Comedy: An evening with the It-Guy and all his alter egos

Steve Coogan Lyceum, WC2
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The Independent Culture
There's something desperately sad about Steve Coogan's very clever character comedy. Everyone knows Alan Partridge ("aha!"), Pauline and Paul Calf, Tony Ferrino and Duncan Thickett. Coogan certainly has a varied palette, but the characters are actually fairly similar: petit-bourgeois losers with cheesey smiles and dreadful dress sense, all desperate and impatient to get laid and so rather rude.

They are all set up as objects of derision, rather than (as with Harry Enfield, Coogan's closest comparable colleague) gentle and affectionate parodies, or vehicles for a wider inspection of society. There's something spiteful in the portraits, in the loathing of suburbia; for example, Duncan Thickett's pagan pastiche, "wise man of Stevenage". In Alan Partridge - complete with Argyle socks, woolly jumpers and crested blazer - there's a wonderful parody of the two-dimensional television of Noel Edmonds; but the grasping self-promotion and the surly mood-swings make you wonder how much "alter" there is in this alter ego.

None of which is to suggest that Coogan isn't funny or talented. He's both. But he doesn't prompt the belly-laughs or affections which are presumably the ambition of every comic. Instead there are sniggers of embarrassment and tuts at dodgy taste; instead of warming the audience with inclusive wit, Coogan chills them with divisive, ice-pick cruelty.

Much of his new show, The Man Who Thinks He's It (see what I mean?) is slick, with a lot of revue-style songs and a brilliant supporting cast. Pauline Calf, the slaggish beehive blonde, kicks off the show, with a lot of double-entendres and fnaar-fnaar: pointing to a man in the audience, she squealed, "All the blood's drained from his face. Ooh, I wonder where it's gone."

Duncan Thickett, another saddo, a club comic type and the only one to use the walk-on-backwards technique, came next, followed by Tony Ferrino. The Latin crooner a la Iglesias sang in Manuel-like Mediterraneanese, performing a song about falling in love with a lap-dancer. He then strolled into the audience: "my love must be true, it must be y ..." He pointed, held the note to find the best-looker. With the likes of Kate Moss and Coogan's celeb friends (Caroline Aherne and the Gallagher brothers) in the crowd he could have had his pick, but chose a shy blonde: "It must be you". He noticed her combats ("the army, eet change since my day"), and then sang a love song of sorts, about her being an "ordinary girl". She narrowly resisted a walk-out.

After the interval, Paul Calf, boozy Eighties throwback, laughed and mimed behind an earnest female vocalist who wanted to sing her "menstrual blood bath" song. Then came Partridge, by far Coogan's best character, and the only one who doesn't seem a soft, stereotypical target; there's a hint of the winner in his losing streak, and Coogan's comic swipes - at management mores - have a wider range. Partridge presented a corporate pep talk ("a forum for 'em") using a white stick and bizarre non-sequiturs to illustrate his points. There was also great physical comedy: like Partridge trying to straddle a chair like Christine Keeler to look cool, but it had arms so he flailed about and fell forwards; or like his prancing around during his Kate Bush medley.

But too much of the show was familiar from Coogan's television work (gags about Thai "girl-boys") or came from the staple comic collection (leaving the mike on as Paul Calf urinates, as in Naked Gun; or yet another joke about a Stephen Hawking heckle). The highlights actually came from the supporting links between Coogan's acts (performed by Simon Pegg and Julia Davis). There was "Alex D apostrophe Arcy", the luvvie send-up, and the fantastically self-important "stage manager", desperately trying to seduce the dowdy Michelle. Coogan, for once, seemed upstaged.

Steve Coogan: Lyceum, WC2 (0870 606 3440), unlimited run, booking to November.