Dylan Jones: Whereas Rik Mayall snivelled around in an old raincoat, the American comics simply shouted at people

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The Independent Online

Recently I went to see Michael McIntyre (for the time being, as we learned in these pages last week, the world's funniest man) perform at the O2 in London in front of 20,000 people. He was greeted as though he were Bono, striding on stage like a rock star looking for his band. Not that he needed one. McIntyre is as comfortable on stage as he is in his kitchen.

But, oh, how comedy has changed. Twenty years ago I saw the late Sam Kinison perform in LA, and it was one of the most visceral experiences of my life. Kinison bombarded the audience with verbal salvos of such ferocity that we spent most of the evening looking forward to the end. Not that it wasn't funny – it was – but it was similar in a way to watching Sham 69 in a London club in 1977. The experience was exhilarating; you just worried about getting out alive.

Before becoming a comedian Kinison had been a revival-style preacher, and his stand-up routine was characterised by evangelical histrionics, punctuated by a trademark scream, often directed at the audience. Before his untimely death in 1992, Kinison was regarded as one of the leading lights of the American alt-comedy scene, along with another loudmouth, Andrew Dice Clay. An exponent of the "comedy of hate", Clay screamed abuse at anyone who came across his radar, and was accused of homophobia, sexism and misogyny, even being banned from MTV.

Kinison and Clay were examples of the US response to our own alternative comedy – but whereas we had the likes of Rik Mayall snivelling around in an old raincoat trying to appeal to students, the Americans simply shouted at people.

Even so, we were encouraged to celebrate them all for their originality, individuality and idiosyncracies. But since the Nineties, when alternative comedy became something of a lifestyle option, everything has changed again. These days, comedy once more revolves around the observation of the ordinary, the safety of the shared experience.

And as Michael McIntyre continues to prove, the shared experience is often the funniest experience of all.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'