The title for Steve Coogan’s Easily Distracted is as much a description of his autobiography as it is of his life, but it’s pulled together with a smart juxtaposition of narrative that jumps around piecing together various points in his development as a stand-up comedian, TV personality, movie star and academy award nominated writer and producer. However, the reality is that the autobiography delivers much less than you might have been hoping for, providing interest, insight and a few chuckles, but ultimately leaving you wanting more in almost every page in the book.
It’s a dictum that Coogan talks about in the book in relation to always getting off the stage at a stand-up gig leaving audiences wanting more and that’s definitely the case here, but we can’t help but feel a little short changed in the balance. The biggest area that’s missing is the detail behind his working life and the day-to-day creation of shows like I’m Alan Partridge and Mid Morning Matters. There’s barely a mention of them, and the same could be said for his main character’s autobiography, I, Partridge – a book that would have taken considerable time and effort to write – his time on Saxondale, and work on movies like Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb or The Look Of Love.
Instead, Steve picks snippets from key points in his life and gives them a certain passing regard, not necessarily in an indifferent way, but not with any kind of significant detail. In the opening section he talks about his editors getting him to cut things down and trying not to bore people, so maybe there’s a lot more on the cutting room floor, but it was missed and he should probably have them thorough crucified for the transgression, while he’s busy with a little light self flagellation as a curative salve for the soul.
Examples of the missing pieces include there being little to give you an idea of what it was like working alongside Dame Judy Dench in Philomena, although he does cover the experience of being behind an Oscar nominated film, nor are there any anecdotes about going for a Lady Boy inspired shandy with Tim Key or chatting up Imogen Poots and Anna Friel at the rap party of The Look Of Love. It doesn’t make it boring – there’s plenty of interest in the book, despite its limitations – but it does make it patchy.
In all fairness to the autobiography, there’s much more detail about his earlier, more formative years than there is of his recent past, which seems to indicate that there may well be a follow up to Easily Distracted at some later date. That aside, you’ll find some cool sections on his time doing voices on Spitting Image and the development of Alan Partridge from the bit-part comic genius in On The Hour to the international megalowstar that we know him as today. There’s also a little insight into the desperate fixes needed to make Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa and the fun he had with Rob Brydon and Michael Winterbottom in The Trip.
While Easily Distracted doesn’t quite do Steve Coogan’s working life justice it does act as a good platform for the more profound side of his personality. There’s a very serious streak that runs through the book, and a lot of this in incredibly poignant as he talks about pushing himself outside of his comfort zone trying new and challenging projects and the benefits of getting a better understanding for how you tick. There’s also an element of reconciliation with some of the wilder aspects of his rise to star status – not with any kind of bitter resentment for the decisions his younger self had made but more to say that was then and this is now.
He talks about the thought process behind his decision to take News International to court and the tough decisions he was forced to make as a result of the phone hacking scandal and all of the controversy that went with it. There’s a certain sense of standing up to a much bigger, predatory fish in the section and while he wins it’s very clear that he didn’t come out of it entirely unscathed.
We love the structure of the book as it makes a big departure from the standard linear chronological progression of most autobiographies, which is a welcome change. The start doesn’t begin at the start and the end is a bit of a midway fanfare, and it results in a much more engaging memoir as a result, leaving you second guessing what he’s going to move onto next. Maybe this well-honed hopping ramble is another reason so much gets missed out as Steve gets waylaid by the next flash of inspiration that bursts on in his higher state of consciousness.
Steve Coogan’s Easily Distracted may not have been what we were hoping for but it is worth a read. You’ll come away disappointed on the one hand about what isn’t included, while also being surprised by the intelligent philosophies of a man who has provided us with so many laughs over the years.
Easily Distracted by Steve Coogan review: 3.6/5