Nic Wright

DVD review: Stewart Lee’s Alternative Comedy Experience – Season One

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Alternative comedy is a funny old term.

Anyone not so familiar with the modest club-level comics featured in The Alternative Comedy Experience might struggle to find an unifying theme in their acts; something that allows them all to be sheltering under the same semantic umbrella.

The uninitiated – people whose closest contact with comedy is seeing stand-up shows in Saturday night slots, or recordings of arena tours by some ubiquitous, suit-wearing comic – might dub it ‘not the sort of stuff you usually see on the telly’. The more comedy-savvy punted might go with ‘proper comedy’.

The latter is probably what the makers of this show had in mind. Curated by Stewart Lee, the modern face of alternative comedy, The Alternative Comedy Experience was recorded in Edinburgh’s The Stand comedy club, “in front of a real proper live comedy audience.”

An assembly of snippets of sets, intercut with short interviews by Lee, The Alternative Comedy Experience clearly sets out to be an antidote to the brightly-lit, trite comedy shows that have become the face of stand-up in mainstream culture. And it works beautifully.

Boasting an armful of comics, from the accessible observations of Alun Cochrane to David Kay’s endearingly peculiar mumblings, The Alternative Comedy Experience is both a fantastic showcase of comedy’s hidden treasures and an illustration of how expansive and diverse alternative comedy can be.

Quirky left-wing acts are juxtapositioned with the abrasive and surreal, producing a veritable cheeseboard of hilarity.

Politically-charged rants, musical whimsy, terrifying assaults on basic human decency; over the course of the series it becomes apparent that the premise that ties these wide-ranging acts together is that they’re all outstanding at what they do.

Strong sets from Josie Long, Tony Law, Glenn Wool, and Isy Suttie make for desperately funny viewing, but almost everyone on the bill pulls their weight. Wedged delicately between sections, Lee’s informal chats with the comics are almost as joyous as the sets themselves.

After years of re-running nightmarish, mid-morning filler sitcoms, Comedy Central is finally doing its duty as a producer of relevant comedy programming. A brilliant, harmonious collection of performances, The Alternative Comedy Experience goes a long way to redeeming its parent channel.

A treat for aficionados, and a fine toe-dipping exercise for the dilettante, this is bound to tickle your fancy in one way or another. Now collected together on DVD, along with additional material, bonus interviews and a very shiny brochure for those of you who’d like a wipe-clean print of Robin Ince‘s face.

Come on now; who wouldn’t?

Season one of The Alternative Comedy Experience is out now on DVD, priced £19.99. Click here to buy from Amazon for £12.81.