In a relatively short space of time, Steve Coogan has worked his way into Britain’s comedy elite. Now a fledgling movie star, and with a return to stand-up under his belt this year, here’s a breakdown of the man’s most notable comedy work.
On The Hour (1991-1992)
Most people first encountered Coogan on the air with his appearances on the Chris Morris-fronted On The Hour. The original radio version of what would eventually become The Day Today, this marked the first ever appearance of Alan Partridge. Coogan may not have stood out, such was the ridiculously high comedic standards set by the show, but he more than held his own. The interviews carried out with sports celebrities are classic Partridge (the persistent grilling about a groin injury particularly funny), as is his sports commentary on a fantastic ‘Summer of Sport’.
Knowing Me, Knowing You… With Alan Partridge (radio) (1992)
Coogan’s next radio venture would see Partridge get his own radio series, and it was bloody hilarious. From the very opening episode in which he hits a small child (“You are a little shit”) to the final of the six shows when a guest dies live on air and Alan suggests motorway service stations for listeners to stop off at to pay their respects (“If you’re on the M1, there’s Scratchwood, Toddington, and Newport where you’ll find a Country Kitchen.”), this set the benchmark for his future TV shows to reach.
Saturday Zoo (1993)
Coogan’s breakthrough TV performance came courtesy of Saturday Zoo, when he first introduced Paul Calf to the world. Very funny performances on a very up and down entertainment show, Coogan’s character was the one you wanted to see more of.
Paul Calf’s Video Diary/Pauline Calf’s Wedding Video (1993/1994)
Calf duly got his own one-off show in the form of a video diary, taking its cues from the trend of the day. Along with its companion piece in 1994, bringing Paul’s sister, Pauline, into the mix, it marks a high point in Coogan’s career to date, still only bettered for me by one TV series he was yet to make. The shows work so well because they were kept as one-offs. I doubt a series would have been anywhere near as successful. If you’ve never seen them, track them down. Genuine comedy gold.
Steve Coogan: Live n’ Lewd (1994)
Coogan’s stand-up comes under the spotlight in this live recording and it doesn’t wilt under the pressure. Featuring both Calf characters alongside two new characters Duncan Thickett, a failed stand-up, and Ernest Moss, who would later return in the TV series Coogan’s Run, this was a show with a performer buzzing from recent successes, and it shows. The Calf segments are both excellent but it’s Duncan Thickett who still gets the best laughs from me.
The Day Today (1994)
The TV version of On The Hour, Coogan’s work on the show is some of the best he’s ever done. Most people will quote you Alan Partridge’s World Cup snippets (“GOOOOOAL”) but it’s his work on the other clips from the series that work best for me. Best of the lot is his turn as a swimming pool attendant. (“In 1975, no-one died. In 1976, no-one died. In 1977, no-one died. In 1978, no-one died. In 1979, no-one died. In 1980, some one died. In 1981, no-one died. In 1982, there was the incident with the pigeon. In 1983, no-one died. In 1984, no-one died. In 1985, no-one died … I mean, I could go on.”)
Knowing Me, Knowing You…With Alan Partridge (1994)
Partridge as chat show host comes to television and keeps the same format as the radio show but brings Coogan’s marvellous visual comedy gags into play. His squirming at the sight of Hot Pants, his uncomfortable interactions with Cirque des Clouns and his unfortunate handling of a firearm are all indicative of the high standards of humour on display here. Throw in lots and lots of classic Partridge lines (“Can someone clear that shit off the stage please?”) and you’re golden. This is Coogan’s finest hour.
Knowing Me, Knowing Yule…With Alan Partridge (1995)
While not quite as good as the main series, the Christmas special is still hilarious. The final nail in Partridge’s chat show coffin, his thumping of BBC’s Tony Hayers with a chicken is laugh-out loud stuff, as are the chats with the Herons (“I can still shag!”) and Mary.
Coogan’s Run (1995)
Six episodes featuring six different and completely new comic creations, Coogan’s Run was an interesting series and one that showcased Coogan’s ability to come up with some cracking characters. It’s a bit hit and miss though, with the Ernest Moss and Mike Crystal stories being the worst of the bunch. Still, Gareth Cheeseman remains very funny and Natural Born Quizzers, featuring Patrick Marber, is brilliant.
The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon (1997)
A strange sidestep here with Coogan trying to break away from his famous chat show host with a one-off show about a letchy singer. It doesn’t work, simply because of a distinct lack of gags.
I’m Alan Partridge (1997)
With failed radio and TV careers behind him, this was Partridge as we’d never seen him before, asking people to smell his cheese, living in a Travel Tavern, and singing the theme to Goldfinger while walking down a lay-by. Easily the best of the sitcom format shows, this also introduces many people to the highly talented Sally Phillips and Julia Deakin. Hard to pick a favourite show as all of them are fried gold, but Jill’s attempts to seduce Alan is surely a series highlight (“Jill, what do you think about the pedestrianisation of Norwich town centre?”)
Steve Coogan: The Man Who Thinks He’s It (1998)
Notable for featuring Simon Pegg and Julia Davis as bit-part characters, this stand-up performance comes nowhere close to Coogan’s earlier live release. The Partridge stuff doesn’t work, Paul Calf is just lewd and not funny and a reprisal of Tony Ferrino confirms the character is as pointless as the TV series suggested. Pretty poor stuff.
Dr. Terrible’s House of Horrible (2001)
Many people’s least favourite output of Coogan’s, this take on the horror genre once again showed that he wanted to push himself and create new characters. Unfortunately, this sits alongside Tony Ferrino as it has precious few laughs.
I’m Alan Partridge (2002)
Partridge returns for a last and ultimately underwhelming time. The characters are all there but the plots, and the gags, aren’t. Only episode one, in which Alan bumps into an old school friend, would nestle happily in the first series. That said, sub-par Partridge is still well worth watching.
Paul and Pauline Calf’s Cheese and Ham Sandwich (2003)
Another stand-up disappointment that originally aired for the launch of BBC Three. A short show with many recycled jokes, this is pretty poor stuff.
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005)
The one film included because it can broadly be termed a comedy (unlike Around The World In 80 Days and 24 Hour Party People) this interesting film also stars Rob Brydon. Great the first time round, the film doesn’t really stand up to repeat viewings. It’s still worth tracking down. (I didn’t include Hot Fuzz as his role is so slight it’s not worth including.)
This seems to have been almost forgotten about when people think of Steve Coogan, which is a shame as it’s actually pretty good. The problem, as is clear throughout this list, is that he’s never managed to come up with a character as successful or funny as Partridge or Calf. This is much better than people give it credit for, though.
Curb Your Enthusiasm (2007)
A below-par performance from Coogan as a therapist in one show from series six.
Not seen: I Am Not An Animal, Tropic Thunder, Around The World In 80 Days