COMEDY

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Cluub Zarathustra is at The Grace Theatre, Battersea, London SW11 (0171-223 3549) tonight, and BAC, London SW11 (0171-223 2223) Tue to Sat

I n the words of its Nietzschean Superbeing and frontman, The League Against Tedium, the object of Cluub Zarathustra is as follows: "Using the stinking carcass of so-called comedy as a LENS, we shall focus harsh philosiphee, religion, poetry and base animal passion onto your ear, causing it to smoulder."

As you might have gathered, Cluub Zarathustra is no run-of-the-mill, laugh-a-minute cabaret. Created by Simon Munnery (also the alter ego of the world's last socialist, Alan Parker, Urban Warrior) and performed by Stewart Lee, Kevin Eldon, Sally Phillips, Julian Barratt, Jason Freeman and Roger Mann, it draws on the atmosphere of the Euro-cabarets of the 1920s and aims to challenge the conventions of straight stand-up with a host of bizarre characters and a bit of good, old-fashioned strangeness. When I spoke to him, Munnery was in the midst of constructing, for that night's show, "an opera device. I'll let you into a secret - it's an opera singer done up to look like a machine."

Now being developed as a series for Channel 4, Cluub Zarathustra began as a "reaction against the constraints of the stand-up form," according to Munnery. "If you go around the circuit, everything has to be a microphone and someone speaking into it for 20 minutes. It seemed that much more of a show could be done. Rushing towards 30 punchlines a minute is the law of diminishing returns. To me, it doesn't matter if Cluub Z isn't funny. I'm sick of funny things." But in its own weird and wonderful way, Cluub Zarathustra is funny - if only because it's so different.

One of the chief attractions is Munnery's preposterous Ubermensch host, The League Against Tedium, a man given to "thoughts, reveries, high-tone camp and Nietzchean wit". He is the latest - and perhaps the wackiest - character to stalk the circuit. "Character comedy is a good way to get on telly," Munnery muses. "It's also nice to see some costumes. Coming out of a play, a lot of people say, `nice costumes', and don't even mention the acting. The audience want know where their money's gone. They want to know that someone has gone to some pointless effort."

EYE ON THE NEW

Richard Herring, the more generously proportioned of Lee and Herring, is previewing his new play, "Excavating Rita", at Short BAC and Sides at BAC (0171-223 2223) from Wed to Sat. How can you miss a play "about love, death, chemical toilets and archaeology"?

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