Knowing Me Knowing You, broadcast on Radio 4 in 1992, is probably the finest radio programme ever made. A six part spoof chat show (a later seventh episode, Knowing Knowing Me, Knowing You, was a faux-documentary following Alan behind the scenes) hosted by Partridge and with the guests played by the fabulous ensemble team of Patrick Marber, Doon Mackichan, Rebecca Front and David Schneider, it extended the possibilities of developing narrative and character through comedy, and invigorated that most overlooked medium, the sitcom. This point might seem odd, but it really is a sitcom rather than a spoof: to demonstrate, just compare KMKY with the show in which Partridge first appeared - as a supporting character - On the Hour, and its tv version The Day Today, which shared the same cast and producer Armando Iannucci. Those extraordinary shows also support the 1990s' claim to be the greatest decade for comedy (and that includes Plautus), but they are a very different beast. On The Hour/ The Day Today is a spoof of a pack-leading, highly successful news programme. KMKY is a portrait of an unsuccessful chatshow.
On the Hour was about the medium becoming the message; in KMKY the people keep getting in the way of the medium and message. One episode sees Alan allowing a hypnotherapist to demonstrate her techniques on him. Under hypnotic control, Alan regresses to his young self. "What can you see?" "a pair of plimsolls," whimpers Partridge in a child's voice. It emerges that little Alan is at the bottom of Tandell Hill lagging behind in a cross-country run. "It's colllllld," he says plaintively, "it's very colddd," "why are you so cold if you're running, Alan?" "I haven't got any shorts on.... Steven McComb's taken them off me. He's running around waving them about. He's saying "Smelly Alan Fartridge! Smelly Alan Fartridge!" I'm not smelly! "Smelly Alan Fartridge!"". The hypnotherapist then tries to move little Alan to a happier time in his life: "The headmaster's come in: he"s looking very pleased! He says someone's won an essay-writing competition! Someone's written an essay on sport and it's one a prize! He's saying, is there an Alan Partridge in the room!" As Partridge accepts the prize, the plaintive child's voice disappears and a familiar tone replaces it: "I'm Alan Partridge: I've won the competition, of that there's no doubt." Not many sitcoms could get so much character detail into a few minutes. The chat-show format allows the writers and actors to control the nuances with which they disclose from the characters' memories and private lives.
The subsequent TV version of Knowing Me Knowing You - which, like The Day Today, used new material instead of recycling scenes from the radio scripts - written by Iannucci, Coogan and Marber, was also outstanding. Here, the catharsis was explosive. Marber, who played the more overtly antagonistic guests, has a knack for building up a sense of simmering resentment within a broadly comic performance. My favourite is probably Gordon Heron, a golfer who has retired following a lightning strike which has left him wheelchair-bound, in the Christmas special Knowing Me Knowing Yule. Alan asks him about his accident: "how did that feel?" Gordon replies: "Sort of felt a bit like ‘AAAARRRRGH! AAAARRRRGGGHH!’" He then grins to show that's he's joking, but the tension stays, and the crisis comes when Gordon reveals his wife Liz (Doon Mackichan) is pregnant. Alan offers his congratulations, including "a special congratulation to you, Gordon...well done." "I can have sex!" cries Gordon in angry disbelief, "'I can still shag!" As Partridge attempts to suppress him, Gordon passionately declares that no-one seems to want to talk about disabled people feeling desire, but that since his accident he's actually felt more sexual desire than ever before: "I'm a better lover too, aren't I?" he asks his wife, who nods fervently (McKichan, too, moving effortlessly from a broadly comic portrayal of a wife with an irritating giggle to sincere emotion) before his contempt for Partridge's lack of interest takes over, and he responds to his interruptions by blowing raspberries. There you have it: a genuinely forceful and touching treatment of a neglected issue delivered in stealth by two actors in comedy wigs to disguise their resemblance to Alan's prevous guests. No British comedy of the next decade would reach these heights.
Another superb device for building up to catharsis in this way was Partridge's carefully crafted relationship with his resident houseband Glenn Ponder and Chalet (and, throughout the series, Glenn Ponder and Ferrari, Bangkok, Lazarus, Debonair and Savoir Faire). They talk over each other a little bit in the first episode, have some innocuous chat in the second (Glenn's looking for a house in the Chiswick area), then in the third episode Glenn adds a sound effect without Alan's permission. "Surprise me in a reversal, Glenn, not a live TV show. Little bit naughty, that." In the fourth episode, it reaches boiling point. A trip to the Follies Berger went ahead without Alan. Glenn insists he left a message informing Alan that the trip had been brought forward by one night, but Alan didn't get one. At the end of the episode, it emerges that Glenn invited the band, Alan's guests and Alan's crew, and didn't really leave him a message at all. Alan sacks Glenn onstage, and proceeds to insult each of the guests as he wraps up the show. It’s a relationship as carefully constructed as in any play.
The setup of 1997's I'm Alan Partridge may seem at first glance mainstream and broad in comparison to its predecessor: Alan in a straight sitcom. However, while it does demonstrate the pre-Office virtues of a studio audience and no "film-look" effects, its scripts (by Coogan, Iannucci and Peter Baynham) are just as ingeniously constructed, and its depiction of the Linton Travel Tavern in which Alan is stuck following the end of his TV career remains a masterful exercise in evoking a fictional environment. You can't watch it without getting trapped in that motel, with its lift, its bar, its minibar, its Corby trouser press, its paper bags full of complimentary sanitary towels, its complementary biscuits. The Tavern maps out Alan's psyche: the mysterious drawer in his room which causes horror, fascination or merriment to those who look at its contents, seems to contain his id. The box on top of the TV which, when disconnected, forbids Alan from watching any more Pay-per-view movies like Bangkok Chick-boys is his super-ego. The dining area, where he asserts his individuality and impresses a date by sneaking in a bigger plate for the -all-you can eat buffet or insulting Susan and the hotel while trying to impress a couple of TV producers, is the ego.
Sadly, all are invaded. Everyone looks in the drawer. "Hello Susan? Can you make pornography come on my telly please?" asks Alan on the phone to reception after the events of an episode have yet again defeated his resolve. "Got your big plate, Alan?" says Susan as Alan returns to his room with a romantic conquest. The staff of the Travel Tavern are superbly written and cast. Susan (Barbara Durkin) is the archetypal hostess: joylessly smiling, endlessly efficient, but no friend to Alan. "Will you excuse me, Alan, I have to leave the desk unattended.” Ben and Sophie are youth personified. Sophie (Sally Phillips), another receptionist, can't speak to Alan without giggling. Ben's worldliness (his better taste in music, success with the ladies and barely-concealed amusement at Alan's unsavoury choice of pay-for-view movies) eats away at Alan, but he has something of an equal in Michael (the splendid Simon Greenall) a Geordie and former soldier who does a variety of odd jobs at the Tavern. Michael is an unhappy man: there's a tense moment during Partridge's misjudged attempt at a practical joke (which we'll come to later) when he raises a fist to Alan, while in a supreme example of bathos he tells him an old army anecdote of how he returned to find his pet monkey had eaten all his fags, and threw it in the sea. Alan had been hoping for a funny story, but that was the punchline. Like most episodes of IAP, it ends in bathos: a whimper far louder than a bang.
Lyn (a remarkably controlled comic performance from Felicity Montague) is Alan's PA. Her face is tightly shut as she represses Alan's cruelty, convincing herself that she deserves this. There are affecting moments when the veil lifts: her impromptu impression of herself - “Shall I let you walk all over me, Alan? Sorry, Mother, can’t help you of the bath because I’ve got to go down to Linton Travel Tavern to sort out Alan’s problems” - and the subsequent look of pride on her face when Alan praises it is an astonishing moment, as is her heartfelt but brutally Partridge-curtailed recollection of childhood holidays in Skibbereen. Lyn and Michael feel indispensable from the moment we meet them: they are the only friends a failure could believably have.
The middle four episodes here are perhaps the jewel in the Partridge collection, and episode 4, inevitably known as the one where he steals a traffic cone, is probably the masterpiece. In this episode, Alan has nothing to do, and the tavern becomes a coffin. At the same time, his relations with the staff reach breaking point. Susan responds to Alan's horribly coy flirting by calling his bluff, ("are you getting out here, or are you going all the way with me?", she asks him) and he finally overhears the staff doing Impressions of him, hurls a crisp packet to the floor, and considers sacking Lyn for laughing with them. The artistry here lie in the way mundane physical objects or the layout of the Travel Tavern itself always accompany these moments of psychological probing. "What's back there?" asks Alan, indicating the door behind reception. "Some traffic cones and an old mattress,"' replies Sophie. A moment later he overhears Sophie suggesting to Ben that they retire back there for youthful indiscretions. He leaps out of the lift and asks Ben for a sandwich with "a crescent of crisps... cooked meat...and a hot egg...anytime within the next fifteen minutes." Grinning to himself, he returns to the lift.
In his hotel room, the plate with the crescent of crisps lying forgotten, he peers out of the window, sees Ben and Sophie kissing, and attempts to peep while draping himself in the curtain. They spot him and run off. He sees Michael, rubbing his head in frustration at his suffocating job, Michael looks up and the pair engage in a mock-shooting mime. He phones up Currys, gazing at his stereo system, and asks about achieving surround sound. After checking that no-one wants to come with him, he walks down the Dual Carriageway to the petrol station to buy bottles of windscreen washer fluid. He goes for a drive, and talks to Lyn on his hands-free: "Just bought a bag of tungsten-tip screws: never gonna use 'em, Lyn, never gonna use 'em. [pause] I'm going nowhere Lyn - well literally, I'm on the ringroad."
He attempts to make up for his crisp-packet tantrum by playing a little joke on the staff: dressing up as a zombie and pouncing. His costume consists of complementary biscuits (acting as dried skin) the flex from the electric kettle, and the shower curtain as a cape (Partridge is quick to point out that he made sure he could reattach the rings later on: "nothing has been broken"). The glorious punchline is the appearance of those Tungsten-tip screws as talons. Partridge has attempted to rebel against the tyranny of these objects over his equilibrium by reshaping them into something fun and social. His failure to do so is funny, bizarre and rather moving. Drowning his sorrows later at the bar, he finds that Michael too yearns to rebel, and proposes driving off and stealing a traffic cone. The police catch them in the act, Michael runs off, and Alan, let off by a lenient PC, returns to the Tavern. What could have been a cathartic escape from the oppression of the Tavern and the motorway has become a somehow even more cathartic moment of incomparable bathos: of crushing defeat.
The second series of I'm Alan Partridge is easily criticised, but by the time you've finished listing all the odd terrific lines here and the odd terrific scenes here and there and odd deft character-studies here and there, you struggle to care about the flaws. But they are present: for the first time, this is the same Partridge we met in the previous series. The character has stopped evolving, and it's clear that Coogan, Baynham and Iannucci can't follow on from Alan's "down-on-his luck" phase (something that continues in the more recent “Mid-Morning Matters” shorts and the I Partridge book: good, but not up to the glories of KMNY or IAP series 1. One wonders if rebooting him superhero style and making Partridge a TV broadcaster again would reinvigorate the character...?) The setting (Partridge lives in a caravan with his Ukrainian girlfriend Sonia while builders complete work on his new house) is messier and less effective than that of the Travel Tavern. The show has to fall back on safe bets like Coogan playing air-guitar, shouting "Dan! Dan! Dan!" or dancing to the theme from Return of the Saint, which are fun but a long way from Partridge's incomparable tribute to Robin's Nest - "the man who did the washing-up only had one arm, which, when you think about it, is ridiculous!" - in the radio series or Dream-Tony's hair disappearing as he roars "Blue Nun!" in IAP (we'll come to that). Episodes 5 and 6 are clearly rush-jobs, and the unofficial 7th episode, Anglican Lives with Alan Partridge, with Alan interviewed by a spoof of a regional reporter, is a damp squib, with Partridge's dialogue comparatively anonymous:
Q:What's your favourite film?
A:Titanic. I thought what James Cameroon [sic] did with that film was extraordinary. I normally go for a curry after a film but when I saw that I went straight home. Of course, it was three hours long and no-where was open.
Q:Your least favourite film?
A:Gorillas in the Mist. I thought it was a tragic waste of Sigourney Weaver, but if you mess around with monkeys you will pay the price.
Hardly "I punched Jessica Tandy" (we‘ll come to that too). As Christopher Hitchens remarked about later Wodehouse books, daylight is being let in on magic here. The same goes for Alan's uninterestingly disastrous attempt to to make a toast at Lynn's baptism in Episode 6 ("is...was...er...iswas - who remembers Tiswas?"), while the scene where he insults Kate Fitzgerald (Julia Davis) in a radio interview is a reprise of the scene with Chris Morris as Peter Baxendale-Thomas in series 1, ep 3 without the careful buildup or the fabulous vocabulary. (The bitter relationship between Alan and his fellow DJ Dave Clifton, which begins in the previous series, is also not as well-written as that with Glenn Ponder).
Episode 5 is broken-backed: the first story sees Alan visited by the Inland Revenue: a promising enough idea, but both inspectors are played by miscast, visibly uncomfortable actresses. This plot is then abandoned (which never quite makes sense - is Alan in trouble with the inspectors or not?) and we have a rather insulting scene in which Alan attempts to placate his girlfriend Sonia by taking her to a National Trust home and claiming that it's Bono's house: an idea mirrored by the farce of the cast and crew driving there and persuading us they've come up with a plot for the rest of the episode.
But then... there's the bear. This episode contains that scene with the bear. A scene anyone interested in comedy should be thankful for. Sonia, who wants Alan to take her to London, keeps buying him toy taxis and Beefeater teddy bears. They enter the caravan, and Alan is confronted by a gigantic Beefeater bear. He screams, grabs a spike full of tax receipts and plunges it into the bear's torso. "It's a bear - I've killed a bear!" he rants at Sonia. When he realises it's just a doll, he comes up with the immortal line "It's not an appropriate gift for a man approaching fifty." Upon realising that Sonia has been out and about with it, he protests: "Sonia, anyone who knows us would think it was me in there! Me in a bear costume! They'd think I'd lost it again!" Depression and aging are somehow evoked through symbols that any novelist or playwright would kill for, and yet only work within the context of a sitcom.
Episode two, similarly, is at first glance clearly based around slapstick of a lower calibre than the previous series, albeit still funny thanks to the cast's selling of it and the writers' gift for the ridiculous line or object. Partridge impaling his foot on a spike and subsequently vomiting his way through a corporate presentation and a scene where he holds a business meeting with a toilet door resting on some bricks disguised as a table are clearly not comparable to the finely-wrought, carefully constructed lunacy of the previous series (just as the unexceptional way episode 3 lurches from Partridge's friendship with the Partridge-lite Dan into straightforward gags when the latter is revealed as a wife-swapper can’t hold a candle to the genuinely frightening situation Alan finds himself in with Jed the stalker in series 1 episode 5).
What lifts this episode from forgettablity however, is the scenes with Michael. Michael now works in a petrol station and there's less tension between him and Alan: they seem used to one another. Michael is staying with Alan, as his front door has been stolen. As Alan looks in on Michael to wish him goodnight, the two have a discussion about helicopters. Michael says he'd like an Apache tank helicopter, and delivers a dark monologue in which he imagines using it to return to school, blow up the science labs, and then hunt for "Tom Donaldson". His grim face illuminated by lamplight, Michael imagines strafing Tom's Triumph Stark and garden pond with gunfire, causing coy carp to spiral into the air, killing Tom and crashing into the sea in a big ball of flames. This brilliantly-performed monologue gets a deserved round of applause from the studio audience, but Alan's rather more apprehensive: "Sleep well, Michael...who's Tom Donaldson?" "Ah, he's just a mate," says Michael cheerfully. This little scene is as well-structured a moment of television and as good a piece of characterisation as you find in a drama, and yet it manages to be simultaneously both unnerving and joyously daft, (as opposed to the self-consciously 'sad' or 'dark' style that Saxondale and the second series of Marion and Geoff fell into) and yet above all funny: only a sitcom could have achieved such a scene, just as the elation the viewer feels at the episode's closing scene, with Michael attempting to cheer up a morphine-addled Partridge with a chalked helicopter landing pad and Alan offering him some sugar puffs, is one that drama or prose could never replicate.
This delightfully acted and written relationship also makes episode four shine, as Alan finds out Michael has another friend at the petrol station - Tex, who prefers John Wayne to James Bond, and has a USA-style horn in his car - and throws a lover's strop: "Your petrol's a little bit petrolly: a little bit obvious," says Alan as he walks out.
Much has been said, by the critics and makers alike, of Partridge's trust in The Daily Mail, his conservatism and prejudice based on idiocy rather than malice, of his love of a cheesy, forgotten England via Roger Moore, Chris De Burgh, The Eagles, Mike Oldfield, Wings and Robin's Nest, and his status as Norwich's most vociferous apologist (the line "Lyn, some of these people have come from Stoke!" seems to capture this aesthetic best). This ground is probably too familiar to go into further. I'd like instead to point to two further qualities essential to the genius of the Partridge oeuvre.
Firstly there's the yearning for connection. The poignant sense that Partridge could be anyone's friend is often hidden within innocuous lines. When discussing graffiti on his car, and asked if he's referring to the hotel, Alan replies there's never any graffiti in the hotel, although someone has drawn "a lady's part" in the toilets, but that it was quite detailed - "the guy obviously had talent," adds Alan. When informed by Lyn that the actress standing in for his estranged wife in a corporate video won't be available for any more filming, and Alan asks irritably why not, he's told she's landed a part in The Bill as a shoplifter. "Ooh, quite good," concedes Alan, and a genuine sense of goodwill flashes before us, as when he asks the person in the phone from Currys: "What time do you knock off?...Got time for a drink...? Ok. Just thought I'd ask."
Secondly, there's the endless list of things. Partridge is the ultimate materialist. Right from the first episode of the radio version of Knowing Me Knowing You, the world he lives in - and that Coogan and his writers build around him - is metonymic - indeed, attempts at metaphor in either the radio or tv versions of KMKY are often checked by his sensibility-defining line "not literally, that would be hideous" (many Post-Partridge sitcoms, like those of Gervais, have subsequently run the “trapped in a bad metaphor" trope into the ground. Even Coogan and co. are using it less elegantly by the time we get to the "I realise I'm just talking about drinking now, not power" line in Anglican Lives).
In Partridge's world, the Rover V-Tesse Fastback, the Lexus, leather-driving gloves, the Bang and Olafson stereo system, Littlewoods, Dolphin bathrooms, Ikea, A "battery for an Ericcson", Dixon's and Curry's are everything. A visit to Tandys every Christmas, as shown on Knowing Me Knowing Yule, resembles that of a devout believer at a holy temple: "it's here that I truly know who I am. I'm Alan Partridge." The sight of him repeatedly pressing the "open" button on a stereo and watching the CD compartment rise - "nice action. Quality action. [pause] I've got one, though." - is delightfully funny, yet cannot be reduced to metaphor: it is what it looks like.
The bizarre homoerotic daydreams throughout series 1 of I'm Alan Partridge, in which Alan asks BBC commissioning editor Tony Hayers for a second series while lapdancing for him, should plunge us into metaphor, but the metonyms follow us even into Alan's subconscious: the bottle of Blue Nun Alan has just ordered in his lunch with the real Tony reoccurs a moment later when his concentration slips (intriguingly, dream-Tony howls with laughter at it: Alan seems to have some sense of self-ridicule after all, albeit suppressed).
Alan even loves and hates by the metonym: one of the most moving scenes in the canon sees Michael, after Alan's previously mentioned sulk over Michael’s new friend, return Alan's Spy Who Loved Me video. Alan invites him in, but Terry's horn is sounded. "Michael, you could have blown the horn on my Lexus! You could have sat in the passenger seat an reached across! It's not on the end of the stalk, it's on the central steering-wheel boss behind the airbag..." "Ah well, that's precision engineering, eh? It's like you always say, it's the Japanese Mercedes," says Michael with glowing loyalty. "God, I've missed you," sighs Alan.
Alan takes revenge on his ex-wife Carol in series 1 by reading a review of her lover's car in Top Gear magazine down the phone. He identifies Dan in series 2 as a friend from his Lexus, Lynx Africa, Dally Mail and taste in flavia. In an extended scene on the video and DVD release of series 1, he considers sacking, but then re-contracts, Lyn on the basis of whether he could afford air conditioning in his car on the savings it would make (Lyn keeps her job by pointing out she could hold a hand-fan to his face). He sacks his entire production company rather than downsize his choice of car ("I'm not driving a mini-metro I'm not driving a mini metro I'm not driving a mini metro") A mental breakdown is triggered by the destruction of his James Bond Videos. "You really have got a lot of issues," says Kate Fitzgerald. "Yeah, of What Car magazine," replies Alan.
In both versions of Knowing Me Knowing You, interviews with Yvonne Boyd (Rebecca Front, wonderful again - has any comedy show been blessed with such a chameleonic actress?), a distinctly Vivianne Westwood-ish fashion designer, result in a cultural battle, as Partridge (with a fair amount of the viewers' sympathy here) attempts to deflate the preposterous metaphors of Boyd's outfits with the trustworthy metonymy of his own distinctive clothes-sense, which he defines as "sports casual" (the "Alan Partridge Tie and Blazer badge combination-pack" he often gives to his guests is the perfect synecdoche for Partridge himself). "That man has no dignity!" he declares as one of Boyd's models walks back and forth catwalk-style clad in an orthopaedic-brogue-and-suit hybrid. "What is dignity?" asks his Derrida-quoting French intellectual co-host. Partridge responds by marching back and forth himself: "that, that," he emphasises, "is dignity." Aren't we laughing with him rather than at him here (as we are in the radio show when he responds to a sex therapist's claim that anxieties of men in unhappy marriages are all down to fear of castration with "No, it's not")?
He's actually courageous in another episode of the radio show, all down to the same insistence on countering euphemism with metonymy : interviewing Shirley Dee, a Barbara Windsor-esque actress, Partridge counters her defence of her "lovely" (and distinctly Kray-esque) Uncle Dennis by reading a pathologist's report on his victim. As Shirley attempts the in-with-a-bad-crowd defence, Alan calms repeats each of the details "barbaric, forensic attack...massive internal injuries...organ malfunctions..." and Coogan somehow turning these hideous phrases into that extraordinary poetry we find only in comedy. Partridge’s stubborn literalness allows him to make a profound moral point: until a moment later, when he realises Uncle Dennis will be listening, addresses hum directly and grovellingly retracts his comments.
Even emergencies don't take priority over metonymic addiction. When driving away from Jed, a psychotic stalker threatening to rip his head off, in episode 5 of IAP series 1 and having to abandon his car, Alan, running madly, raises his key and we hear the reassuring click of his Rover's electronic doorlock behind him. When being shown a creepy video of Dan and his wife rutting and realising he's being groomed for group sex, Alan still notices with interest the kitchen surface he was hoping Dan could get him a discount on. When berating his employee Jill for attempting to bring chocolate mousse into their lovemaking - which he regards as an obscene assault upon his person - he still remembers to call the part of the bed covered in mousse "the valance", which confuses Jill.
These two qualities - the yearning for kinship and dominance of consumer products - sometimes meet. In the second episode of the TV version of Knowing Me Knowing You, Alan interviews Tanya Beaumont and Gary Hills (Front and Marber), a vaguely Hugh-Grant-and-Liz Hurley-esque couple. Gary, sulking behind sunglasses once belonging to James Dean, sneers as Alan reads out the list of his Kiefer Sutherland-esque pranks. (He adds one of his own: "I punched Jessica Tandy.") Alan then reveals that Gary was once "office equipment maintenance of the year" before he became an actor. Alan has a broken photocopier from his office brought to the studio. Gary won't even look at it at first. After Alan suggests perhaps he isn't able to mend it, Gary asks "what make is it?" and then snaps "Mono or multifeed?" He walks over. "Yeah, it hasn't been reset after a paper jam." He fixes it, and, a note of happiness and gregariousness coming into his voice, asks Alan where he keeps his paperclips, demonstrating a magnetised compartment where he would be better of storing them. "nice little feature...nice little machine, this.." and as the traces of a happier life and a nicer person fade, he sighs "I don't do that shit anymore" and walks off.
During the aforementioned zombie prank disaster, there's a sublime moment when Alan, responding to a quibble about his costume, replies "You've made two major errors there: number one..." at this point the others notice the talons on his fingers. Alan reveals them to be Tungsten-tip screws: "number one..." at this point Partridge notices the effect of counting on his fingers with the Tungsten-tips and a note of warmth comes into his voice "quite for making a point, actually, aren't they...". His bleak comment to Lyn on the ring-road earlier has turned out to be untrue.
Alan Partridge is unlike any other fictional character before or since, and the two shows in which he is the protagonist achieved things with comedy one could never have imagined. Regardless of how broadened and familiar Partridge gets in his present phase, or whether or not Coogan finds a character to match him, whenever we rewatch or listen to Knowing Me Knowing You and I'm Alan Partridge, we learn something new about comedy, and therefore about life.