Almanac Comedy: Favourite Comedies #14-#12

 

#14 – Alan Partridge (1991-present)

 

I was first introduced to Alan Partridge via a box set given to me by a friend about fifteen years ago and instantly had one of those, “where the hell has this been all my life?!” moments. I had seen the actor Steve Coogan in the movie 24 Hour Party People but was unaware of this BBC gem which had never been released by our ABC. Fortunately that has changed these days, but even so, you still need to keep an eye on late night ABC2 and record it.

 

The Partridge character is incompetent, narcissistic, vengeful, socially inept and has an inflated view of himself. All the hallmarks of great comedy! He had his own light entertainment show called Knowing Me, Knowing You on the BBC and did everything possible to stuff it up. After six episodes the show got axed after Alan accidentally shot a guest.

 

 

 

 

For the next phase of his career, it’s I’m Alan Partridge. He lives in a roadside motel in Norwich and becomes a broadcaster presenting a graveyard shift on local radio. It’s as cringe-worthy as it gets and won Coogan a BAFTA for best comedy with the help of a sensational support cast including Felicity Montagu as his long suffering PA Lyn, and Michael Greenhall as the PTSD suffering  Geordie, Michael.

 

 

 

 

The final series of I’m Alan Partridge is set a few years later after he apparently has a nervous breakdown and shacks up with his Ukranian girlfriend Sonja (Amelia Bulmore) in a caravan whilst building a house next door and still doing the nightshift at Radio Norwich. Here he tries to impress Sonja by taking her to Bono’s house, which is just a local guesthouse and tea rooms open to the public. He even ropes Lyn into finding Bono to introduce to Sonja!

 

 

 

 

There are lots of little Alan Partridge vignettes that pop up occasionally like the brilliant shorts, Mid- Morning Matters and recently we found another appalling act of shameless self- promotion,  Alan Partridge, Welcome to the Places of My Life which won another BAFTA.

 

In 2013 Alan appeared in his own film,  Alpha Papa as a hostage negotiator which was pretty good but not a scratch on his TV performances. Steve Coogan has gone on to make four Trip films/TV series with Rob Brydon all directed by Michael Winterbottom who made  24 Hour Party People.

 

Aside from the beautiful scenery and the expensive cuisine, the film’s focus is on the verbal jousting of the two protagonists as they try and outdo each other’s celebrity impersonations. The first one set in England is a classic and the third one in Spain has some cracking Mick Jagger and Roger Moore impressions that left me doubled over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steve Coogan deserves his place at the top of the comedy tree because of how much work he put in to create a diabolical individual such as Alan Partridge. Who knows where Alan will pop up next, but keep an eye on ABC2 and your finger on the record button. Ah Haaaa

 

 

#13 – Curb Your Enthusiasm (1999-present)

 

Having finished its 11th season, Larry David’s fictional character based on himself and his obscenely rich life in Hollywood remains as funny as the first series.

 

This is Jewish humour at it’s most scathing and the most cutting of all is Larry’s manager Jeff’s wife Susie, played shamelessly by Susie Essman, who as Sir Les Patterson would say, “she can take the scab off a cold sore from ten paces with one flick of her tongue!” It’s a fantastic character and the argy-bargy between Larry and Susie is brutal, with only ever one outcome…Susie winning! (language warning on the following)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Larry’s character is insensitive, lacks social awareness and is quite anal in the sense that he just can’t let something go. It’s a common theme when he wrote Seinfeld with Jerry Seinfeld but this show is like Seinfeld on steroids in terms of its callousness at times.

 

Never fear though, because just when you think Larry has gotten away with something, inevitably it comes back to bite him. The supporting cast and cameos are just friends of Larry in real life and are encouraged to improvise. You can see occasionally where the edit hasn’t quite removed the actor’s intractable laughter including Larry who apparently was the worst at trying to control and sticking to the script.

 

The plots are brilliantly concocted and the show was nominated for thirty Emmy Awards winning only one! I’m tipping the judges saw too much of their own inappropriate behaviour in the show! It also won a Golden Globe but at the end of the day I doubt whether Larry David the billionaire really gives a rat’s clacker what academies think of his show.

 

Curb Your Enthusiasm provides a glimpse into the pretentious, entitled world of Hollywood and leaves you feeling no empathy whatsoever for the characters, just a sore stomach from the laughs. It’s a ripper and will no doubt stand the test of time

 

 

#12 – Waiting for Guffman (1996)  Best in Show (2000)

 

I’m going to pre-empt something here by saying that the film This is Spinal Tap is likely to be in the Top 5 of this list, but the reason I mentioned it, is because both these “mockumentaries” were written by an original Spinal Tap member and writer, Christopher Guest.

 

For these two films, and a few post these, he wrote and starred with Eugene Levy. These films introduced some amazing comic actors such as Parker Posie, Catherine O’Hara and the late Fred Willard who’s two minute cameo as an air force officer in This is Spinal Tap is one of my all- time favourites. In Best in Show,  Willard plays a commentator at the dog show who has no detectable knowledge of dog breeding whatsoever, his background being in sports broadcasting. It’s a masterclass of deadpan that has you crying with joy.

 

 

 

 

Best in Show is simply a mockumentary of five contestants and their dogs from all over the USA who are preparing for the national titles. The characters are suitably colourful and the humour black, especially the little cameo from Larry Miller who played a similar role as ‘the doorman’ in a Seinfeld episode.

 

 

 

 

Waiting for Guffman tells the story of a small town theatre group who are putting together a cheesy 150th anniversary play of their town of Blaine, Missouri. The eccentric director, Corky, played by Christopher Guest believes he has a friend in Broadway Producer Mort Guffman, who has accepted an invitation to the show.

 

The laughs come mostly from the itinerate cast who are all locals of Blaine and take the show very seriously, thinking Guffman may arrive and take the show to Broadway. Pretty much the same cast as Best in Show appear in this mockumentary with the two other Spinal Tap members Michael McKean and Harry Shearer writing the music.

 

 

 

McKean is also in the cast of Best in Show with another terrific performance as a gay companion of John Michael Higgins and their Shih Tzu, Miss Agnes. Both films are fantastic examples of the mockumentary genre which was started in 1982 by This is Spinal Tap and in both of these, director Christopher Guest insisted on the actors improvising. The result is two cult classics that never achieved the recognition they deserved.

 

 

Part 1: 27 – 20 can be read HERE

 

Part 2: 15 – 19 can be read HERE

 

 

Read more from Ian Wilson HERE

 

 

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About Ian Wilson

Former army aircraft mechanic, sales manager, VFA footballer and coach. Now mental health worker and blogger. Lifelong St Kilda FC tragic and father to 2 x girls.

Comments

  1. george smith says

    I’d like to make a big shout out to the “Carry On” movies. Now, variation in quality was this series of movies middle name but when they got it right it was oh so funny.

    The formula was usually the same – get a straight story, usually starring Donald Houston or Jack Hawkins and then unleash Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey to muck around with over the top hijincks.

    Two in particular are classics – “Carry on Cowboy”, where Kenneth Williams plays a cowardly mayor who hires a Marshal to deal with bandits, only to discover that his hero is actually an English plumber called Marshall. Hijincks ensues, but the kicker is the performance of Sid James as the Rumpo Kid. he plays him as a straight, nasty, western bad guy, so much so that were it an ordinary western, Jack Palance and Lee Marvin would have invited him to join the gang, and John Wayne would have shot him…

  2. ‘Best in Show’ and ‘Curb your Enthusiasm’ are right up there in my list of favourite comedies.

    I like your call of ‘Curb your Enthusiasm being like Seinfeld on steroids. It’s still very much a show about nothing, but Larry can now push the boundaries far beyond what they did with Seinfeld. Spot on with your comments re: Larry and Susie, she is a great character. (But when viewed in isolation her bits make her look like a monster!)

    ‘Best in Show’ has always slipped under the radar and deserves (almost) as much acclaim as ‘Spinal Tap’. Fred Willard’s commentary bits are pure gold.
    “And to think that in some countries these dogs are eaten.”
    “Excuse me if this off the subject a little bit, but just take a guess at how much I can bench press.”

  3. Thanks George. I haven’t seen a Carry On film since the early 70’s but will revisit one. Maybe the over use at times of the double entendre put me off but will check out thanks. I was a fan of Sid James in Bless This House as a kid.

    Yes Greg Fred Willard was a unique actor. Those quotes are classics. Perfect timing. many thanks

  4. george smith says

    Further to the Carry On movies:
    In 1963 Hollywood produced an rather overblown epic called “Cleopatra”, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. One of the reasons it cost so much money was that they moved the whole production from London to Rome, leaving the original set and costumes virtually untouched. This led to the Carry On gang using the set for the sword and sandal classic, “Carry On Cleo”, starring Kenneth Williams as a rather put upon Julius Caesar.

    Now as we know, Caesar was surrounded by nasty conspirators, leading to the immortal line:
    “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me”

  5. Thanks Ian.

    I’m a massive fan of The Trip films. Aside from the terrific impersonations and the food and travel, the explorations of troubled masculinity are affecting. Both characters seem to be in states of perpetual professional and personal crisis, and I think this at the narrative heart of the series. I find it really compelling.

    One of the deleted scenes from The Trip to Spain has the protagonists around a restaurant table trading Michael Caine-styled poems all starting with, ‘Twelve little prawns sitting on a plate…’

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