I don’t go out of my way to watch Top Gear. It was just on, OK? And as it was on I noticed something quite horrible. Jeremy Clarkson interviewing Steve Coogan. And it was like watching The Abyss* stare into itself.

Okay, it is not exactly clever to equate boorish fake sports reporter-cum-chatshow host Alan Partridge with boorish motoring program-cum-chatshow host Jeremey Clarkson. But when the similarities stare you in the face on national television it is hard to ignore. Clarkson is Richard Littlejohn for people who don’t know what a handcart is. His books (such as The World According To Clarkson) stuff up the non-fiction bestseller charts despite being ripped off of “Is It Me Or Is Everything Crap”. Of course if Clarkson had used that title, the answer would have been simple. It is you which is crap. And seeing the comfy banter between Clarkson and Coogan suddenly made me realise something. Coogan is worse than Clarkson.

Anyone who read Sunday supplements in the 1990’s knows Steve Coogan likes cars. We know in fact that unlike the rest of his so called alternative comedy brethren, we help usher in lad culture being relatively boorish off screen. But on screen? Well he was even more boorish, but boorish IN CHARACTER. Again much has been said that there is probably much of Coogan in Partridge, but all of his characters (Paul/Pauline Calf etc) flirt with an easy political incorrectness which one guesses might come easily to Coogan himself. But Clarkson is not a character, you say. What you see on screen is what you get. Well, I beg to differ, he is probably as much of a construct as Partridge in a lot of ways. However, Jeremy Clarkson is willing to be “Jeremy Clarkson” all-the-time. Something which Coogan probably only considered the possibilities of when playing Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People.

Coogan’s Wilson was 25% Partridge, 50% Wilson and – in flashes – 25% something else which I am going to call Coogan. In realising that Wilson that the secret of Wilson’s success and failure lie on him in not only being a pompous fool, BUT KNOWING HE IS A POMPOUS FOOL AND NOT CARING, he unfolded a potential new career for Coogan. His film career after all had already floundered, characters came off flat. But he has suddenly made a career of playing himself. In A Cock And Bull Story he was called brave for portraying a dark, narcissistic version of himself. Fine. But again what if that is actually him. The nature of the film allowed him to call that Coogan a character. Yet again Clarkson wins because he is always in character.

So watching Clarkson banter to Coogan, this new Coogan, “Steve Coogan the character” was interesting. Clarkson was the funny one. “Steve Coogan the character” furthered his comedy Rob Brydon feud and mocked caring about a car race. Perhaps “Steve Coogan the character” is too complex, is too nuanced to be a funny character. Unlike the larger than life (and his jeans) Clarkson.

As an example, after this item Clarkson moved on to a package where he and the other presenters of Top Gear tried to build a car in a day. Watching Clarkson fuck it up, and being willing to caper around acting the clown in a piece which was thoroughly fictionalised, makes one realise perhaps how much Clarkson has sacrificed for his career. Coogan plays the knob. Clarkson IS the knob. Which means he gets:

PRESENTORATING: 9 (If he isn’t really the knob), 1 (if he is) – which gives us 5 rounded up because I think we will never know…

*The Special Edition. 25% more boring.The Abyss, Special Edition, Staring into its wetself.