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Steve Coogan: Live 'n' Lewd (1994)

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This Enjoyable Romp Still Holds Up
17 June 2011 | by (Seattle, Washington) – See all my reviews

In this 1994 live special, Coogan plays four of his characters (some less well-known than others): openly-polysexual townie Pauline Calf, nervous stand-up comedian Duncan Thickett, no-nonsense health and safety lecturer Ernest Moss, and the eternally-intoxicated wastrel Paul Calf.

A lot of the humour in these characters comes from knowing that in real life, Steve Coogan is a charming, handsome, funny man, yet he's dedicated himself to playing such unappealing roles. (Steve Coogan the Comedian is poked at with little "documentary" interstitials that bookend the show and fill the intermission.) Though all inherently depressing, there is a delicious variety to Coogan's comic creations, and whatever they lack in funny, they make up for in pure enthusiasm. With Pauline Calf, even if her slaggy "I've done him" mantra gets a bit trite, one cannot help but marvel at how convincing a woman Coogan makes — he's not pantomiming in drag; he's really transformed himself into a character who happens to be a lady. With awkward stand-up comedian Duncan Thickett, Coogan has perfected the "anti-performance": Thickett jumps about anxiously and constantly moves his hands, trying to compensate for his nervousness with an overzealous performance; he is a stage character totally not at ease with being on stage. Many of Thickett's laughs come from this Coogan / character juxtaposition: we know (even just from the Pauline Calf routine) that Coogan is a master of voices and jokes, yet Thickett is a terrible comedian, and a terrible impressionist. Occasionally Coogan allows Thickett an accurate impersonation, hilarious in that Duncan seems less realistic than his Neil Kinnock imitation. If ever a slow spot in these sketches, there's always comedy in trying to see Steve Coogan underneath his Ernest Moss glasses or Paul Calf haircut, yet the material itself is consistently hilarious.

The characters are each introduced by John Thomson as Bernard Righton, a surprisingly entertaining (yet staunchly politically correct) emcee. The video also contains the aforementioned "documentary" bits with Coogan as Coogan, as well as faux-interviews with audience and critics (Coogan and Thomson), and some pseudo-pedantic narration by Coogan as Terry Wogan. These interstitials make the video (which lacks but needs no narrative) feel interconnected and whole, like one linked comedy piece instead of the mishmash of disparate characters that it easily could have been.

For an early venture in Coogan's career, Live 'n' Lewd holds up very well, unlike Coogan's earliest, impression-based stand-up, which can now really only be viewed as the raw, cringe-worthy beginnings from which his later work ascended. Yes, his characters still invite comparison with Coogan the comic (then and now), but that was intentional at the time; someone with no external knowledge is provided a Coogan persona with which to juxtapose his roles. For an early piece with jokes that sometimes falter, that sort of self-awareness/-containment really gives a timeless quality to the video. Even if Steve Coogan had never gone on to do anything else, Live 'n' Lewd would still be a stand-up special worth watching.


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