Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge
February 2, 2006
Before The Office made uncomfortable humour hip again, Knowing Me Knowing You was on British TV and quickly developed a cult following—enough to spawn several additional series and a one-off special. The show was created by talented comedian Steve Coogan for a BBC Radio 4 comedy show called On the Hour in 1993. This was successful enough to spawn Knowing Me in 1994 as Coogan and co-writer Armando Iannucci skewer British talk shows with its hopelessly inept host, Alan Partridge (Coogan). Like The Office’s David Brent, Alan is a legend in his own mind. He’s also an arrogant git who is useless at hosting a chat show.
On his debut show, Alan has on an obviously nervous horsewoman and waits (in vain) for the arrival of Roger Moore. Everything about the show is just slightly askew, slightly off, including the show’s house band, led by Glenn Ponder (Brown), that are bizarrely located on a balcony overlooking the stage, forcing Alan to look up at them. As Alan proudly boasts, the show’s set is modeled after a hotel lobby, complete with a functioning fountain. It is meant to look opulent but just looks tacky and excessive.
A lot of the show’s humour comes from Alan’s ability for always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. It doesn’t help that his show is populated with awful guests like a snooty French chef or two precocious little kids who are budding film directors. In turn, Alan treats certain guests with adulation if he feels he can get something from them or contempt if he can’t. For example, he shamelessly flirts with one guest, Daniella Forrest (Driver vamping it up with big hair) because of her affiliation with Playboy, but, of course, he has no chance with her and then is repulsed by her when he finds out who she really is. Alan gets mad at the horsewoman when a horse is brought on and poops on his set (the offending stuff is clearly visible in the background throughout the show). Anything that can go wrong inevitably does and then Alan tries desperately to salvage things only to make it hilariously worse.
Most people know Steve Coogan from either 24 Hour Party People (2002) or Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)—or, heaven forbid, Around the World in 80 Days (2004)—but his claim to fame in England came from Knowing Me. He is perfect as the selfish, self-absorbed Alan. Unlike David Brent, there is little redeemable about Alan but Coogan does give him a shred of sympathy and maybe even pathos. Coogan looks the part with his shellacked helmet of hair and has all of the chat show host mannerisms down cold. Alan wants desperately to be a big time talk show host but is unable to get any celebrities to come on and is therefore doomed to the margins. He is hopelessly and terminally unhip but doesn’t seem to ever realize this fact. In some respects Alan is Rupert Pupkin from The King of Comedy (1983) if Scorsese had decided to make a TV show spin-off.
Some of the best moments of Knowing Me come when Alan loses his cool, like when Roger Moore fails to show up and the talk show host unleashes all of his frustrations on his guests after they complain and criticize him. Knowing Me is the kind of talk show we’d all like to see. In this day and age when talk shows are carefully scripted and staged, there is virtually no spontaneity anymore. And so, to see Alan insult and often lose control of his guests and, in the process, his show, is akin to driving by an accident: it is painful to watch but you can’t look away.
The first disc features audio commentaries for all six episodes with writer/producer Armando Iannucci, actress Rebecca Front, writer Patrick Marber, actor Steven Brown and a couple of the “guests” from that particular episode. These are fairly amusing tracks that spend a lot of time slamming Alan (and rightly so). In fact, every commentary begins with Alan not being able to join the other participants because of some embarrassing ailment.
The second disc begins with “Festivalan” a.k.a. Know Me Knowing Yule made two years after the first season. Alan somehow survived the devastating last show of his first season for a Christmas special complete with ski lodge décor perfect for that faux-intimate feel that eventually degrades into a naked appeal on his part for a second season. Also included is an optional commentary by Iannucci, Marber, Front, Doon MacKichan, David Schneider and Steve Brown. There is lots of dry humour as they make fun of Alan once again.
“Originalan” features test footage shot for the pilot episode that was never aired and done for little money in order to see if the concept worked. This is the show in its infancy. Alan’s hair looks even more artificial (if that’s possible) with a glistening plastic sheen.
“Ruralan” features Alan rambling through the northern English countryside. He skips stones across a pond (and promptly loses his watch) while pontificating endlessly via voiceover.
“Alan Aid” sees Coogan reprise his character for three segments for the U.K. version of Comic Relief in 1995. As usual, Alan makes a mess of things and is even humiliated in one segment by some locals.
Finally, there is “Additionalan” that includes nine promos for the show, a stills gallery and biographical sketches for the cast and crew with one for Alan that is quite funny.