The Return of the Big Laugh-In: Labatts Apollo, Manchester, 1991
Steve Coogan: The Man Who Thinks He’s It: Lyceum Theatre, London, 1998
Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters: Hammersmith Apollo, London, 2009
A Night Out with Sir Michael Caine: Royal Albert Hall, London, 2014
The Return of The Big Laugh-In was a charity comedy night held at the Labatts Apollo in Manchester in 1991. As I sat in the audience, I was unaware that I was about to witness some of the biggest future comedy stars in the line-up: Alan Davies, Steve Punt, Hugh Dennis, Dave Gorman and one Steve Coogan who at that time was performing brilliant impressions of celebrities.
During the next seven years and beyond Coogan was to have major success on television and film creating some brilliant characters including Paul Calf, an unemployed Mancunian wastrel with a particular hatred for students and in particular Alan Partridge, a socially awkward and politically incorrect regional media personality.
In 1998, I went with my brother to see Coogan’s stage show: The Man Who Thinks He’s It at the Lyceum Theatre in London. On the way we started talking about the latest and most original comedy series The Royle Family created by Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash. The series portrayed a working class family (who happened to be Northern) just like any other sitting at home watching television and mostly complaining about life. The comedy was all in the writing and was to become a major hit. When we got to the theatre we hadn’t realised that it was press night for Coogan’s show and as we walked into the bar there was Ricky Tomlinson who played Jim the father of the Royle family. We went up to him and I said that we thought he was the funniest thing on television. He laughed with thanks and said Caroline’s over there. Sitting in the corner very shy was Aherne, who like Coogan was a great character comedian. In 2017, Aherne died too early at 52 years of age but it was a pleasure to have seen Aherne, Coogan’s long-time friend and fellow performer in the theatre bar that night.
The Man Who Thinks He’s It featured Coogan’s creations in the first half Paul Calf, his sister and Council Estate floozy Pauline Calf, Duncan Thickett, the unnerving comedian and world’s worst joke teller and libidinous Latin crooner Tony Ferrino. All funny characters with well devised routines but the entire second half was given over to Alan Partridge who as a character is so full of his own life and is here to deliver a side-splittingly hilarious business presentation and then a section of his chat show Knowing Me Knowing You and finishing off with a raucous rendition of Wow by Kate Bush. Whilst Coogan was off stage changing into character, Simon Pegg and Julia Davis appeared on stage as two bumbling directors of the show. Coogan proved he was a supreme character comedy actor to his celebrity audience that night and had a very successful run of the show.
After more success on TV, Coogan returned to the stage in 2009 with Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters which was indeed not as successful but did feature a funny new character Tommy Saxondale the world travelled ex-roadie with anger management issues.
Coogan had yet more success on TV with the sitcom series The Trip in 2010 also starring Rob Brydon and directed by film maker Michael Winterbottom. The comedians play fictional versions of themselves on a restaurant tour featuring beautiful food and scenery as well as impersonations and comedy. The series was set in Britain’s Lake District and subsequent series followed The Trip To Italy in 2014 and the trip to Spain in 2017. When I went to see A Night Out with Sir Michael Caine – an evening dedicated to the actor’s life and career interviewed by Jonathan Ross with special guests – at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2014, Coogan and Brydon make a guest appearance at the very start of the evening. They were seen in a Royal Albert Hall seating box debating who had the best Michael Caine impersonation to the delight of the audience. To settle the argument, the light then shone from the box to the stage where the real Michael Caine said ‘I think I am!’ to the cheers of the crowd and the show began.
Now a film star himself, Coogan is one of Britain’s most versatile comedy actors creating some of the most memorable characters of the last thirty years.