The Wrong Show is an independent and alternative comedy night in Leeds. This is our blog. Here you will find comedy reviews, features, and interviews. We were formally known as HOWL. Our home is The Fenton, Leeds.
By Callum Scott
So, I argued that Jimmy Carr and Michael MacIntyre are alternative comedians. If you’ve got to part two I respect you, I really do. I’m not actually arguing that these acts are paragons of alternative comedy; nor am I arguing that alternative comedy is dead or irrelevant. In fact, I think that a new definition of alternative comedy is required. In the same way that alternative comedy in the 80s was a PC reaction to the working mens’ club comedians that preceded them, current alternative comedy is a reaction to the mainstream comedians of today. I am not anywhere near au fait enough with the conventions of American comedy to talk about it, so I will mainly focus on the UK.
The current mainstream comedy in the UK relies on humour taken from collective shared ideologies and cultural tropes, as can be seen by observational comics such as Peter Kay, as well as the ironic use of these types by comedians such as Jimmy Carr, albeit in different ways. This can be seen by the subjects often viewed as ‘hack’, such as The Only Way is Essex, and chavs. These are culturally relevant ideas that are drawn upon to create humour. The reaction of alternative comedy is rather
than to talk about subjects that are culturally relevant to the majority of society, to instead focus on subjects that are personal to the comedian, which is where the uniqueness of alternative comics comes into play. Andrew O’Neill, described in the Guardian as the ‘definition of alternative’, discusses his day-to-day life as a transvestite, and his journey of conversion to occultism. These are in no way subjects with which the majority of an audience can identify. Whilst O’Neill’s style is also very much alternative in the traditional sense, it is obvious that one of the reasons he is viewed as alternative is the actual content of his material.
In the same way, Bethany Black rarely uses the techniques associated with the stylistic conventions of alternative comedy, but it would be difficult to find someone who wouldn’t describe her as such. Stewart Lee, the current king of UK alternative comedy in the eyes of many, disproves this rule, as his material often has little content in it that is personal, but it would be ridiculous to say that one must be ‘born’ an alternative comedian, or that it is dictated by one’s life experiences. There is an element of American influence in a lot of the alternative comedy that is more personal, whereas Lee’s comedy is inherently more ‘British’, and is still very much a response to mainstream comedy, as can be seen by the regularity with which he talks about it.
What I’m trying to say is that alternative comedy should not be defined by what it is as much as by what it’s not. It changes as what’s mainstream changes. It’s not necessarily true that what is alternative will always transition to the mainstream, but when people think about alternative comedy, the romanticised images I mentioned earlier spring to mind, of comedians who are personal, political, or even satirical of comedy itself. Considering the ideologies behind most alternative comedians, I don’t see any good reason why we shouldn’t stand by these ideas.
Callum also helps organise Pigeon Hole which is a monthly comedy night in Leeds.