FAQ: Alt Comedy.
BY RIVER CLEGG
Q: What is alt comedy?
A: Alt comedy, also known as alternative comedy, is like comedy’s version of alternative rock. (For those unfamiliar with alternative rock, please consult the nearest dictionary for a clear, agreed-upon definition of that term.)
Q: How can I pursue alternative comedy?
A: Take regular comedy, then replace the funny thing with an awkward thing or a thing that doesn’t make sense.
Q: How did alternative comedy start?
A: It’s complicated. Remember Jerry Seinfeld, and how he would wear those tight, faded jeans? Only they weren’t tight or faded in a cool-looking way? And how he would always tuck in his shirt? Alt comedy is largely a reaction to that.
Q: What is the difference between alternative comedy and regular comedy?
A: Good question. The main difference has to do with the tedium of air travel. Regular comics can joke about this, but alt comedians cannot. (Note: The tedium of bus travel is fine, but unfortunately buses are not funny.)
Q: I don’t understand.
A: Maybe a joke will help clarify things. A regular comedian and an alt comedian walk into a bar. There’s a woman sitting on a stool, crying. The regular comedian says something clever. The alt comedian also says something clever, but only a certain type of person will enjoy it.
Q: How is that a joke?
A: The punchline is that the woman’s husband has died.
Q: Are some comedians more “alternative” than others?
A: Yes! Take Conan O’Brien. On the comedy spectrum, he is farther toward “alternative” than Jay Leno. Much farther. No one really knows what to do with this information, or how to explain it. But it’s critical that you know this and laugh dismissively at those who question it.
Q: Do alternative comedians ever get mainstream exposure?
A: Sometimes. Are you familiar with the televised “roasts” of celebrities? Alt comedians can go to those. Did you see the one when Norm Macdonald told unfunny jokes on purpose? The regular comedians were all, who would do that? But the alt comedians nodded solemnly, for they knew.
Q: I’m a comedian who solely uses props for my act. Some of my best friends only do impressions, and others even use ventriloquist dummies. Since our brand of humor is so far from the mainstream of American comedy, aren’t we the real alternative comedians?
Q: That seems kind of arbitrary.
A: Arbitrary? I’ll tell you what’s arbitrary. A regular comedian and an alt comedian walk into a bar. This time, there are two women crying. Because their husbands have both died of cholera. There’s a cholera epidemic, is what’s going on. It’s what killed the woman’s husband from earlier too. The punchline to both jokes is basically just a long explanation of how cholera kills you.
Q: That doesn’t make sense. Is this supposed to be funny?
A: Everything’s funny with alt comedy!
Q: Jesus. Are there any similarities between regular and alt comedians?
A: Alt comedians are about as unhappy as regular comedians.
SUGGESTED READSMiss Marple Attempts Stand-Up Comedy
by Kristi Harrison (2/3/2010)
My Observational Comedy Bits That Continually Bomb In Comedy Clubs
by Dan Kennedy (3/1/2006)
Richard III’s Five Minutes at The Chuckle Hut
by Daniel Friedman (8/31/2010)
RECENTLYIf Trump Wins, I’m Leaving The Country
by Zoe Pearl (2/9/2016)
Doing Science: Cheating Death, and Skipping Winter While You’re At It
by Emily Helliwell (2/9/2016)
List: A Taxonomy of Naps
by Sam Weiner (2/9/2016)