Steve Coogan and Rob BrydonIllustration by Joo Fazenda
Ten years ago, the British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon went on a culinary tour of northern England, which the director Michael Winterbottom filmed as both a BBC miniseries and a movie, called The Trip. Coogan (English, undermining) and Brydon (Welsh, eager) played themselves, only pettier, dining at Michelin-starred restaurants and competing over Michael Caine impersonations. More trips, and films, followedto Italy and Spain. The final installment, The Trip to Greece, out on demand this week, finds the duo eating their way through Lesbos, Athens, and Hydra, and it may have to substitute for your cancelled summer vacationif you dont mind tagging along with two passive-aggressive middle-aged comedians.
The other day, the pair caught up over Zoom. Both were self-isolating at home, Coogan in Sussex and Brydon in Twickenham, about fifty miles apart. (And that feels right, Brydon said.) Coogan was in his office, his hair grown to a salt-and-pepper shag, and Brydon sat in his kitchen, in front of a fridge covered with photographs. He held one up, of him with Bruce Springsteen. Rob is very keen on Bruce Springsteen, and Im happy to share that enthusiasm by proxy, Coogan said.
When we were doing The Trip to Greece, I was playing him Western Stars, the new album, in the car, Brydon said. He came to admire it. I would go so far as to say he loved it. At the end, I presented him with it in vinyl.
I have it in this very room, Coogan said. Its over there, behind something. He disappeared for a moment and returned with the album, still in plastic wrap.
Unopened, Brydon observed.
Its all about the anticipation, isnt it?
To re-create their shared dining adventures, both had received an identical delivery of Grecian snacks: pita, feta, olives, dried oregano. Brydon drank a glass of ros. He had been spending his quarantine tending to his garden and watching old movies, while Coogan had been filling his hours with Skype screenwriting sessions. Neither mans palate had suffered; Brydons wife, Clare, loves to cook, as does Coogans twenty-three-year-old daughter, also named Clare. So, for both of us, Clare is taking care of the food, and that is good, Brydon said.
Coogan winced at the slant rhyme. If my daughter wasnt here, he said, I would probably buy a very high-end precooked thing, like a fish pie, and then steam my own broccoli and pretend that Ive made a meal.
When you say steam your own broccoli, it reminds me of when we were at that beach resort in Greece, Brydon said. And that rather lugubrious-looking waiter came over and told us what he had, and at the end he said, And I have two soft lobsters.
No, he didnt, Coogan countered.He said, And I have two flat lobsters. And Rob said, Im very sorry to hear that.
Brydon wagged a finger. What I said was, Oh, Im sorry.
Thats right, Coogan conceded. It was said with sympathy. Very pure malapropistic comedy. Malapropistic? Thats got to be a word. Its timeless comedy, because it ultimately doesnt mean anything, and therefore its sort of liberating.
In Greece, they visited the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and other ruins, where Coogan expounded on Greek philosophy. I have a greater and deeper knowledge of Grease the movie than he does, Brydon said.
Id happily admit that, Coogan said, and returned his thoughts to the ancients: Aristotle, Socrates.
Olivia Newton-John, John Travolta.
Aristotle talks about striving for excellence, Coogan said. It was a noble human pursuit, just to perfect whatever it is you do.
The title song from Grease wasnt in the original stage production, Brydon offered, nibbling on feta. Frankie Valli, of course. It was written by Barry Gibb, specifically for the film.
Yeah, Coogan said. Its important in comedy not to duplicate skill sets. Did they have a favorite Greek god? Zeus, Coogan answered, because he is flawed.
Does he remind you of anyone? Brydon prodded.
Youre not going to lure me into comparing myself to a god, Coogan said. But, if you put a gun to my head and said, Which kind of god do you identify with, Steve?, Id say, Not the Christian one. Brydon was struggling with some pistachio shells. Dont your nails start to get sore pulling them apart? Coogan asked.
Its all about technique, Brydon said. Youve got to know where on the shell to apply the pressure. Its a bit like life.
So you are really into philosophy, just not Greek philosophy, Coogan said, not quite impressed. Youre into pistachio philosophy. Brydon, pleased with his progress, displayed his bowl of nuts.
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