The Alternative Comedy Experience (3 stars)

Stewart Lee curates a series of alternative comedians, but offers little discussion on the genre

The Alternative Comedy Experience

Stewart Lee is not sure that he and Comedy Central will have the same hopes for his curated 12-part show. The comic sees it as being similar to a ‘slightly under-attended Tuesday night at an arts centre’; Comedy Central’s ambitions remain unclarified, but on viewing the full four hours they may have considered renaming the show.

Filmed in the Edinburgh Stand, The Alternative Comedy Experience suggests some kind of exploration of what that term might mean today, using examples from the contemporary acts involved. Other than a fleeting chat with David O’Doherty in which they knock about this ‘pejorative’ term and conclude that a bunch of likeminded stand-ups sometime around the year 2002 endorsed ‘a cult of abstinence’ (ie they wouldn’t go on stage hammered) and could be seen at festivals ‘playing volleyball in swimming pools,’ the phrase is never mentioned.

Perhaps, ultimately, the lack of debate about the term is a recognition by Lee and co that no one really thinks that such a thing as ‘alternative comedy’ exists today. Back in the early 80s, there was an obvious backlash against the tide of bigotry that fuelled much mainstream comedy, both on stage and on television. This show acts best as a testament to the legacy of alternative comedy that opened the floodgates to so much rich and varied work. There’s the political edge of cricket fan Andy Zaltzman, the Dadaist anarchy of Paul Foot, the sheer daftness of Bridget Christie and the marginally nihilist observations of Alun Cochrane. And there’s David Kay with his musings on why you should ensure the oven is properly preheated when making scones. Now that might be the future of alternative comedy.

Comedy Central, starts Tue 5 Feb, 11pm.


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