For many years now I have been a regular worshipper at the altar of all things Coogan. He is undoubtedly a comic genius with an unerring eye for the smaller details and idiosyncrasies which make his characters so much more than one-trick catchphrase vehicles with limited shelf-life. He gives them proper lives and full histories, and with the welcome return of each one we are updated on how their fictional life has progressed (or not) since we last saw them.
And so it is that we welcome back Paul and Pauline Calf for the first time since Coogan's The Man Who Thinks He's It tour in 1998. The venue is Liverpool's Neptune Theatre, scene of their Live N' Lewd show from 1993.
Much as I love Coogan's work - the writing, the attention to detail, the flawless characterisation - I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed with this show. In a nutshell, it is way too short. One gets the feeling that there was so much more on the night that we don't get to see. As it was originally broadcast on BBC3, perhaps it was cut down for scheduling purposes, in which case the DVD format would allow the full show to be included. Or perhaps Coogan didn't have enough material for a full two-hour show. Either way, once the credits rolled at the end I must say I felt a little short-changed.
The documentary is very interesting, it has to be said. Focusing on the writing and development process, it features interviews with Coogan and co-writer Henry Normal, where they talk in detail about writing for Paul and Pauline. We also see them workshopping ideas in a rehearsal studio and a comedy club (The Frog and Bucket in Manchester), where Coogan appears in character, script in hand, trying out jokes in front of a live audience. For any fan of Coogan, this insight into his creative process and the inspiration which informs it is invaluable. It's interesting to discover that Coogan has been performing Duncan Thickett since 1985, and actually used the character as his audition piece for his university drama course.
It's good to see Paul Calf's first TV appearances on Saturday Zoo from 1993 included. I remember them very well, and their inclusion on this DVD provides an interesting point of reference - as Coogan points out in the documentary, the constant drunkenness and unsteady gait was eventually toned down in favour of a more "pub bore" (or boor?) outlook. And Pauline's first appearance on the show was revealed to be Paul in drag at the end of the act, a move which Coogan says he now regrets.
So, the documentary and the Saturday Zoo excerpts are well worth a look. However, the criminally short main feature lets this DVD down badly. It's always good to catch up with Coogan's characters, it's just such a shame that the time spent with them here is way too brief. If you don't mind that, you will definitely enjoy this DVD. If you do, wait until the price comes down a bit before buying.