On one hand, he's an absurdly talented and successful award-winning comedy writer, performer and producer w' />

He's a funny bloke that Steve Coogan.

On one hand, he's an absurdly talented and successful award-winning comedy writer, performer and producer who in 2005 was chosen as one of the greatest comedy acts ever by his peers in the industry.

On the other, he's a hellraiser who's been a boon to the British tabloids on many a slow news day, denying reports that rock singer Courtney Love was pregnant with his child after a two-week fling and dismissing allegations he supplied actor Owen Wilson with hard drugs before his suicide attempt as "completely and utterly false".

The Steve Coogan on the other end of the line is the former: cordial, engaging and quick with a quip.

Coogan is calling from Brighton, his "adopted home" on England's south coast. His large Irish-Catholic family remains in Manchester, his daughter lives in Brighton.

But you get the sense his sights are set much further afield even than Brighton _ America, and more specifically Hollywood.

"I do like it there. I feel like spending more and more time there," he says.

Coogan is attracted to his relative anonymity in America, but maintains he leads a "fairly normal life" in Britain.

"I go to the supermarket. I use public transport but I do have to keep my head down and avoid eye contact. You get stared at a lot but you just get used to it. But it is nice in America where I can pick my nose and not worry if anyone's watching me."

That he should attract such attention is unsurprising.

He burst on to the British comedy scene in the early 1990s, becoming a regular voice on satirical puppet show Spitting Image and winning the top prize at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Since then, he's created a string of characters, most of which have become indelibly etched onto his homeland's comedy consciousness.

There's Paul Calf, a Mancunian waster and his sex-obsessed sister Pauline; and Tony Ferrino, a lounge-singing lothario.

But it's for Alan Gordon Partridge that Coogan is best known, and probably always will be.

The character, who displays a squirm-inducing lack of social skills and obsession with status, first appeared on spoof radio news show On The Hour.

That transferred to TV as the ground-breaking and hugely influential series The Day Today.

From there, Alan landed his own chat show, Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge, where his floundering attempts to ingratiate himself with his (fictional) guests were often punctuated by the kind of pomposity-pricking questions Coogan concedes many viewers would have wanted to ask.

Alan would start each interview with the catchphrase: "Knowing Me Alan Partridge, Knowing You ... A-haa."

And that's what really caught on, the catchcry that saw Alan elevated from popular character to comedy icon. And however much he might want to move on, Coogan is realistic about his chances of being able to.

"I think because of those cable channels it's on a constant loop. You're always on telly somewhere."

Coogan acknowledges the prospect of typecasting, but relishes having "different opportunities" in America.

"Film directors, casting directors tend to cast me because they've seen my body of work. I do suffer from it in England a bit, there's no doubt about it, because I think there's a certain kind of perception of me."

He juggles independent and low-budget films with increasingly common forays in the world of studio pictures.

Arthouse-wise, he's appeared in Jim Jarmusch's Cigarettes and Coffee and worked twice with Michael Winterbottom, on A Cock and Bull Story and 24-Hour Party People.

In the latter, he played Tony Wilson, the now-dead boss of key record label Factory as the film charted the course of the Mancunian music scene between 1976 and 1992, bookended by the punk explosion and the death of the acid house revolution.

It is, I can't help telling him, my favourite film ever, not necessarily because of its performances, although his, in particular, is fine, but because it's about the formative years of my life, where I went and what I listened to.

Coogan thanks me.

"It's my favourite bit of work. It's my favourite thing I've ever done because it's very personal to me. I've not watched it for about eight years because it's too close to me. We actually felt like we were living that movie."

Coogan has had his share of blockbuster action too, starring as Phileas Fogg alongside Jackie Chan in Around the World In 80 Days, as Octavius in Ben Stiller's Night at the Museum and its sequel, due to open here later this year, and as a harassed British film producer in Stiller's Tropic Thunder.

But while he has "quite a lot of work in Hollywood" he won't give up television.

"I really like television, especially British television. It's inventive and the BBC is a great place to be able to try adventurous things. I'll always do something on TV because I respect it too much."

Coogan has strong links with the BBC. Baby Cow, the production company he runs with Henry Normal, supplies the state broadcaster with such hits as The Mighty Boosh and Gavin and Stacey.

"We're riding pretty high, so I won't look a gift-horse in the mouth."

And that's probably why he can't bring himself to leave Partridge behind forever, with a long-mooted film looking increasingly likely.

"I've been toying with it for a while. We're properly wanting to do it now because we know it's a funny character. He makes me laugh. I find myself going, `that would be a really funny situation to put Alan in' and then think, `well, I'm not doing him any more'. Obviously there are other jobs I work on but he is a character who I've got affection and contempt for in equal measure."

It's a good line, delivered with the timing and inflection the character to which it refers would use.

And that qualified affection is, no doubt, another of the things that makes Alan so much fun to play.

Unsurprisingly, he will be the highlight of Coogan's first New Zealand tour in May, rounding off a show that will also feature Paul and Pauline Calf and Tony Ferrino.

It's a "slightly more svelte" version of the show with which Coogan toured England; "crowd-pleasing stuff", he says.

"Certain characters, such as Saxondale, don't lend themselves especially well to the stage because they're very subtle. When you do stage work a lot of the material's mechanical and even Alan Partridge, when I do him on stage I have to slightly turn the volume up."

It will be Coogan's first visit to New Zealand. He's heard "nothing but good reports" about the place and plans to explore after his tour.

I ask his opinion of our own top comedy export, Flight of the Conchords.

He says the series is "fantastic".

"What's the one that doesn't wear the glasses called? I said hello to him at a pre-Oscar party in Los Angeles. I really like that show and I was really chuffed that they knew who I was."

And with such recognition, Coogan's American dream could just come true.

Tickets are on sale now for Steve Coogan Live. He tours Wellington, April 30; Christchurch, May 5; and Auckland, May 8.