Ah, Stewart Lee. King of British alternative comedy. Now, interviewer and presenter of interesting alt-comic performances.
The Alternative Comedy Experience is a great concept, but I feel like its execution, from an editing standpoint, is flawed. Multiple comedians, each performance sliced and diced and spread out over the entire series, interspersed with Lee himself interviewing these comedians about their acts and techniques.
The reason I think it’s flawed is that I might actually prefer the series if each episode was one comic’s standup routine, also featuring them answering questions on their own act. I feel like the structure would actually offer a greater insight into each comic as a result, rather than the constant stream of skits and interview snippets that seem to pander more to low attention spans than those who want an insight into an alt-comedy mindset.
That being said, the comics featured really are good examples of how you can approach stand-up comedy without falling back on tried and tested methods, like Carr’s endless run of jokes or Michael McIntryre’s “isn’t this mental?” material. That’s not to say that the aforementioned two comics are talentless – far from it, in fact – but it’s interesting to see someone tackling comedy a little differently.
Each comic’s act is split up and spread out across the series, and what I did find is that sometimes you’ll get stuff that’s a little out there and amusing, and sometimes you’ll come across a later part of their act that’s absolute gold. Highlights, in my opinion, were Josie Long’s dark re-imagining of Ed Milliband’s approach to public speaking, and a fantastic acoustic number by Phil Nichol that proves why acoustic guitar have a place in alternative comedy.
Stewart Lee is also a great choice as an interviewer, given that he’s got a good insight into the components of someone’s act and enjoys having a laugh with the talent as he helps deconstruct why they do comedy in a specific way. It also provides background into their career, not to mention the fact that it’s simply enjoyable to watch two comedians shoot the shit about what they do when they’re not having to run through a series of jokes on stage.
Their jokes on stage are what make it, though. If you’re so sick and tired of traditional, Live At The Apollo-style comedy, then this might be what it takes to get you laughing again. These comedians specialise in the wonderfully weird, the oddly dramatic, the sly grin of someone who can deliver a torrent of bizarre, dark humour and keep a straight face. This isn’t comedy as many may know it, and I feel like that’s a good thing. I want there to be more choice, and to highlight the work of comedians who don’t fit into the traditional, mainstream, Friday-night mould is important.
The DVD comes with a nice selection of extra bits and bobs, from uncut footage and interviews to a souvenir brochure written by Lee in celebration of the comedians involved. It’s a nice package for those who want something a little different, and if Lee approves of the content, it’s arguably worth checking out. Some odd structure choices, but some good jokes and the odd musical number round it out fairly well.
Season one of The Alternative Comedy Experience is out on DVD on the 18th of November.