Coogan as Tommy Saxondale
Steve Coogan returns to the city next week with his stand-up tour Alan Partridge And Other Less Successful Characters. He spoke to SIMON WILSON about being back on stage after ten years, poor reviews, the Eddie The Eagle movie and doing a Nottingham accent
You sound a little hoarse; are you suffering with a cold?
I sound hoarse because I spend two hours every night singing and talking non-stop. I take lots of cough syrups but sometimes it catches up with you.
It's been ten years since your last tour. How is it going?
It's very enjoyable. It kind of freaks me out that it was ten years ago because it feels like it was only yesterday. Before I go on stage I get really nervous then as soon as I'm on there I'm in the groove.
Many have wondered why you're doing the tour considering your workload in Hollywood?
Because I want to. Because it's a laugh. As simple as that. Obviously I'll make a few bob. I won't make that much. It's not like Peter Kay or Frank Skinner going on tour when they clean up. I have a live band, dancers, supporting artists, a big crew; my overheads are huge. I have a proper show going on. I do make money but I don't make the retirement money those guys make. And when you spend ten years doing TV and movies you're kind of removed from the audience. So it's nice to see them.
How do you feel about some of the negative early reviews?
The very first night was a bit of a shambles. We didn't want the press to come and review that but someone from the Telegraph was up there to get the first review and of course it was very rocky. And he also left before the end. Then we had one bad night in Liverpool and like hounds they all go 'oh no he had a bad show!' But that was down to a lot of bad luck. Two microphones went down twice in the show, which left us wide open and very vulnerable. And there's a certain kind of Scouse/Mancunian mutual antagonism. Some Scousers would pay £30 to heckle a very successful person from Manchester. So I think there was a lot of that going on. And they didn't appreciate the subtleties. If I said 't*ts' and '*rse' and bum and 'sh*t' a lot the Liverpool audience loved it. But the moment I started getting in to subtle observations the brains would freeze over.
Has the show changed much over the past month?
The show is evolving. It's funny, you can write something that you think is a surefire gag and it'll die like a stone. Then there'll be something you thought was a mildly amusing thing and it'll bring the house down.
With this tour being like a greatest hits of characters, are you putting a lid on doing character comedy?
After I've done this I won't do it for a while; I'll do something else. I just had to get it out of my system. I needed to prove to myself that I could go out there and do it. Am I putting a lid on it? I wouldn't like to never perform in front of a live audience again because it's too much fun.
Congratulations on the BBC series Sunshine but wasn't it difficult being more dramatic and having to cry?
It is hard to do. They are very different skills you employ than when you're doing comedy. Comedy is about being totally in control. Doing stuff where you're emotional and vulnerable is about surrendering and trying not to be in control. But I trained as an actor so it's something I knew I could do; it's just I didn't really have the opportunity. People don't give you the opportunity because they see you as someone who just does comedy. Fortunately I have a good relationship with Craig Cash who I've known for years. The only reason the BBC let me do it is because they thought people might watch it if Steve Coogan's in it. I don't they thought 'Steve Coogan is going to nail this part'.
Many were expecting it to be a comedy but it wasn't really was it?
I knew it wasn't going to be hilarious. I knew it was going to moving and engaging. I loved the fact that it wasn't edgy or twisted or dark – which is all very fashionable these days – or cynical. No one was stabbed, no one was murdered. It was a simple ordinary story. There were a couple of sniffy comments after the first episode but that was from those kind of Dorothy Parker-type journalists who think everything should be arch and cynical... they just get on my t*ts. The response from the public has been overwhelming, more than anything I've ever done.
Why did you adopt the Nottingham accent for Saxondale and why use that place name for the series?
Well, my business partner Henry (Normal) is from Nottingham and I like his accent. It's unusual. There are soft southern vowels occasionally and hard northern vowels. It's a strange mixture that I find very interesting. We looked at a map of Nottingham and thought 'that's a really interesting name'. It's old-fashioned English and he looks a bit like a Saxon king. I just liked all the connotations of it. We looked on the internet and found out about it; similar to what we did with Partridge really.
Have you ever been to Saxondale?
I haven't been to Saxondale, no.
There's not a lot there.
(Laughs) There must have been something there once a long time ago if it's called Saxondale.
You and Henry Normal run the TV production company Baby Cow together (responsible for The Mighty Boosh , Nighty Night , Gavin & Stacey ). How involved are you in the day to day?
We OK everything together. The Mighty Boosh for example. I went to BBC Three and really gave that a hard sell. They were initially very resistant to it. They thought it might be far too esoteric and self-indulgent. I said it's got the potential to be cool and funky. I liked it; I believed in it. I can't claim to be hands-on. I disappear to America a lot. I turn up at the office a couple of times a month, if that, because I'm doing what I really enjoy doing which is acting. Henry used to work for a big insurance company in Nottingham so he's creative but also has a disciplined, organised mind. Most creative people, myself included, spend most of the day looking for our car keys.
Has he shown you around Nottingham at all?
He was with me on the tour when were there a few weeks ago (at the Royal Concert Hall). He showed me the office in the main square in Nottingham where he used to work. I dragged him in to help write the show and to come on tour to help me get it right. We've had a good time on the bus and writing together. I'm sort of dragging him away from his main job which is running the company.
What's next for you in terms of TV or movies? Night At The Museum 2, of course.
Well I've just finished that with Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller. That comes out next year. Hamlet 2 will be released in Britain next year. I'm doing something for HBO next January, a TV thing with Justin Theroux, the writer of Tropic Thunder. I'll be doing films next year in America.
According to the movie website imdb you're planning a biopic about Eddie The Eagle.
All I know is what you probably Googled about it. I have been approached about it but whether it's going to happen for certain I've no idea. If it does I'll be very interested in it. I've even seen that Alan Partridge is in pre-production. All I've done is have a conversation with someone about it in a restaurant and suddenly it's on imdb.
Would you like to do it?
I don't know. I enjoy doing Alan on stage but it's nice to do other things. I know that the more I do it the less likely people are to let me break out of that. It's very odd when people say 'you speak just like Alan Partridge'. No I don't, he speaks like me. Because I came first. I won't rule it out because it could be incredible fun.
I live in Brighton. I have a daughter there so I like to be near her. Henry lives in Brighton as well though we don't socialise. We're quite different animals. Because he's happy behind the scenes he has no ego. He doesn't need that public recognition which I obviously quite like to have from time to time. So our relationship works well in that respect.
Does he stopped you becoming an ego maniac?
We started out on the circuit in Manchester 20 something years ago so he's like an older brother in a professional sense. He'll tell me what does and doesn't work.
Have you ever really clashed?
Never. We might get slightly grouchy but we've never had a row.
What do people shout at you in the street these days: is it still "a-ha".
It's still "a-ha". Sometimes there are, unfortunately, a few meat heads who go 'I saw you on Top Gear.' The kind of people who I can frankly do without. Because I've done Top Gear about three times some people think that's what I do. I don't think cars are great. It's just a distraction for me. I do think the presenters on Top Gear are faintly embarrassing. I went on there one time and took the p*ss out of Jeremy Clarkson's clothes and none of the audience thought it was remotely funny. The audience were like 'what's wrong with the way he dresses; he's really cool.' So you're dealing with a different breed of people.
One website says you're one of nine children.
I'm one of six children. We fostered people as well. There was always a couple of extra kids in the house growing up. So yeah, a big family. I've got 19 nieces and nephews.
Christmas must be mental.
We have a lucky dip. You put your hand in and you have to get one person a present. Otherwise we'd all be broke.
Or they'd be relying on uncle Steve for presents?
Yeah exactly, so I like the lucky dip idea.
Steve Coogan is Alan Partridge And Other Less Successful Characters, Trent FM Arena, Monday, November 24, 7.30pm.