Attitude - Wanna make something of it?
Top tips from anarchic Allen
The history of alternative comedy has not been tackled in depth but Tony Allen's Attitude, Wanna Make Something of it; The Secret of Stand-up Comedy (Gothic Image, �9.95pbk) comes close to it.
Allen, not to be confused with his namesakes the brothers Keith and Kevin, is generally regarded as one of the founding fathers of the new comedy, though much of what passes as cutting-edge humour nowadays is very bland compared with the ferocity of Allen's approach back in the late seventies.
Allen is a self-styled anarchist and his background is one of protest, which he shared in the early days with Alexei Sayle , an avowed communist. Both of them were active during the reign of Margaret Thatcher and without her it is doubtful whether alternative comedy would have come into being at all. But this is simplifying its origins. It was also a reaction against safe and comfortable comedians who played up to the prejudices of their audiences - largely working class, it has to be said - by peddling racist and sexist material.
The title of the book really strikes to the heart of the alternative comedy movement, which began in shabby inner London pubs and was aimed at audiences of dissidents, squatters, drug victims and other outsiders. It was cheap to stage, eschewed all the showbiz conventions and was tailor-made for those who were suffering through unemployment, lack of housing and a feeling that most of the country did not care.
The transcriptions of Allen's act, which also broke all the taboos on language, show how fierce his attacks were. He was also closely allied to the work of left-wing and street theatre groups and, to a certain extent with circus traditions. Allen himself often appeared in clown attire and also had some skills as a unicyclist.
It is sad that what started as a genuinely populist as well as political movement should have been corralled into comedy clubs. Originally alternative comedy harboured all kinds of weird and wonderful characters like Bob Flag, a wild and wacky musician, mime artists and speciality acts. The music hall, rather than variety or cabaret, was always lurking in the background.
The book, rambling and disorganised though it is; nevertheless offers a valuable text for would-be stand-ups, who will benefit from Allen's tips on how to hold an audience and overcome nervousness, encapsulating the books title.
Peter Hepple. Stage Newspaper. Nov 07 / 02