As kitchen sink philosopher Karl Pilkington explores life’s big issues in his new show, The Moaning Of Life, he talks to Sophie Herdman about why it’s the small things that really make him happy
For Karl Pilkington, happiness can be found in the simplest of ways.
“The other day I was sat in the garden, it was a sunny day, I was cutting my toenails, I had a Tunnock’s tea cake and a cup of tea and I thought ‘This is all right, innit?’”
His long-term girlfriend, Suzanne, was tending to the garden, or as Pilkington says: “She was messing about with the plants and she was happy, which made me happy.”
Happiness is something Pilkington’s been thinking a lot about recently. His new show, The Moaning Of Life, sees the kitchen sink philosopher travel the world exploring how other cultures deal with some of life’s big issues, including marriage, death, children and contentment.
Pilkington, 41, has come to the conclusion that the key to happiness is to find something simple and cheap that you enjoy doing.
“There was something on the radio about this bloke who got joy out of sharpening pencils. That’s good – you know, pencils aren’t that dear,” he says.
Despite the name of the programme – The Moaning of Life – Pilkington insists he doesn’t complain that often.
“I think it’s because you always see extremes on the telly: people are either over the moon or they’re crying. Suddenly you’ve got someone who’s normal and you go, ‘Oh he’s miserable.’”
Pilkington assures us he will not be welling up on screen: “There are more emotions than crying. It annoys me that every single programme shows someone sobbing now – someone has a new garden and they’re crying.”
He may not regard himself as one of life’s moaners, but during the show Pilkington finds himself at a huge, lengthy Indian wedding and he does complain. A lot.
The presenter is not a fan of marriage and says he has no intention of getting wed.
“I don’t see the point in it now. Suzanne and I have been together for 20 years. It’s working, so don’t mess it up,” he says.
“If people are doing it for religious reasons and they’ve got to get married before they can have it away, I can’t argue with that. But marriage doesn’t mean anything any more.
“You have a fallout about who ate the last Jaffa Cake and suddenly that’s it, you get divorced.”
One thing Pilkington did enjoy was the pheromone party he attended. The idea is this: a group of singletons place an item of clothing they have worn in the middle of a room.
The attendees then wander around smelling the clothes, and if they like someone’s aroma, they find them and strike up a conversation.
“I think there’s something in it,” Pilkington says. “If someone stinks, you can’t live with them, can you? You’d constantly be thinking, ‘You look really nice and I like your personality, but you stink’.”
Having said that, the presenter thinks he has an even better idea for a dating party. “Argument night,” he says.
“You turn up, you slag people off. In a relationship everyone can have good bits where it’s all rosy, but you’re going to have a fallout, so get to that bit quicker and see how you deal with it.”
Of all the topics Pilkington explored, he says death was the one he found most interesting.
“I think about it at night when I’m nodding off, it calms me down. I think that one day I won’t be here and that stops anything that’s going on in my head.”
Pilkington finds it strange that people are reluctant to talk about the topic. He found himself discussing death with people around the world, including in Ghana where he attended his first funeral.
Could this morbid fascination be related to the presenter turning 40 last year? Pilkington thinks not.
“People worry about getting old but it makes me happy. I think being young was probably my least favourite time,” he says.
Pilkington chose to mark his milestone birthday by staying in, watching Columbo and eating a bowl of Suzanne’s chilli – but she wasn’t impressed.
“She said everyone thinks I’m miserable, but of all the birthdays this was the one I was allowed to have a say on, and I didn’t want to do anything.”
He’s been asked to do many reality TV shows, but has always refused. “Maybe people love doing Come Dine With Me and having a meal with David Hasselhoff,” he says. “But I don’t like having friends around for dinner, never mind a stranger.”
Then again, if he did hold a dinner party there would be plenty of washing-up to do, which Pilkington loves.
“It provides a bit of ‘me’ time,” he explains. “There’s less and less of that today because everyone’s constantly telling everyone what they’re doing. So wash up, that’s my final thought, really.”