The Alternative Comedy Experience, Comedy Central - TV review: Women can stand up and be counted


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The Independent Culture

If you're watching a live event on television, then it's not really "live", is it?

With none of the atmosphere of the venue and none of the production values of a studio or pre-recorded programme, you're left with the worst of both worlds. The Alternative Comedy Experience (Comedy Central) is a happy exception to this rule. Both content and style make this Stewart Lee-curated half-hour TV's only acceptable substitute for getting off the sofa and going to a gig.

This is the second year that Lee and some of the crew from BBC2's Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle have set up at Edinburgh's intimate 140-seat venue, the Stand. The result is a kind of overview of all the brilliant comedians and stand-up styles which, for a variety of reasons, are rarely seen on television. Last night, for instance, two out of four of the featured stand-ups were women – Josie Long and Susan Calman – a vast improvement on the token efforts at equal representation proffered by mainstream panel shows.

That's just one example of how this show succeeds in doing things differently. Kevin Eldon (a familiar face from TV sketch shows) demonstrated his bizarre character comedy with a ditty sung from the point of view of a pot-holing fanatic who dresses up his stalagmites like Theresa May (told you it was bizarre). David O'Doherty illuminated the link between clinical depression and Domino's Pizza ("Even the name implies things collapsing in a half-hearted fashion").

Lee's highest praise, however, was reserved for compère Calman. In the backstage interview section, he praised some arch audience-teasing that wouldn't have been out of place in one of his own sets: "You got a massive reaction in the way that you would for a Saturday night telly show, without being in one."

For viewers familiar with the backstage interrogation skits on Comedy Vehicle, it was amusing to see Lee in the interviewer's chair for a change. His questioning was a lot less hostile than Chris Morris's, of course, and this general air of niceness was, if anything, the only disappointment. In a late-night slot it feels like a slight swizz not to include more material that's bitingly satirical or in some way boundary-pushing. But let's give Comedy Central credit for the limb they've already gone out on. A commercial channel can't be expected to alienate all their potential advertising revenue in one night.