Stewart Lee's history of stand-up on TV

Thinking inside the box with the maverick comedian

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Iconoclast comedian Stewart Lee knows TV's delicate relationship with live comedy better than anyone. Ahead of his Comedy Central series showcasing leftfield comics he outlines the history of stand-up on television…

Picture credit: Steve Ullathorne.

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'The Alternative Comedy Experience' (2013+, Comedy Central)

The best stand-up showcase ever made for television places two dozen of the sort of comics broadsheet critics and other comedians rate way above all the shit the public and TV executives like, including the highest ever proportion of women on a TV stand-up show, in a dimly lit Scottish basement. Without any supportive cutaways to laughing claques of no-taste divs, the focus is thrown on to the naked material and the raw performances, not the spectacle and the showbiz. The hard short edits of Granada’s “The Comedians” mesh impossibly with long extended routines in a “Wheeltappers and Shunters” live ambience. It eschews the fake bonhomie of the Open Mike Productions showcases for an art-house documentary-style journey to the flourishing fringes of our rapidly emulsifying TV stand-up scene.

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