Equally adept at playing furry-lipped yobbos with offensive catchphrases or bland, Crimplened TV presenters, Steve Coogan has character comedy sewn up. Ann Donald spoke to him as the ‘Bag 0’

eet Paul he drives a souped-up Ford Cortina Mark 4 with fog lamps, furry car seat covers and anti-static strips on the rear window. In his esteemed, lager-laced wisdom, .— students, among other ills of society, are 1 ‘a bag 0’ shite’. This coarse clarion cry will doubtless be echoing through the country’s civic halls as comedian Steve Coogan dons the pastel-suited robes and downy moustache of the drunken, bigoted philosopher Paul Calf, and together with three other monster creations, embarks on his first major tour.

For 27-year-old Coogan this is the next _ logical step in his meteoric rise from stand-up in seedy Mancunian venues to " lucrative TV voice-overs and Spitting Image and Edinburgh Perrier triumph in 1992. This went hand-in-hand with a radio career that began with Radio 4’s surreal and hyperactive On The Hour news satire and climaxed in the nomination of his clod-hopping parody of sports reporters and chat-show hosts Alan Partridge, being nominated for a National Broadcaster of the Year Award.

The unwritten comedy rulebook dictates that the next step be TV, which is where Paul Calf, ‘the wanker who occasionally speaks the truth where others fear to tread,’ as Coogan affectionately refers to him, came to public attention on the otherwise undistinguished Saturday Zoo, along with the equally cultivated Pauline, Paul’s sister (‘I met that Oliver Reed and he stuck his hand straight up my skirt. 1 said, “Oi, I’m a lady . . . tits first.” ’)

The other two worthies are, explains Coogan, ‘Ernest Moss, 3 pedantic safety officer who gives a slide show. A bit of a patronising old duffer. Then there’s Duncan Thickett, the amateur comedian who is an amalgamation of all the worst open mike spots I’ve ever seen. A guy who is crap but insists that he’s nearly there.’

In conversation, Coogan’s placid voice belies an underlying and very serious career-minded attitude that becomes even more pronounced when he voices his frustration in being pigeon- holed as merely a mimic in the pre-Perrier days. ‘I was never really happy doing impressions,’ he says, ‘because they’re very limiting. Writing for characters is a joy. I’m a bit of a frustrated thesp, and comedy writing satisfies both sides.’

This attitude is obviously what led to the intricate construction of his comic love-child and sports casual, Partridge. Regular devotees of the inept and superny uninformed egomaniac will already have built up a detailed biography gleaned from the six, half hour

Shite’ tour arrives in Glasgow.

COOGAN: ‘I can hide bah

Knowing Me, Knowing You radio chat shows. Partridge is 37 years old, lives in Norwich with his wife Carol and teenage children, Denise and Fernando, the latter a lasting testimony to Alan’s love of Abba. He drives a maroon Ford Granada, has a World of Leather settee, favours Pringle slacks and sweaters and was unfortunately refused planning permission for his Tudor garage.

Notable by his absence from the tour Coogan believes his inclusion would have attracted too strange a cocktail of students and Radio 4 listeners Partridge will be appearing as a bit part player in Coogan’s BBC2 Day To Day show in January and with his own show scheduled for Autumn 1994. Both of these will be written and produced by the winning triumvirate of Armando lannucci, Patrick Marber, Coogan’s regular writing partner, and of course the man himself.

In many ways the chasm between the more subtle Partridge humour and Paul Calf ’s cruder version epitomises his own eclectic taste. ‘I like

Paul Calf is ‘the wanker who occasionally speaks the truth

where others tear to tread.’

In my characters I suppose, because I'm

not very keen on Steve Coogan becomlng a personality!

cerebral [a word he sprinkles liberally into conversation] stuff, and plain, stupid clownish comedy. I love all the great 70$ sitcoms: Rising Damp, Fawlty Towers, plus stuff like The Young Ones and Ben Elton.’ As well as citing that other King of Northern Comedy, Les Dawson, the names of Tony Hancock and Peter Sellers also

' come up. Comparisons with the latter are not misplaced, given their similar insistence on the purity of characters. As Henry Normal, poet and Coogan’s compere and co-writer for the tour wrily observed, ‘Steve, like Sellers, has this tendency to become his work. He is extraordinarily driven.’

Driven to such an extent that even when recording the Knowing Me Knowing You radio series Coogan wore typical Partridge attire and for

two hours never once addressed the / /' audience out of character. So are we in deep alter ego country here? Coogan guffaws. ‘Actually it’s funny you mention that. I suppose all the characters I do have got a little bit of me in them. I express myself through them.’ In a flash of self-revelation he adds, ‘I can hide behind my characters I suppose, because I’m not very keen on Steve Coogan becoming a personality.’ Slipping into a Partridge voice he says, ‘It’s not my bag being a personality.’

Despite the self-deprecation, he admits that via Alan he relishes being able to voice very un-PC views. ‘Everyone has a self-editing process, but with Alan I speak before I think.’ In fact Partridge was so outspoken that several hundred incensed Radio 4 listeners wrote to complain about the fictitious character. They mistakenly took his portentous interviewing techniques and inanities for the real thing. For Coogan who has the letters framed on his wall at home this was the ultimate accolade. ‘l was delighted with the reaction,’ he says with pride. ‘lt’s good if comedy niggles a few people, although it shouldn’t annoy thousands of folk. That’s just being deconstructive and frankly boring.’

Where his interest lies then is not in the outrageous or the agit-prop political humour he used to work into his routine in the past - but in human beings. Time to get serious for a moment. ‘I love making comedy and illuminating something about the way people really are. I’m interested in people’s hidden agendas, how they say one thing and mean another.’ For the straight-talking Paul Calf there are no such deep psychological quandaries. On his agenda are his glam mum, ale and Bernard Manning. Everything else is (altogether now) ‘a bag 0’ shite’. C]

Steve Coogan’s Bag 0’ Shite tour reaches Glasgow Pavilion on November 16.

14 The List 5-18 November 1993