Happyslapped by a Jellyfish
By Karl Pilkington
Synopsis: A collection of baffling, hilarious, infuriating yet curiously compelling insights and anecdotes, diary entries, poems, "true" facts, cartoons, and assorted witterings concerning travel from the mind of Karl Pilkington.
About a year ago Tom introduced me to the Ricky Gervais podcast series which featured Ricky and Stephen Merchant (Both of whom I knew thanks to The Office and The Extras) and an oddball named Karl. I was hooked, the dynamic between the three of them and the absolutely batshit crazy tangents Karl would take the conversation on would have me doubled over in laughter. After listening to them all I moved on to the TV series An Idiot Abroad and this year on my birthday, Tom bought me two of Karl's books. Happyslapped by a Jellyfish is the travel diary, of sorts, that Karl wrote when the podcast was in its prime.
OK, so I may be a big fan of the podcast, but one thing that always irked me is the notoriety that Karl Pilkington has received since his rise to fame 5 or 6 years ago. In one podcast Stephen reads out a letter to the editor of a newspaper in which a woman wrote in complaining that Karl had been given the opportunity to film several 5 minute spots extolling his opinions on worldly matters. The one she watched was the one in which he said that museums should get rid off all their stuff, because one set of dinosaur bones is just like another...do we really need so many? Part of the charm to the podcast (to me) was how ridiculous and misguided his views were (I dare say he's never read a newspaper in his life) but also how sincere and (I say this without criticism) simple he was. That was where most of the comedy came from, he had no idea why people would laugh when he suggests we plant a "seed" in 78 year old women which becomes a baby when she dies. However, I'm uncomfortable with the idea of giving him the opportunity to preach his bizarre ideas in arenas where an expert, or someone with a basic understanding of anything, would be better suited. The idea that there are wonderful talented authors out there struggling to get published while Karl gets handed a publishing deal to spout rubbish for 200 pages makes me a little queasy.
90% of the anecdotes and diary entries in this book are ones I heard on the podcast. However, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who isn't a fan of the podcast series because I think you need to be able to visualise Karl's voice (yeah I know how silly that sounds!) as you read this, in order for it to maintain some of its humour and understand the bizarre tangents and references. He isn't a particularly literate or eloquent writer, and the only reason I found any of it funny was because it triggered memories of the podcast, and the conversations that were incited when Karl said something like, "There's too much fruit knocking around nowadays, and I think this is why we're told to eat five pieces a day-it's to get rid of it all." The start of the book appears as though he's trying hard to write intelligently and correctly, however he soon falls back into his conversational vernacular, using words like 'Nowt,' (naught) 'Sommat' (something) and regularly leaving the K or G of the ends of words. That's fine in your regular diary, or even in photocopied diary entries like in The Cobain Diaries, but when you're reproducing it in a book the least that he could do is put 10 minutes into actually writing a legible book.
The chapters, which range from 3-12 pages in length, each centre on a destination that Karl has travelled too, except the Australia chapter which is used to describe why he'll never come over here. Some of the chapters are copies of his diary from the trip and he describes the minutia of his holidays, and all the things that annoy him. Others are written as a brief description of the place he went to before meandering off to discuss some anecdote of him as a kid or a trip to the shops. Littered through are also a few poems he's written, "Rome wasn't built in a day/it just looks that way," comics he's created about weird stories, and a smattering of cartoons he's drawn which are actually quite good.
I've spent this entire blog post criticising the book, and for good reason. It's written in a very simple style, with an amateur writer's attempt at stringing together anecdotes, ideas and insights. The subject matter isn't deep or critically aware or detailed enough to really be informative. BUT. But, if you're a fan of Karl Pilkington or the podcast, chances are you'll enjoy reading through this short book, if only for the nostalgia that you'll encounter when you're reintroduced to popular anecdotes from the show. So, I recommend this book under the proviso that you're aware of what you're getting into, the kind of comedy frequented in the podcast, and the less than stellar writing Karl is capable of. Enjoy?
My rating: 3/5