Coogan’s Bluff

Sunday 12th October 2008. Echo Arena, Liverpool

Liverpool 12 10 2008

‘Is the scariest thing stand up? Yeah. Yes – it is. It’s the strangest thing. It’s both incredibly exciting and petrifying. You go on and you say the funny lines you’ve written and it goes from utter terror to utter ecstasy in a heartbeat.’ – Steve Coogan

Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge and other less successful characters. It’s been touted as: ‘The star of I’m Alan Partridge, Saxondale and creator of Paul and Pauline Calf will be touring the country in 2008. Steve Coogan is returning in a show featuring the characters that have made him a BAFTA and British Comedy Award winning Comedy Legend.’

So here I am. Mild October night. Over the cobbles to the Albert Dock. Sodium lights in the water and the Liver Building reflected.

Steve Coogan. From Middleton in Greater Manchester. He started off providing voices for Spitting Image, then a supporting part in Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci’s radio show On the hour where he introduced the world to Norfolk TV link man Alan Partridge. This spring-boarded to TV and from there on it was Ferraris and hot tub threesomes. 24 hour party people. The Parole Officer. A cock and bull story.

A fame less noisy than Ricky Gervais’, nevertheless he’s not gone unnoticed in America. In the past few years Coogan has had roles in several Hollywood films. Pretty appalling, to be fair. Round the world in 80 days. Fuck my boots, to paraphrase Mark Kermode. Most recently things have been better, with his brief and bloody appearance in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. He’s also gleaned tabloid notoriety for his enjoyment of Courtney Love’s hole. Though I’ve never been a fan of her music myself.

7:30PM. Coogan walks onto the stage cold as Pauline Calf, Mancunian slapper. Pauline recites her list of blowjobs, motel quick ones and back alley knee tremblers to booming laughter.

This with a Russian oligarch in a Travelodge. He gets up, kimono robe, a glass of champagne in his hand…

Pauline calls out: ‘Where are you going, you man of mystery?’

‘I’m just going into the bathroom to wash my cock and balls.’

‘Who said romance was dead?’ Council estate giggle and we’re into the song ‘The Marriott Hotel’. Each character has a musical piece. Apart from the night’s closing song, this was perhaps the most successful of the cod Chicago big numbers.

But it’s a fine line between professional performer and the people they were when they appeared in sixth form revue and infant school nativity. And there was a sense that Coogan was already wobbling.

A feeling that grew on me as I watched.

For a start, I was disappointed by Tommy Saxondale. Largely because I prefer Saxondale to Alan Partridge. The character is more sympathetic, better ‘rounded and, perhaps as a consequence, has more potential. I’ve got the DVDs, watched and re-watched. A world and imagination to escape into. But Coogan failed to adapt Tommy Saxondale for the stage. There was none of Saxondale’s anachronistic grumbling, no long moans about dance music, meandering stories about rigging up the monitor amps for Deep Purple in ’75. No descrying politicians (‘the man’), no kaleidoscopic philosophy. Instead Coogan relied on the huge screen projector that backed the stage and Saxondale – like the bloke at work who’s just cottoned onto the internet ten years after everyone else – and who insists on showing you the image of ‘Hitler’s missing moustache finally found’ and the woman who’s fallen asleep in a car with her tits out – clicked through a series of stock jpegs… Look at this, it’ll make you piss yourself… as he clicks on the picture of some fat woman in a bath. Fucking hilarious.

Tommy looked uncomfortable. Out of his depth. Unprepared. He’ll have needed some Viagra and a bit of attention from Magz when he got back to Stevenage in the ‘Stang.

Gordon Thickett – mock stand-up comedian – worked well. Playing up the expectations of stand-up and appalling open mic nights. One of Coogan’s lesser creations, he trounced Paul and Pauline.

Coogan’s run through of his characters necessitated costume changes. These gaps were filled by a cast of supporting players in short sketches. One featuring Steve Oram in a painfully unfunny piece with a stuttering man attempting to address the audience. Any humour the sketch ever contained – and it wasn’t much to start with – was dragged and pulled beyond endurance. It was a relief when Oran finally vacated the stage. The chief response was booing.

Most people ended up using these absences of Coogan from the stage as an opportunity to go for a comfort break and return with some Minstrels and a couple of plastic bottles of Corona (minus the tops).

Paul Calf appeared on stage in a motorized wheelchair, giving brief a impression of Stephen Hawkins. Longsight accent filtered through an imitation computerized voice box: ‘The universe is fucking massive…’

Bag of shite.

The interval. Some Maltesers, another tub of Minstrels. Pepsi Max and a quick wazz. House lights down and Alan Partridge bigged up.

Partridge started off well, the audience were on his side. But things drifted. The motivational speaking premise retreated back to stock sketch work and the inevitable use of the projector and yet more internet images. This was followed by Coogan as Partridge as Sir Thomas More in a play Partridge had put together to resurrect his career. I am More. An idea that comes across as some kind of warmed up hash of Ernie Wise’s ‘plays what I wrote’.

A number of people began walking out early doors, even before the first interval. Groups filing out en masse. By the time Alan Partridge had pulled on the Tudor doublet and cod piece in the guise of Sir Thomas More large numbers were leaving. One persistent heckler shouting: ‘Fucking shite, Steve! You’re a shadow of yourself!’

Coogan, characteristically for the night, kept his head down and ploughed on with the script.

It’s a curious decision to tour now, given that much of the material is re-cycled from an act he was doing 10 years ago. There is little that could not have been (and some that was) in his last stand-up tour at the height of Britpop.

The top and bottom is that this isn’t stand-up. It’s a stage show. TV characters going through rigid sketches to what is envisaged as a passive, receptive audience. Coogan isn’t bringing anything alive to the venue and throughout the evening he mostly failed to engage with the crowd. One of the few highlights of the night was when Coogan managed to reach out beyond the stage lights in his persecution of TV hard man Ross Kemp. Each of the characters having a shot [sic] at the former Eastender. Such is the shared cruelty of live comedy, we all enjoyed this. It wasn’t that there weren’t laughs – there were – but they were too few and too far between. Coogan never generated the mass hystera that good stand up will provoke. Moments when you end up laughing at anything.

The show closed with Coogan in character as his stage interpretation of Steve Coogan. Pitching the action in some 50s musical comedy. Straw boater, striped blazer and flannels. He meets a stage policeman. ‘Good show, Mr Coogan?’ ‘Yes, apart from that cunt over there!’ Coogan points to the part of the auditorium he was heckled from earlier, prompting huge applause. He then launched into the closing song ‘Everyone’s a bit of a cunt sometimes’. Reflecting on his own tabloid persona – snorting coke off some bird’s back while driving a Lambourghini down the M1 etc – the song had some good turns of phrase.

Unfortunately much of the audience had already left by this point.

The last word was an uncomfortable ‘goodnight’ when all the characters slipped away and the real Steve Coogan left the stage. Awkward and vaguely resentful.

I can’t help but think that Coogan made his way back to the Ibis, shaking the bath crystals into the Jacuzzi, warning Janice and Sharon not to get any of the Cava onto the carpet, he must have felt his evening had (so far) past without ecstasy.

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7 comments

  1. deleted user · October 23, 2008

    Having read my programme from cover to cover, I can find no reference whatsoever to Gordon Thickett, Duncan (presumably a relative) gets a couple of pages however.

    I actually left the Liverpool Arena feeling I’d enjoyed the show, but the more I’ve reflected on it since, the more I agree with your critique.

    Ten years ago, when I watched “The man who thinks he’s it” at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, Coogan was on fire. Sadly, the bits I liked most, in the more recent show, only appealed because they reminded me of that night in 1998.

    Having watched and enjoyed Craig Cash’s “Sunshine”, which was panned by the critics, I’d now like to see Coogan branch out and try his hand at some straight acting.

    Also I have to say my enjoyment of the Liverpool show was somewhat muted by being surrounded by a group of young scousers, all of whom were clearly trying to be the next Jimmy Tarbuck, their heckling about as funny as a dose of piles. Ho ho….

    Like

    • guinnessorig · October 23, 2008

      Revisionist history, flaminglips. Ten years ago you were probably an easier audience to please. Dancing in the aisle to Hurricane #1 playing in your head, a chunk of Morrocan Dark down your neck, Coogan punctuating the 90s with laughs. Live forever!

      And Duncan Thickett is the doll.

      Like

  2. deleted user · October 24, 2008

    Once again you make me pause for thought guinness.

    Maybe it’s just an age thing. Everything looks better when viewed through the rose tinted lense of nostalgia, as opposed to staring down the barrel of middle age. Like a drowning man, clinging to a piece of driftwood, I’m desparately trying to recapture that feeling of optimism..Coogan “Live and lewd” at the Liverpool Empire, fresh new characters, bursting onto the comedy scene, Travolta back on form in Pulp Fiction, Sorted for E’s and Whizz, Oasis and The Verve, Glastonbury ’94, vomiting copiously out of a taxi window, on Bawtry Road, Doncaster. Rock and roll, you and I are going live forever.

    Coogan at the Liverpool Arena was the comedy equivalent of seeing The Inspiral Carpets at Manchester versus Cancer earlier this year. My memories of the group locked into that gig in ’92 when I managed to get front row, Clint Boon’s swirling keyboard riffs picking us up and taking us higher, higher, higher. Fast track to the MEN 2008, frankly the sight of Tom Hingley, at least three stone heavier, throwing himself around the stage was like seeing your pissed up uncle dancing at a wedding.

    So this is how it feels…

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