It was Super Monday this week. This is the comedy industry’s equivalent to Super Thursday, when publishers flood the bookshops with celebrity memoirs and other sure sellers for the festive market – only with stand-up DVDs.
So on Monday, Miranda Hart, Reginald D Hunter, Michael McIntyre, Micky Flanagan, Ross Noble, Adam Hills, Eddie Izzard, Sean Lock, Jack Dee, Jimmy Carr, Bill Bailey, Alan Davies, Josh Widdicombe, Seann Walsh, Tom Stade, Kevin Bridges, Keith Lemon, and Roy Chubby Brown all hit the shelves.
Super Monday has been a thing for a few years now. Almost a quarter of all DVDs sold in a year are sold in December. They are cheap, easy to wrap and give families something to do between the turkey and Doctor Who. And if their life after Christmas Day is less certain – often the bargain bin or charity shop awaits – people still buy them by the trolleyload. Michael McIntyre has sold 2.5million copies of his two DVDs. Last year, Mrs Brown’s Boys brought in sales of 2.2million. When she released Chatterbox in 2011, Sarah Millican broke all records for a female stand-up, selling 172,000 copies in the month leading up to Christmas.
As a comedian, clearly, you are no-one until someone has filmed your gig in front of a red curtain and an obliging audience and packaged it up with a punny title. Like Seann to be Wild or Lemon La Vida Loca. A talent competition run by Amused Moose now offers the chance “to be considered for a DVD option” as part of its prize. Releasing a DVD is a milestone on the path to The O2 and McIntyredom. It is also a chance for comedians to immortalise the ephemeral joys of a well-crafted hour, and to have it reach many more people than a non-arena tour ever could.
For fans, owning a show that they enjoyed, or catching up with one they may have missed, has obvious appeal. At £13.99, a DVD is cheaper than a seat in the stalls at the Hammersmith Apollo. And for keeping up with overseas talents, DVDs are invaluable. Without his 2008 release Chewed Up, Louis CK would still be widely unknown in the UK.
While most titles, however classy the material, offer a man with a mic on a brightly lit stage, some stand-ups are carving a different path. Bo Burnham will stream a recording of his last show what. for free on YouTube and Netflix. Simon Amstell screened a recording of his last show, Numb, on BBC4 last Christmas. The set-up was deliberately spare, with a bare brick backdrop and camera angles designed to make the space feel as intimate as the material. He is now releasing it on DVD with some classy extras – an interview with Alan Yentob about his craft and a documentary about his tour to New York which includes blurry fan footage and a chat with his long-time collaborator Dan Swimer. There’s just something a bit disgusting about DVDs now”, he says. “In the past they were called specials. But they’ve become not special. There are just so many of them.”
The connoisseurs’ choice this Christmas might be The Alternative Comedy Experience. The first series of the Comedy Central show, fronted self-effacingly by Stewart Lee, features a slate of brilliant, unconventional stand-ups, including Josie Long, Simon Munnery, Tony Law and Sam Simmons. It is filmed in front of “a real, proper, live comedy audience” at The Stand, Edinburgh, which is possibly the best comedy club in the world.
“It's the real deal, like an art film about cool stand-up”, says Lee. “It hasn't been made in a spirit of exploitation, the money spent on it is on the screen. Big management sees the Christmas stand-up DVD as a cash cow, they think it will be forgotten tomorrow, and they are mainly a shoddy rip-off. But no-one will admit to that.”
Each of the 12 episodes cuts together routines from the various stand-ups with Lee’s odd little backstage interviews. You might get David O’Doherty on how the internet is better than God, Bridget Christie on Tory feminists or David Kay on losing his pyjamas. Like a real mixed-bill night you might love some, hate others but you will discover new voices along the way.
The best comedy DVDs act as a reminder of the thrill of live stand-up. They make you want to get up off the sofa and hunt down the real thing in a dingy club, which is of course where they all began.
Here’s a nice idea from Radio 4. If you tweet including the phrase #curiousforcomedy they will instantly reply with a taster clip from one of their current slate of comedies. I tried it this week and got a bit of Stephen K Amos’ punchy sitcom about growing up in 1980s South London, What Does the K Stand For? A link on the page then takes you to full episodes of programmes you might not have heard about otherwise. A look through the full @bbccurious4 Twitter feed shows it is a bit of a lottery. You might get a nice slice of Andrew Maxwell or Miles Jupp, you might end up with Sandi Toksvig. So be curious, but be careful.
What I Watched this week
Him and Her
On BBC3. I’m a big fan of this grotty bedsit rom-com and a particular fan of Kerry Howard’s monstrous Laura. So a whole series dedicated to her Bridezilla exploits is my idea of cringey heaven.
On Radio 4. If you’ve ever seen Key live, you will know the ethereal, Soviet lounge music he plays under his act. In this offbeat documentary he delves into the life of Vyacheslav Mescherin, who composed it. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03h30gb/Tim_Keys_Easy_USSR/
On YouTube. Ricky Gervais leads the human talent as Dominic Badguy in the film trailer for Most Wanted. Look out for Tina Fey as a Russian GULAG officer, Modern Family’s Ty Burrell as a French Interpol inspector and songs by Flight of the Conchords’ Bret Mackenzie. http://movies.yahoo.com/video/muppets-most-wanted-theatrical-trailer-002011109.html