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British actor, writer, and comedian Steve Coogan was first drawn to the magic and wonder of performing when he was a kid, sitting around the television with his family and watching comedies like Fawlty Towers and Monty Python. It was before the era of VCRs, so the only way to record something you loved was to memorize it in your head and talk about it afterwards. The whole experience left young Steve in awe: “Wow, how great would it be to do a comedy character who people had such affection for and made everyone laugh at the same time? That would be it for me—if I achieved that, I would be happy.”
After spending years doing standup and impressions, Steve got a chance to achieve his dream. He created the massively popular character Alan Partridge, a lovable broadcaster who says all the things that most people think but don’t dare say. Unfortunately, Steve’s anticipated happiness only lasted until he discovered the drawback to success—typecasting. Under the heavy scrutiny of the British media, Steve, who wanted to branch out and try different things, was constantly criticized in the press when he did so. “Alan Partridge became an albatross. I had to find a way to escape from it.”
Escape he did…to America. He took advantage of the fact that the Alan Partridge cult didn’t exist in the States, and he started working on different and interesting projects that spoke to him creatively like Happyish, 24 Hour Party People, and The Trip. But his ultimate escape came when he wrote the critically acclaimed drama Philomena—Oscar nominations have a tendency to shut up the critics.
These days, Steve is taking on a new challenge in the film Stan & Ollie as one-half of the legendary comic duo Laurel and Hardy. For Steve, the film is a real love letter to comedy: “The paradox of good comedy is the more effortless it looks, the harder the work that went into it. It’s like a curse, because people think it’s ephemeral or trivial, but in actual fact, good comedy sheds light on the human condition. That’s what this film is about.”
Steve joins Off Camera to explain why comedy is a universal language, discovering the similarities between writing comedy and drama, and why telling him he’s boring is the most insulting thing you can say to him.