Steve Coogan has always struck me as a complex character. Even in an innocuous crowdpleaser like Frank Coraci forgetful bomb Around the World in 80 Days, Coogan seems so damn eager to please that watching his usually buoyant wit sink fast is almost painful. That said, Steve Coogan Live is unlikely to turn around critics of the comedian, especially as it features his latest comedy special Alan Partridge And Other Less Successful Characters, Coogan's poorly received 2009 return to stand-up. The material here, coming in at a massive 239 minutes, including the three major stand-up specials the comedian performed in 1994, 1998, and 2009, respectively, as well as highlights from his Australian tour and a few inspired extras. Certainly not the monster offering that is The Steve Coogan Collection (reviewed in glorious detail by prolific colleague Paul Mavis), this is still an ample offering that illuminate Coogan's breakthrough and subsequent wrestling with the merciless muse of live comedy.
Disc one features the two specials Coogan taped in the 1990s, the 63-minute Live 'N' Lewd and the 86-minute The Man Who Thinks He's It, arguably the strongest effort across both DVDs. Watching these live shows, the opening sentence of this review is key to this writer's understanding of Coogan and the breadth of his comedy. An odd but perhaps most fitting comparison may be Kanye West, who despite his self-affirmed inability to sing well nevertheless built a record around his digitally transformed voice.
Coogan similarly goes all in, warts and all, putting his best foot forward almost all of the time, whether he's playing a volcanic drama teacher in Hamlet 2 or the sourpuss sex-obsessed egotist Steve Coogan in The Trip. Coogan has an old-fashioned tendency to relish making the public guess at his genuine personality. His stand-up act relies on observation as filtered through an array of characters that are so self-obsessed that they hardly notice how damaged they are. The humor here is largely drawn from watching outsized personalities make themselves known because they feel they deserve accolades simply for existing.
Live 'N' Lewd features some of Coogan's most famous creations - brother and sister disasters Paul and Pauline Calf. The Calfs are, well, British white trash at its worst, over-indulgent in drink and the occasional cigarette or six. Coogan's balancing act here is to shock without disgusting, which he pulls off capably, deeply in character and seemingly comfortable in heels and an over-stuffed bra. The humor takes shots at a couple of British targets, and it's interesting to see how Coogan varies his topics through the years. Still, what makes the set work are the characters and the bravery of one man taking on so many personalities and making them feel lived-in not only via their unique individual joke set but the mannerisms that we all use to recognize the particulars n people. Also present is Duncan Thickett, a comedian whose act works despite featuring no funny material and Ernest Moss, an overly serious safety inspector.
The Man Who Thinks He's It takes a slightly different approach to the show, offering us yet another shade of Coogan as an obsessive diva who lords his talents over supporting stars Simon Pegg and Julia Davis. Combined with a strong set that trots out the Calfs, Thickett, Portuguese womanizer/singer Tony Ferrino and finally Alan Partridge, this is Coogan's finest stand-up hour: a well-oiled, certainly much practiced special that allows for some audience participation and lets Coogan flex his responsive improvisation muscles. For this writer, only Ferrino failed to register as even barely humorous - the horny crooner was a tired concept before Coogan took it on and it'll be tired after he hangs up Ferrino's silly getup. Pegg and Davis appear only briefly but both nail their parts with aplomb.
Coogan's latest special,Alan Partridge And Other Less Successful Characters, is a rocky return to the stage for both creator and characters. The talent is still very much there, but the material feels, well, kind of boring. Coogan riffs on current British news and a bit of politics and offers up remarks that you expect his characters to make but nothing new - after more than ten years out of the literal spotlight, you would expect the comedian to come back strong, realizing the expectations associated with his show. Instead, we get a pleasing but easily forgettable performance with an overlong and infrequently funny Patridge bit. Coogan does keep you engaged but does so in the same way that you would turn in to the same sitcom every week, predicting the plot from minute one but wanting to take in your beloved characters and laugh at their slight and predictable antics.
BBC has really done a terrific job with this set, although given that it's a stand-up special, it's hard to imagine much touching up needing to be done. That said, whether it's his recent live forays or the two earlier shows, the transfer is pristine, with no major or minor issues to speak of. The earlier shows are presented in 4:3 fullscreen while the 2009 and the extras are 16:9 enchanced widescreen.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track is loud and clear and serves just to fine to highlight audience reactions and Coogan's various skits, including song and dance interludes.
The question of who the real Steve Coogan is pursues us into the extras, with Steve Coogan: The Inside Story, clocking in just under an hour. The 60 minutes play out as a tongue-in-cheek fawning look at Coogan's admittedly impressive career, spanning television specials, live comedy, parody talk shows, notable film acting asides and even an old-school horror spoof. This feels like a more suitable addition to the complete Coogan collection, but as it remains, it's a gentle ribbing with Coogan and co. donning make-up and prosthetics to play a variety of fictional character offering an opinion on the comedian's career.
Also included are highlights from a show on Coogan's Australian tour. Even at over 40 minutes, this is a largely extraneous extra since it recycles most of the material from Coogan's 2009 show. Understandably this was recorded as Coogan toured the world with his show, but what justifies its inclusion here, aside from a few Aussie jokes inserted in place of Brit ones? At best, it is an interesting look at how Coogan adapted his show for a non-native audience, but this bonus will serve longtime fans best. Rounding things out are a few 2-3 minute animated videos of Paul and Pauline expounding on a variety of subjects.
Steve Coogan Live offers a very extensive portrait of the comedian and a complete collection of his major stand-up work. It definitely comes Recommended for its breadth alone but keep in mind the material quality and amount of laughs will vary.
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