The Alternative Comedy Experience is a programme that has been described as “TV’s only acceptable substitute for getting off the sofa and going to a gig,” as its aim is to broadcast a true representation of a live comedy show, and I think it does a respectable job. The thirteen-episode series opened in the strongest possible way, with the first episode featuring Tony Law, Paul Foot, Bridget Christie, Kevin Eldon and Michael Legge.
There are many opportunities here to learn of new comedy talent, as well as, for me, reaffirming opinions I already had of a few of my favourite comics. It was a pleasure to be able to recognise some of the material from the likes of Law, Foot, Christie and Sinha from times I had seen them live before, but recreated in a new setting (whilst with some of the above I had seen the sets in small clubs, others had been viewed in arts centres and large music halls). Episode eleven, Stag Night, was particularly strong, with Josie Long effectively dealing with a heckling, you guessed it, group of men on a stag night, and Robin Ince managed to draw comparison between Charles Darwin and the world’s other great observers, namely, Michael McIntyre.
Amongst the new comedians I was introduced to, I was very impressed by science nerd and songstress, Helen Arney, as well as Simon Munnery’s alter ego, Alan Parker, and Andy Zaltsman (I’d only listened to interviews with him, never any of his actual stand up). It was also hilarious to hear my mother come into the room whilst Kevin Eldon’s posh poet counterpart was one stage and say: “I had no idea he was called Paul Hamilton!”. As well as Arney, there was an abundance of brilliant musical comedy in this series from the likes of Isy Suttie and David O’Doherty.
An aspect of the production that I really do appreciate, and despite the fact I highly value his stand up, is the fact that there is no performance from Stewart Lee himself, as the curator, on the DVD. I think this decision was very modest, as it allows a larger number of comics to make the episode their own, and avoids the show becoming an extension of Comedy Vehicle. Having Lee’s name attached will inevitably increases interest, and I think his side-stepping of the spotlight is very noble. Lee’s only appearances come in the form of interview clips with the acts, which again adds interesting insight into the performers behind the comedy, and are often the source of just as much laughter.
The Alternative Comedy Experience is one of those programmes that reminds me of the reasons behind my love of comedy. The talent shown here is immense, and I look forward to seeing even more new faces in the next series. The biggest issue I have is with the number of acts crammed into one DVD, as well as the fact I know there are other names who performed at the gigs but were not included in the televised series. It is difficult to tread the line between refining this rather fragmented programme and ensuring it keeps the required feel of a realistic gig experience, but The Alternative Comedy Experience makes a modest attempt at achieving this.