Review 2008: Steve Coogan

Keris wanted me to write to this popular comedian.

Dear Mr Coogan,

I’ve never really been a fan of yours.

I know that's a blunt way to begin a letter to a total stranger, but I want you to know what you’re dealing with right at the top. I should qualify the statement by adding that I did in fact like Alan Partridge very much but that I think that you’ve done some of your best work in the more serious film acting you’ve tried out in recent years.

I enjoyed your turns in both 24 Party People and A Cock and Bull Story and was very impressed with Happy Endings, so much so, I wrote one twelfth of my post-graduate dissertation about it. In other words, when I say I’m not a fan, I mean that I don’t go out of my way to see everything you do and haven’t loved all of your ideas.

In that way, you should consider me a hostile witness, or more specifically you could quite rightly describe this as an anti-fan letter.

I’m actually writing to you on behalf of a friend who’s quote “bewildered by what direction he thinks his career's taking...” Since I’m not a fan, with the exception of your film roles, I haven’t actually been following your career though I notice, judging by your CV you’ve been very busy making films on both sides of the Atlantic, and starring in a sitcom called Saxondale for the BBC. The last thing I think I saw you do was the very funny cameo in Hot Fuzz and before that Marie Antoinette. I hear that Kirsten Dunst is a lovely actress to work with.

But I do know what my friend was referring to. Having found yourself in demand in cinema, you took the rather interesting decision of going back to stand-up and in particular a stadium tour during 2008. I imagine the idea was inspired by rock bands who tour even when they don’t need to and play their greatest hits so that they can reconnect with their fans.

This is an area worth exploring.

You probably thought that you could go out there, resurrect some of your old characters and remind the public why those who loved you, loved you in the first place. Partridge in particular should be interesting since at 43, you’ve reached the age that he would have been when you started playing him.

The reviews have been mixed to say the least, and seem to be based on expectation. Those turning up with less than high expectations were pleasantly surprised; those who saw your live shows ten years ago or earlier and are, well, fans, have been disappointed and it’s not uncommon to read comments online to the effect of “spent over a hundred pounds on this. It was a waste of money.”

Reading the official reviews there seems to be a general agreement that the first half is a bit patchy, but the second with Partridge is far funnier. I’ve also noticed a couple of patterns – the reviews are far better later in the tour and much frostier in stadiums than the smaller venues were you could presumably more closely interact with the audience.

As a Liverpudlian, I’m bound to focus particularly on the gig you gave at our new(ish) Echo Arena. Venue excitement has calmed down a bit now, so it’s not often that you get much of a public reaction to something which is stopped there. Your show was different. The following morning you could almost hear a collective sigh across the city and then the local media went into overdrive reporting the reaction.

The comments on this attached review at a local comedy blog (written by the person who saw it for the Daily Post) are a good survey: the prevailing view is that you were under rehearsed, the transitional sketches were awful and the ticket prices were far too high for what was on offer. As the thread continues, others who’ve seen the show elsewhere chime in with similar opinions. You do have a couple of people defending, but even they have criticisms and admit they didn’t laugh all of the way through.

Anyway, you disappeared into the night, the tour continued and we’ve already talked about that. Then I opened the Metro on December 8th and you’re the person being subjected to the 60 second interview. This is often quite entertaining, since because of the brevity of the chat, the interviewer usually goes for the jugular or else throws in a few offbeat questions to make things interesting.

After a couple of easy questions about largest show at the 0h-two arena and asking why you’re doing stand-up again (I was right) he hits you with a question about bad reviews. Given the circulation of the paper, which is read on buses and trains across the country and more influential these days than many paid for dailies, this is just the moment to be a bit contrite, laugh it off, or at the very least admit that you were under-prepared earlier in the tour. The Pete Postlethwaite in King Lear approach in other words.

Sadly, you do the version which makes you come across as a bit of an ass.

You suggest that the reviewer from The Telegraph Dominic Cavendish was desperate to give a bad review no matter the quality of the show and that he essentially sneaked in after you’d decided you didn’t want any press there. First of all, even if this was the first night and assuming that Cavendish isn’t lying, spending the evening checking over your notes is just unacceptable if people have paid good money to see the show. Secondly, it’s all a matter of taste but Cavendish offers a very balanced review in the circumstances. Thirdly, though the review in the local paper, The Sentinel, punches up the good bits, admits:

“there was something slightly lacklustre about last night's performance which, although hugely entertaining at times, appeared to be something of a rough gem compared with the polished diamond it could have been.”

Are you saying Tamzin Hindmarch is grinding her axe as well? Do the people from Stoke who echo the Liverpool comments (literally admittedly in once case)?

You then go on to mention this Liverpool Echo review by Jade Wright (note that both the Post and Echo sent someone). It gives you 5/10. You say that they gave you a bad review because the screens weren’t used in the show “a technical error”. Wright doesn’t even mention the screens. You go on to suggest that the poor reception was because “Scousers hate Mancunians and the feelings mutual”.

As Liverpool Confidential notes, Oasis played the venue a couple of nights later and ‘brought the house down’ and reading around online it seems that the audience wasn’t exclusively Liverpudlians and in any case, are we (the royal we) so nutty as to spend thirty pounds a ticket plus booking fee to see someone if we’ve already got preconceived ideas about hating all the same.

Um no. The people who paid to see your show were fans; the city they came from had nothing to do with it and assuming you’re actually right about this, you should be appreciating that the thousands people who crowded into the arena that night worked past their apparent prejudices to see if a Manc could make them laugh.

The very same people who were then insulted reading what you said about them on the bus or train into Liverpool city centre on the morning of the 8th of December, especially later when you single them (us) out in saying that “people in Britain – apart from Liverpudlians – can laugh at themselves”. You’re describing the city which produced Arthur Askey, Mitch Benn, Les Dennis, Ken Dodd, Tommy Handley, Tom O’Connor, Jimmy Tarbuck and Alexei Sayle, some of whom started out in working the pubs and clubs telling jokes at the expense of other Scousers.

Only you can really answer the question as to what’s going on with your career. You’ve plenty of films coming out and it is good that you’re willing to take risks with this live show and as I’ve said, there are reports that the show has improved and developed during its run. You’ve just got to be careful not to say nasty things about the very people who are buying tickets and keeping you in a wage. Otherwise, what’s the point?

On reflection, it doesn’t seem to be that we can’t laugh at ourselves. It’s just that on that night we didn’t laugh at you.

Take care,


[Why am I doing this?]

No comments: