They say that behind every squat, successful British writer-producer is a lanky, six-foot-seven bespectacled co-creator. All right, maybe no one said that ever, but it certainly applies to the duo responsible for some of the most awkward moments in television history. Masters of cringe comedy Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant produced The Office, Extras and Life’s Too Short — along with many other moments that caused viewers to avert their eyes and squirm in their seats. Even when flying solo in shows like Hello Ladies, Merchant can provide just as many unbearably uncomfortable moments as an incompetent talent agent, an inelegant pick-up artist or just a bloke sharing a story about being turned down by a nightclub doorman.
To get you ready for Stephen’s appearance on tonight’s Comedy Bang! Bang!, here are some of his funniest cringeworthy moments.
1. Performing Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty,” Lip Sync Battle
When you have to sway a crowd and you’re built like a flailing-arm inflatable balloon man, you gotta play to your strengths. So when tasked to perform Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” on Lip Sync Battle, Merchant proudly bared his midriff, upper thighs and soul in a cutoff T-shirt and flared leather chaps. While we applaud his self-confidence, we don’t have the inner strength to be caught dead doing that.
2. Discussing his first Golden Globe win, The Graham Norton Show
It’s hard to imagine a time when The Office was something of an underdog, but the original UK version was just a plucky upstart when it won its first Golden Globe. Unfortunately for the then-unknown Gervais and Merchant, their long, awkward walk to the stage was punctuated by the announcer mispronouncing their names and Stephen’s head getting cut off for the front page photo.
3. The Oggmonster, The Office
Although Gervais’ David Brent was the poster boy for The Office, Merchant only appeared twice in the original series as Gareth’s gangly pal Nathan, AKA The Oggmonster. Even more ungainly and off-putting than the Assistant to the Regional Manager, Oggy is pushed to tears by David Brent’s relentless joshing about his appearance. We feel for ya, Oggy.
4. Nudie pen, Extras
In this very NSFW clip from Extras, Merchant plays the highly incompetent agent Darren who, between failing to get acting work for Gervais’ Andy, is caught in flagrante in the company of a novelty nudie pen. Inappropriate, unprofessional and utterly humiliating given the focal point, his moment of self-gratification is somewhat vindicated when assistant Barry is caught doing the same thing.
5. Trip to Rio, The Ricky Gervais Show
Debuting as a radio program in 2001, The Ricky Gervais Show was among the first wildly successful podcasts and spawned countless comedy audio programs in the years since. Co-host and whipping boy Karl Pilkington was the breakout star, but Merchant supplied a heapin’ helpin’ of embarrassment with cringeworthy anecdotes, including this story of his trip to Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.
6. Hopeless nightclub pick-up artist, Hello Ladies
Without Gervais on the roster, Merchant shined as hopeless romantic Stuart Pritchard in HBO’s Hello Ladies. Showcasing his true-to-life awkwardness around women, the sadly short-lived series upped the cringe-ante that he and Gervais injected into The Office — and this torturous nightclub scene is perfect proof.
7. Eager wedding guest, Hello Ladies
As we all know, weddings are a meet-cute hotbed, but it definitely requires optimal positioning. Unfortunately for the viewer’s nerve, Stuart is keenly aware of this. Persistent past the point of rejection, he monopolizes the line to congratulate the newlyweds and wedges himself into a table with single women. Eagerness has never been so unsettling.
8. Denying Warwick Davis a loan, Life’s Too Short
Having to turn down a friend in need is so unbearable, most of us will compromise our comfort with favors just to avoid it. Not surprisingly, Gervais and Merchant — playing heightened versions of themselves — don’t have an issue with sidestepping support for diminutive actor Warwick Davis when he asks the successful team for a loan.
9. Behind-the-scenes dance party, Extras
Yes, it’s Stephen dancing for the second time on this list. But honestly, it’s never not cringeworthy.
10. Nightclub zinger, Conan
Single life is unanimously the worst, but it can be easily mitigated through fortune and stardom. And while Stephen Merchant is a household name among comedy geeks, his notoriety has yet to hit the radar of certain LA nightclub doormen. Appearing on Conan, Merchant shares a story of trying to get into a nightclub but being thwarted by the bouncer at the door with a devastating putdown.