Laugh if you wanna Go Faster

There is a forbidden quality to a good night of stand up; it's best suited to small dark rooms where comics dare to whisper their unspeakable thoughts out loud.

Feature by Emma Ainley-Walker | 07 Dec 2007
Stand up is about the night and the moment says Richard Herring on his DVD Someone Likes Yoghurt. "It's so immediate, it's kind of private." It's true that there is a forbidden quality to a good night of stand up; it's best suited to small dark rooms where comics dare to whisper their unspeakable thoughts out loud. But transferring these moments to the screen has proved difficult. TV execs grapple with formats and schedules, but somehow the bright studio lights burn out the most intimate qualities of stand up. It's not impossible, but it's just not very profitable (unless you're Ricky Gervais or Peter Kay), and therefore comedians are limited to panel games and the occasional ten minute spot on variety shows. But true stand up, as Jerry Seinfeld says, is hours, not minutes, long, and when - even in this technological, media savvy world - there is no room for comedians outside the light entertainment spotlight, it's clear that something is wrong. It's a problem that occurred to Chris Evans of Chapter Art Centre in Cardiff, to whom the solution seemed radically simple: film his favourite stand ups in his local theatre and produce DVDs dirt cheap.

Now a year old, Go Faster Stripe's creation began with Stewart Lee's 90s Comedian, a show which no major distribution company risked even a glance at without fear of retribution. Yet it's a critically acclaimed show, one which Time Out enthused 'should win the Booker prize' and that Evans thought needed recording for posterity. "Sometimes when you are watching a show you realise that something special is happening, and that's how I felt watching 90s Comedian for the first time. It was very, very funny. And yet occasionally painful to watch." 90s Comedian is now the first in a series of Go Faster Stripes' growing DVD collection.

Following Lee to Cardiff is his old partner in crime Richard Herring, with his 2005 show Someone Likes Yoghurt. Like 90s Comedian, Herring's act is an exercise in audience bating, but if you think Lee's attempt to get charged with blasphemy is 'a bit edgy' then wait till you see what Herring does with a trout. By experimenting with tedium and inanity, Herring somehow manages to create a fun hour of boundary-hammering comedy.

Simon Munnery's 'Hello', however, has a completely different feel. Munnery wraps his audience in a knitted scarf, which brings an enjoyable change of pace from the rather exclusive styles of Lee and Herring. A deconstructive clown, Munnery subverts the norms of comedy with 96 minutes of hyperactivity, characters, poetry and rubbish drawings. He's in his element with the close-knit crowd, riffing off their occasional heckle.

If stand up is about 'the night' and 'the moment' then the audience are a key factor in the show's success. Filming in such a lo-fi way, it's easy to see the jokes live or die on the crowd's reactions. There is a high chance of seeing a comedian die on their arse, but thankfully these performers are old pros. Evans concurs: "The people we are filming are at the top of their game, so it's nice that we occasionally get to show off their dealing-with-people skills. We can always edit it out if it doesn't work. And it doesn't always work; the show we are working on at the moment has a whole section where the show descends into madness and two hecklers end up walking out. We cut it out of the main show, and put it in as an extra."

This is comedy, warts 'n' all, so forget the grand finales of swivelling cameras and flashing lights: there is no Chris Rock-style balloon release on the final punchline. It's just one sweaty comic saying 'Thanks for coming'. Now that's entertainment.

DVDs all £10