The week in comedy: 'Tis the season to buy jolly DVDs


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The Independent Culture

It was Super Monday this week – the comedy industry's equivalent to Super Thursday, when publishers flood the bookshops with celebrity memoirs and other sure-sellers for the festive market. So on Monday DVDs by Miranda Hart, Reginald D Hunter, Micky Flanagan, Jack Dee, Eddie Izzard, Jimmy Carr, Bill Bailey, Seann Walsh, Keith Lemon and others hit the shelves.

Almost a quarter of all DVDs sold in a year are sold in December. They are cheap and 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 sackload. Michael McIntyre has sold 2.5m copies of his two titles. Last year, Mrs Brown's Boys brought in sales of 2.2m.

As a comedian, clearly, you are no one until someone has filmed your gig and packaged it up with a punny title. Like Seann to be Wild or Lemon La Vida Loca. Amused Moose's competition offers new talent the chance "to be considered for a DVD option" as part of its prize. A DVD is a milestone on the path to the O2. It's 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 missed has obvious appeal. A DVD is cheaper than a seat in the stalls at the Hammersmith Apollo but there's a good reason for that. Still, for keeping up with overseas talents, they are invaluable.

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 to make the space feel as intimate as the material. This Christmas he is releasing it on DVD with some classy extras – an interview with Alan Yentob and a documentary about his time in New York. "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 so many of them."

The connoisseurs' choice this Christmas will be The Alternative Comedy Experience. The first series of the Comedy Central show, fronted self-effacingly by Stewart Lee, features a slate of brilliant 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 wonderful Stand club in Edinburgh.

"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 off the sofa and hunt down the real thing in a dingy club – which is of course where they all began.