British funnyman Steve Coogan welcomes challenges. "I like to scare myself," he says.
So after a decade-long absence from the live stage, Coogan went on a stand-up comedy tour of England last year. "I did big, scary venues," he says. "It's like a career kick in the pants, kind of a reality check to make life hard for yourself. It's a comedy boot camp."
Now Coogan, 43, is taking on another daunting task: hosting Film Independent's Spirit Awards on Saturday afternoon in a tent on Santa Monica Beach. Not only will the Spirit Awards mark the first time he's ever hosted anything in America, it will also be the first time he's attended one of the Spirit ceremonies.
The Spirit Awards have always been the irreverent antithesis of the Academy Awards, which takes place Sunday. And so have their hosts. Coogan is joining the ranks of such previous hosts as John Waters, Sarah Silverman, Samuel L. Jackson and Rainn Wilson, who have turned the event into an R-rated party.
The ceremony, honoring the best in indie cinema, will be telecast live at 2 p.m. on cable's IFC; an edited version airs at 10 p.m. on AMC. The nominees for best feature are "Ballast," "Rachel Getting Married," "The Wrestler," "Wendy and Lucy" and "Frozen River," while competition in the acting categories includes such Oscar nominees as Sean Penn, Richard Jenkins, Anne Hathaway, Melissa Leo and Penelope Cruz.
"He is really one of the funniest and smartest comedians and actors around," Dawn Hudson, executive director of Film Independent, says of Coogan. "What I also like is that he's new to the community. . . . He is a dream and really hard-working. I see him in the office and he's cracking everybody up."
Coogan believes he's a good fit with the Spirit Awards because he's no stranger to the indie film world, having played Tony Wilson in Michael Winterbottom's "24 Hour Party People" and a fictionalized version of himself in the director's "A Cock and Bull Story," as well as "sexy Jesus" in Andrew Fleming's comedy "Hamlet 2."
"I think the indie crowd and independent film audiences are kind of my home turf," he says, sipping a cup of tea in the offices of the Spirit Awards' publicists.
"What makes me laugh is that in L.A. I only get recognized if I walk around in Amoeba Records," he says with a chuckle. "They have an esoteric DVD section."
But he's also recognized these days by children because of his role as Octavius in the family blockbuster "Night at the Museum." He'll also appear in the coming sequel, "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian."
"It's really strange," he admits about his younger fan base. "It's kind of weird."
Though he won't go into too much detail about his emcee shtick, Coogan, who has watched several previous Spirit Awards, says he will be making fun of himself "being British in Hollywood, which is kind of a mixed blessing. If you are an actor in Hollywood and you're British, [producers have] to get over the kind of temptation to cast you either as a villain or a butler."
Coogan's also having a "healthy" laugh at the expense of "independent movies and doing material that is unsympathetic to them. That is in the tradition of the Spirit Awards. There is a bit of a punk approach to the awards to differentiate it from other awards."
Unfortunately, Coogan's most famous creation, Alan Partridge -- the hysterically inept sports reporter turned TV talk-show host turned regional-radio presenter he played on British TV in the series "Knowing Me, Knowing You . . . With Alan Partridge" and "I'm Alan Partridge" -- won't be making an appearance.
"It's going to be all unadulterated, 100% Steve Coogan, I'm afraid," he says with a smile.