Steve Coogan is almost ready to leave Alan Partridge behind

Caroline Frost

April 03, 2009 12:00am

STEVE Coogan may be a household name in the UK thanks to his discomforting alter ego Alan Partridge, but he explains why he'll be happy to leave comedy behind. “I wouldn’t like to spend time with him, I’d think he’s an idiot, but I do have some sort of affection for him. When I’m writing for him, I find myself defending him and saying ‘no don’t do that to him, that’s too cruel, please just give him some small victories.’”

Thus Steve Coogan describes Alan Partridge, his comic creation who started life as a smooth-haired sports presenter, hit the heights of his own TV chat show - axed abruptly when he accidentally shot a guest – and was finally cast out into the wilderness of local radio.

This week, he treads the boards in Melbourne, where Coogan is bringing him and other characters out of retirement for his first stand-up tour in ten years.

With Partridge’s flat Northern vowels, acrylic pullovers and suburban sexual fantasies, Coogan raised the levels of comic discomfort several years before David Brent ever entered an Office.

Then, having already starred as pop supremo Tony Wilson in the hit film 24-Hour Party People, Coogan headed to LA.

Since then, he’s had on-screen success with Cock and Bull Story and Night at the Museum, and off-screen notoriety, with wild child Courtney Love pointing the finger at him both as the father of her unborn child after an alleged hotel fling, and as a particularly bad influence in Owen Wilson’s sometime unstable life.

It is hard to reconcile visions of such Hollywood hedonism with the neat, thoughtful chap sitting in Melbourne, sipping afternoon tea and musing on his return to the comedy circuit.

“I’m quite a lazy person, really,” says this comedian, actor, writer and director of his own production company. “I never really have a plan. Ten years ago, I nearly came here, and I got distracted and didn’t.

"I’ve hit middle age, and now there are certain things I ought to check off, so I’d better do it while people are asking me, as they might stop doing that.”

With one of Britain’s most popular comic characters up his sleeve, Coogan is sensitive to the battle between pleasing his audience who want more of the same material, and satisfying his own needs to stretch.

“You do have a responsibility. You can’t be dismissive of people who put you where you are, and equally I like to do things that are different and a little bit scary.

“Even though I’m enjoying coming back to stand-up, once I’ve done this tour, I’ll be very happy to get off the treadmill of live comedy. I love it, but I don’t want to live in this world, I want to go and do something else.”

One of the things that appeals is more straight acting, something that surely must feel safer than what he calls the “petrifying ticking clock” of the first night of a live show. But apparently that’s not so:

“Being on stage is not really vulnerable – they might not laugh, they might not like my jokes, but that just means it’s not a very good comedy show. But something that’s got an emotional dynamic to it, that can make you vulnerable, but in that way, it also empowers you.

"Acting to me is more comfortable, it’s about surrendering control, it’s about not being sure what’s going to come next, so that’s the most interesting kind of acting because it’s like life.”

This reflective Coogan may be ready to leave comedy behind, but he remains delighted by fresh discoveries of humour in strange places:

“There are things that I laugh at which are often slightly painful. I was watching a TV archaeology show, and I saw a bit of tension between the presenter and the guest, there was some anger underneath, and it really made me laugh. I was chuckling to myself, it was a moment when things hadn’t gone quite the way they were supposed to.

“I just like things like that that reveal vulnerability, the naked moments of being human, and the minutiae of human behaviour.

“Having said that, the live show I’m doing is not highly nuanced at all, just lots of very crude jokes and punch-lines, which is quite nice to go back to after all that. It’s just refreshingly uncomplicated.”
Steve Coogan as his alter ego, Alan Partridge.