Minor British Institutions: Alternative comedy

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The Independent Online

The thing about alternative comedy is that it isn't very alternative any more. Like "New" Labour, time has rendered the adjective redundant, and the nation awaits the alternative to alternative comedy. Maybe comics will go back to wearing dinner suits with frilly shirts and cracking mother-in-law gags.

The origins are obscure, its first appearance variously placed in Devon, London's Comedy Store or in any student bar somewhere around 1980. The timing is telling, as it was a reaction to the election of Mrs Thatcher and her uniquely unfunny brand of politics as much as impatience with Bernard Manning.

A relaxation in telly rules about the F-word also helped. Alexei Sayle stands out as the most original of the new wave, but then again, maybe The Young Ones and Friday Night Live were just a ruder, swearier evolution of Spike Milligan, Python and That Was the Week That Was.

But, whatever else, alternative comedy killed racist jokes, and for that we should be truly grateful.