As comedy goes, Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan will always be gifted a place on the A-List. Alone, they’re titans of wit; together, they’re just rather silly, as ShortList’s Andrew Dickens discovers.
Pictures: Paul Stuart
Let’s be honest: a series of restaurant reviews of various establishments in the north of England is not standard breeding ground for an improvisational comedy. But then again, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are not standard comedians. Coogan seduced Britain with Alan Partridge then went on to woo Hollywood, most recently appearing in The Other Guys. Meanwhile, Brydon took the mantle of hapless loner and made it into an art form. Now both are appearing in The Trip, a new fully-improvised, Michael Winterbottom-directed six-part sitcom in which they play ‘versions’ of themselves, one of whom is writing reviews for a Sunday supplement (Coogan), the other (Brydon) who has nothing better to do but tag along…
So, The Trip – where did the idea come from?
SC: It was Michael Winterbottom’s idea. We did A Cock and Bull Story together and there’s a little bit of improvisation in that and he wanted to do more of it. I don’t why he wanted to do this thing about going round restaurants. I think he’d been to a film festival and seen lots of films about food.
In the first episode, there’s a great scene in the restaurant where the two of you have a Michael Caine-off. Does that ever happen in real life?
SC: Not really.
RB: No. Not anywhere. Not even in a building specially constructed for Michael Caine-offs.
SC: The brutal reality is, if we improvised totally as ourselves without ramping up certain aspects of ourselves it would be profoundly dull. I mean, there might be a few interesting moments. There are elements of truth in the way we talk - all we do is turn the volume up.
How did you guys first meet? Do you remember that moment?
SC: I think Rob probably does.
RB: [smiling] I remember it very clearly. I’d written off to TV Quick – they had a competition…
SC: I knew Julia Davis and Julia told me about Rob. She told me that he’d done this pilot show for the BBC. Was it called A Very Unfortunate…
RB: A Very Unlucky Traffic Warden. An Extremely Unlucky… Yeah, it was a show reel that you first saw, because I’d been in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels [as the traffic warden], so I thought I could use this. So I went out and I wrote a script for different characters. One of them was Keith Barrett from Marion and Geoff. I knew Julia was working with Steve on his tour, so I said “Give this to Steve”. Hold on… No.
SC: Didn’t you come to a show first?
RB: Yes. First of all I came to see your show in Reading because Julia was in it. I met you afterwards, so that was when we first met. Then I gave the tape to Julia.
SC: Yes, I do remember that. Very vaguely. I remember you as ‘Julia’s friend’. And then I saw the tape and thought it was very good.
RB: Then the pilot was made and it all kind of melded together. And then you…
SC: … went to the BBC. Sometimes the BBC don’t know how good something is. Sometimes they need to be told by someone else. I said this is really good and why don’t you give him a series of shorts. And they said okay and that’s how it began, on a purely professional basis.
RB: And it’s remained that way since.
SC: We’re not sort of like best buddies, but we know each other well enough. We’re friends, but not very close friends. But we also know how to do this. I suppose that’s the thing. When you improvise with someone, you need to know that they are thinking the right way and trust them.
It’s not a bromance then?
RB: Well, we are lovers as well, but if you’re going to make a big thing about that…
SC: It’s non-committal.
RB: We see other comedians.
SC: We don’t have penetrative sex, we just cuddle, don’t we?
Would you share a bed?
SC: [simultaneously] No.
RB: Of course we’d share a bed…
SC: Err, no…
RB: Really? You wouldn’t share a bed? I mean, at the end of a long night we just conk out next to each other.
SC: I might in my clothes on top of an eiderdown.
RB: I’m not suggesting we spoon naked.
SC: I wouldn’t go under the sheets in pyjamas.
SC: No, no, no…
SC: I just, er… The bed would have to be very wide.
RB: Oh yeah, I’d want a King.
SC: I’d want a Super King.
RB: I dream of a Super King.
Part two of our Brydon/Coogan chat continues here