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Easily Distracted - Steve Coogan

posted Jun 5, 2016, 5:24 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Jan 10, 2019, 6:53 AM ]
Everybody has a comedic touchstone - a stand-up or a sitcom they can go back to time and again and know just how easily it will tickle them and engage fond memories. Steve Coogan and his comic creations have seen me through my adolescence, my uni days, and my working life so far. Alan Partridge is - as for many Coogan fans - my ultimate comfort comedy; the one I can recite backwards. I can still laugh at his frantic and futile attempts to placate enraged farmers despite a thousand previous viewings.

Perhaps part of the challenge in appreciating Easily Distracted is in remembering that this is the autobiography of Steve Coogan and not one of his creations. Indeed, after I read it and put it on my bookshelf, my wife asked me to fetch it so she could have a read and - unconsciously - I picked up I, Partridge, instead. I could imagine Steve shaking a mock-angry fist at me for doing so, and at those who claim there is too much similarity between him and his comic characters (and between some of those creations). But this only strengthens a point Coogan tries to get across in telling his story - that there is a bit of Alan Partridge, Paul Calf, Gareth Cheeseman, Duncan Thickett and co in Steven Coogan and vice versa. It's not a secret, it's a fact - one he is happy to acknowledge and embrace. In Easily Distracted, Coogan does not try to paint a whiter-than-white image of himself; rather, he accepts himself for what he is, vices and virtues. He talks of his youthful, idealistic visions of his future self - unflappable, engaging and witty - but acknowledges the man he has become: a man who at times can exhibit all of these qualities and at other times none of them. It's quite a rational and balanced stance and one that is not hard to empathise with; it certainly helped me as a reader to understand a little bit more about the man behind the comic mask.

The book - slightly unconventionally for an autobiography - starts with the here and now, the recent times of the Coogan we think we know: the darkness of the Leveson inquiry, the exhausting realities behind the Partridge movie and his pride at the BAFTA-winning Philomena (an excellent demonstration of his abilities as a straight actor). It then settles into a more typical chronological account of his life, delivered in an enjoyably raconteurial rhetoric: from his sepia-tinted memories of boyhood holidays in Ireland (I challenge any child of the 50s, 60s or 70s to read this without drifting off to memories of their own holidays of this ilk) and life in his somewhat eccentric family home, to his struggles to break into comedy and acting, then on to the stellar rise that followed... and the well-documented baggage that came with it. It's an engaging and fulfilling journey, though I suspect - and respect - that Steve hasn't given us absolutely everything (who would?)

Being such a fan of his comedy, there was a big part of me looking for in-gags in each paragraph, but that's not what this book is about. It does have gags and it did have me chuckling away, But he makes it clear that straight comedy doesn't quite cut it for him any more. That said, there are a few Easter eggs in there, such as page 201 when he refers to that excellent James Bond movie 'To Russia With Love' (To Russia? Stop getting Bond wrong!).

Easily Distracted works well in doing what I think it set out to achieve: presenting Steve Coogan, as he is, without apology. An entertaining, at times gritty and at times warm, and consistently thought-provoking read.

Two rather amusing Coogan pics. Left: 'Stop getting Bond wrong!' Right: Steve trying out a new, presumably female character, back in the early days of his career.