Aha! From his enduring on-screen partnership with Rob Brydon to his Oscar-nominated screenplay for ‘Philomena’, Steve Coogan is famous for a multitude of things. But in the UK he’ll always be associated foremost with his comic creation Alan Partridge, who began life as the hapless sports presenter of Chris Morris’s ‘On the Hour’ in 1991 and was last seen as a hapless current affairs show host in ‘This Time with Alan Partridge’. He’s back again with ‘Stratagem’, a theatrical touring spectacular that sees Partridge flogging dubious life-guru advice.
Most people would call you an actor rather than a comic now, and you’ve never really toured a lot – so why a massive undertaking like an Alan Partridge arena tour?
‘One, it’s about knowing I can still do it. And I haven’t seen an audience in ages. I don’t do social media, so doing something live is the only direct contact I have, all the middlemen are cut out. To see an audience and physically hear them in the same space is a) viscerally enjoyable and b) good for me creatively.’
What’s the idea behind the show? Alan’s a self-help guru now?
‘To be honest, what we first thought of was the title. One of the Gibbons brothers [who co-write with Coogan] just said: “…stratagem?” and we started laughing. It’s stupid corporate speak, so we decided to call it that and figure the rest out backwards. It’s dressed up as a lifestyle guru thing, but it quickly falls apart and you realise Alan has a personal agenda.’
How is playing arenas?
‘Well, we’ve written an arena show. It’s not intimate, but it’s Alan, you let him lead the way: what would he do? Put on a grand spectacle! It’s self-aggrandising, its hubris, it’s Icarus, it’s like giving candy to a child. There are dancers and three giant screens.’
Alan is essentially a failure – would he really be doing three nights at The O2?
‘Well, the answer is no, he wouldn’t. You’re always dancing around things like that. But we try to present some sort of consistency: he’s back on TV, he’s trying to present himself as some sort of self-help, lifestyle guru; there are lots of vulnerable people out there who will hand their money over to idiots with a platform.’
Do you look back on previous versions of Alan when making new stuff?
‘No, no! Although we do have to check the archive more and more to make sure we’re not contradicting ourselves. Often somebody will quote something to me and say “oh blah blah that thing you said” and I just don’t remember; it was 20 years ago. I can quote “Monty Python” stuff that’s 50 years old. But I can’t do that with my own stuff.’
Why stick with Alan when you’re so successful elsewhere?
‘Paradoxically, if I hadn’t made progress in other areas I’d have been less likely to come back to him, because however good it was, it would be like a one-trick pony. But because I can do other tricks I don’t mind doing my old trick. I do a lot of heavier stuff, so going back to writing jokes with Partridge is freeing yourself from anxiety. I come back to Alan to have a warm bath!’
‘Alan Partridge: Stratagem’ is at The O2, May 30-Jun 3.