There is no such thing as Alternative Comedy

Or at least there isn’t any more.

The distinction made sense in the 70’s and 80’s when fresh faced radicals like Rik Mayall, Dawn French or Simon Munnery strove to break the stranglehold of the mother-in-law hating racists on the traditional circuit and find new ways of making people laugh that didn’t have to attack the vulnerable.

The new mainstream in comedy is derived from a lot of the alternative comics of thirty years ago. The “Bernard Manning” circuit is dying off as fast as its performers (although sadly it’s audience seems to continue to thrive).

What was the alternative comedy scene has splintered into many different people doing very different things. There are comics like Stewart Lee who refuse to accommodate a mainstream audience in any way. There are others like Michael McIntyre who is certainly “alternative” compared to the velvet suited joke throwers of the 1970’s but is in today’s terms as mainstream as it gets. (That’s not a criticism, it’s just a fact.)

We now have comics doing so many different things: wild surrealism, poignant whimsy, rapidfire wordplay, downright filth that it’s hard to see that they all fit into one label. Yet we haven’t developed a way to describe comedy genres to the public that will let them find what they like. It’s all comedy.

We wouldn’t go to a “music night” and just hope it had something on that we enjoyed – when it might be Bach or it might be A Cradle of Filth.

Having said all that would anyone choose to go and watch two hours of only surrealists in one evening? Perhaps everyone gains from the contrast of styles in one night.

Some separation of styles and audiences is happening by default. Arts Centre gigs have a different crowd and often different comics from Jongleurs/Highlight. Perhaps we have at least two genres “easy for a drunk person on a stag do to laugh at” and “challenging material for a comedy literate audience”. It’s a start.



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