'Hello Ladies': Stephen Merchant on His Awkward HBO Autobiography

Stephen Merchant TCA - P 2013
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Stephen Merchant TCA - P 2013

Accomplished in his own right, Stephen Merchant is still often lumped in with collaborator Ricky Gervais. And with his latest project, HBO's Hello Ladies, finding him working without his Office and Extras co-creator, several at Thursday's Television Critics Association press tour asked if Gervais would be at all involved.

"This was originally born out of my stand-up act, which I also do separate from Ricky," said Merchant. "Ricky has actually been in a relationship with Jane, his girlfriend, since he was like 20 -- so this whole world as a single man is something he's never really experienced. It doesn't feel like a natural fit for him to work on."

VIDEO: Stephen Merchant's HBO Comedy Gets an Awkward First Trailer

Hello Ladies follows a fictionalized version of Merchant, failing spectacularly at dating in Los Angeles as a 30-something British expat. And while he may be recognizable to many, Merchant said that his dating life remains lackluster and provided a lot of fodder for the six-episode run.  

"Things don't get better when you become well known or go on TV," said Merchant. "I'm just being rejected by a better class of women. I still feel even when we were writing the show, that things were happening in my daily life that we could put in."

Several questioned the appeal of an uncouth protagonist, but Merchant was quick to provide examples.

"It seems that all American comedy is [full of] losers," he said. "No one on The Big Bang Theory is, shall I say, a 'stud,' and that's a big show. I don't think you'd think of the Woody Allen or even the Bill Murray character as a winner. They at least start as losers."

Should Hello Ladies return for a second run, Merchant says he's much more interested in bringing unknown British talent over for guest stars than some of his more famous friends -- though the door is always open to perennial Ricky Gervais Show butt of the joke, Karl Pilkington.

"He's not really happy anywhere other than his living room at home," said Merchant. "I think he's sick of traveling. He's not interested in sunshine."