A New New Wave of Alternative Comedy?

Although television is a dominant form of screen culture, the burgeoning proliferation of streaming services in the past decade has further altered the face of comedy. Streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Next Up, offer international access to comedy television in an archived database of texts. Although international products appear, national output is inscribed to the geographical location of the streaming service, such as a higher-access to British comedy attuned to British sensibilities. Both past and present shows which proliferated the alt-comedy movement are archived within this library such as the surrealism of The Mighty Boosh, or the laddishness of The Inbetweeners, with more present products eschewing a return to outwardly political comedy through observation such as sitcoms The Windsors (George Jeffrie and Bert Tyler-Moore, 2020) or the trend of comedy specials and hour-long stand-up sets prominent within streaming.

Next Up, an aforementioned streaming service, is specifically designed to give representation and platform to working comics, foregrounding new spaces for amateur comedians working in the industry. This representation embodies the spirit of alternative comedy in anti-sexist and anti-racist material by giving space to women such as Zoe Lyons, Alison Thea-Skot and women of colour such as Njambi McGrath, Shappi Khorsandi. A new space which focuses on the politics of identity in Tory Britain through observational humour, character comedy and storytelling.

This reinvention of the club scene in a digital age returns to the stand-up format to reposition cultural capital in political comedy as a reaction to “anti-sexist” and “anti-racist” comedy made prominent by the current political climate with movements such as BLM and MeToo. As Leon Hunt offers:

“alt-com as part of a cyclical history in which each generation must (p.4) symbolically ‘kill off’ the previous one – thus they define it also as ‘simply a rejection of the preceding fashions in comedy”

The reoccurring trend of “club” comedy is repackaged for the dominant mode of viewership in streaming services  and this may be the symbolic “killing off” of the previous generations outputs of comedy such as Come Fly With Me (2010) and the use of Blackface or the sexist comedy panel show Mock The Week (2005). Creating a new cycle of comedians considered leftist in political positioning, using the stand-up platform to call out racism and sexism. Gavin Schafer questions:

“whether the alternative comedy movement, insofar as it can be described as such, should be historicized in terms of its opposition to the neoliberal “mood of the times,” or whether it was something different—even perhaps, ultimately, a manifestation of Thatcherite hegemony.”

With the Tory government’s right-wing reign lasting over 10 years in Britain is there a new new alternative wave of comedy manifesting to oppose the right and the politics of identity?

 

Link to NextUp Comedy streaming service: Home Page (nextupcomedy.com)

 

Bibliography

Gavin Schaffer (2016), ‘Fighting Thatcher with comedy: What to do when there is no alternative’, Journal of British Studies, 55(2), 374-397

Leon Hunt (2013), ‘From alternative to cult: Mapping post-alternative comedy’, in Cult British TV Comedy: From Reeves and Mortimer to Psychoville, Manchester: Manchester UP, 1-35

 

One comment

  1. Very thought provoking post. I would argue that while platforms like Next Up are awesome, ‘alternative’ comedy spaces never really went away. A transformation in our cultural approach to politics has taken place over the last 50 years or that transcends the divide between left and right. Satire, and that which is ‘anti-establishment’ generally has become so mainstream that The Daily Show is considered part and parcel of the “mainstream media”.

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