globes, followed by tabloid cuttings that ridicule his dance techniques. The show’s honesty culminates in an impromptu, audience member reenactment of a play he wrote in high school about peer pressure, drugs, and teen sex called Choices. Merchant could come off as arrogant (as even he says tall people sometimes do) while talking about some of his Hollywood experiences, but he doesn’t, even when mock giving birth to his Emmy statue during Choices.
While Merchant defines himself as a geek in Hello, Ladies and certainly dresses the part, geekdom has many shades — some are math nerds (Merchant claims he’s not but did a several minute-long takedown of the Venn Diagram, so I am skeptical of this), some are video-game obsessed or sci fi junkies (Merchant voiced the successful game Portal 2, but later told me he didn’t even own a copy of it), and others are simply socially awkward. This is Merchant’s forte — at times uncomfortable to watch, but mostly we are laughing with him and not at him. He spends part of the show earnestly asking a couple in the audience about how they met and you feel for the lonely funny guy.
Merchant is certainly a lovable geek, worthy of at least a date at the comedy club, but if you can’t make the short U.S. stint in L.A. and San Francisco, the show is also available on DVD (U.K. version).