How old were you when the Unicorns broke up? It was ten years ago, so it would be your age minus ten. Oh my god. Were you even born yet? If you’re taking your age and subtracting ten and getting a number below zero, it’s unlikely that you were even alive during the period of time when Canadian unicorn band the Unicorns were alive and a band that you and your friends loved very much. Luckily for you, they’re officially back together, reissuing their beloved Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?, and playing a few dates with Arcade Fire. To celebrate, I chatted with Nick Thorburn about the BBC’s I’m Alan Partridge, as well DVD players and also Enlightened.
KELLY: How and when were you introduced to I’m Alan Partridge?
NICK: Well, I was introduced to the character through a show called The Day Today. There is a nebula cluster that Alan Partridge is threaded through. I am a fairly big fan of British comedy — started with Red Dwarf when I was a kid and wound through to this, I guess. Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci (who now does Veep) created The Day Today and then went on to create Brass Eye (both of which are absolutely BRILLIANT), and Alan Partridge was a sportscaster on the former. Then he got his own show, Knowing Me, Knowing You. I like that the character has existed in many different platforms and shows over the years (radio, TV, web series, and now movie). It’s like the Seven Up series or Boyhood!
KELLY: Hahah, is this series your favorite of the Alan Partridge-related things?
NICK: My absolute favorite is actually his memoir. It’s a fake memoir, written by Steve Coogan, who plays him, and I think Iannucci, but the audiobook is read by “Alan Partridge” and it’s psychedelically funny. The show is definitely a close second.
KELLY: I had heard of the Alan Partridge character before you said you wanted to talk about this series, but I’d never seen the show. There was, like, one episode available on YouTube, so I watched that yesterday.
NICK: It’s hard to find. I had to buy an all-region DVD player just to watch some of these british comedies.
KELLY: I have a disc drive that is in region 2 for that reason. It is unusable almost always, but I’m afraid to switch it back and use of one of my free region passes.
NICK: I’ve heard that you can switch regions on your laptop but if you do it too many times you’ll never be able to switch back. I’ve never understood that.
KELLY: Yeah, I think you can only switch it five times. I don’t understand it either. What’s the big d.
NICK: Why am I being punished? Chill, disc drive. Just be cool.
KELLY: Be happy that anyone is using you for anything.
NICK: No kidding. I had so many pennies stuck in my disc drive, I thought I broke it. And now it doesn’t even work.
KELLY: Hahaha, so you thought right then.
NICK: I’m usually always right.
KELLY: ANYWAY do you have a favorite I’m Alan Partridge episode?
NICK: Well, I haven’t watched it in a while, so I can’t recall a favorite episode. For me, it’s more about the character and the dialogue and the interactions between the characters than actual episodes.
KELLY: How long has the character been in your life?
NICK: I guess only about 5 years. At first, he was a tertiary character (on The Day Today), and I was more interested in Chris Morris (who starred and wrote that show). I eventually discovered how great Steve Coogan was in Tristram Shandy, 24 Hour Party People, The Trip, and Saxondale and my friend Michael showed me I’m Alan Partridge and it was a done deal. It’s definitely his strongest and funniest character. Ricky Gervais most likely owes his career to that Alan Partridge.
KELLY: I thought that too, about Ricky Gervais.
NICK: It’s kinda sad, but I think people like something when it makes them feel smart. Mad Men is like that. I can see the “thread” they use to “weave,” and it makes me feel like I’m in on it with them. Steve Coogan’s writing is smart; The way his character interacts with the world, the deplorable way he behaves, and the situations he places himself in somehow come out in the blender as pure likability.
KELLY: The character sort of reminds me of the Rik Mayall character from The Young Ones.
NICK: I never seen it! Isn’t that dumb?
KELLY: That’s real dumb.
NICK: I think it’s because it aired on YTV when I was a kid and I assumed anything that aired on YTV was garbage. YTV was a kids channel in Canada. Once a snob, always a snob.
KELLY: Well, I liked it when I was a kid because it was on the BBC and no one I knew had ever heard of it.
NICK: We’re both snobs, at least. That’s what’s important.
KELLY: Is that uncomfortable-but-likable style of comedy the type you’re drawn to usually?
NICK: Yeah, that’s perennial for me. It’s like the dumb t-shirts I make (skreened.com/iconicceleb). Ultimately, the joke is on the person wearing the shirt, not the person on the shirt. It’s funniest for me when the protagonist is the butt of the joke and an anti-hero. Steve Carrell is so funny, but I think his character on the American version of The Office was just too nice and TOO likable.
KELLY: I agree. It seemed like they were afraid to make him nearly as horrible as Ricky Gervais’s. I think Enlightened is one of the few shows that have done a good job, recently, of actually making a horrible-but-lovable character.
NICK: I LOVE ENLIGHTENED.
KELLY: It is/was so great!
NICK: And Mike White’s character? So so great. Laura Dern is so good. I cried!
KELLY: I forget if I cried, why did you cry?
NICK: Haha, I was sad. And also the episode where her mom comes to visit and they go white water rafting. I was also watching Black Mirror during that time which is an amazing BBC sci fi thing made by comedy writer Charlie Booker. And that made me cry too! Maybe it’s just me.
KELLY: Yeah, are you okay? JK, I’m sure I cried if there was a reason someone might cry, I just have a terrible memory.
NICK: I have a garbage memory. That’s why I can’t really recall which Alan Partridge episodes I love. It’s just a general appreciation.
KELLY: That makes sense.
NICK: But now I’m gonna cry about it.
KELLY: Well, it seems like you were gonna cry about something.
NICK: It’s my thing.
The Unicorns’ Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? reissue is out 8/26 via Caterpillar Records.