Stewart Lee discusses Alternative Comedy Experience axe

Thursday 12th March 2015, 12:51pm

The Alternative Comedy Experience. Stewart Lee. Copyright: Comedy Central

Stewart Lee has opened up on a variety of subjects in a new interview, including the reason behind the axing of his TV series The Alternative Comedy Experience.

The stand-up comedian curated a total of 25 episodes of The Alternative Comedy Experience for Comedy Central in total. The aim of the programme was to showcase the kind of stand-up performer who wouldn't be booked on other TV shows like Live At The Apollo. However, after two series, the format has now been cancelled by the network.

Speaking in an in-depth interview with Mustard Magazine, Lee explained that the show was a success, but has been axed despite that as it didn't attract Comedy Central's desired audience demographic.

He said: "It was very well received, it got great figures, and everyone looked really good on it I think", but "apparently it wasn't worth recommissioning, because it wasn't watched by the right age group."

It looked like the network stopped championing the format as the second series was going out. The first episode of the second series, broadcast in July 2014, was scheduled at 11pm; however by the end of the run the show had been shunted to a post-midnight 'graveyard' slot, with programmes like Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps taking over its earlier schedule slot.

Stewart Lee says he discovered the channel's changed motivations via an article he read in a newspaper: "One of the executives at Comedy Central, interviewed in The Guardian, said, 'It's all very well having the cynical comedy that Stewart Lee likes, but we need the kind of thing that gets shared online in the sixteen to twenty four age bracket'."

Summarising the legacy of the show, Lee says: "It was a little step in the right direction. And now there's some really good footage of great acts out there."

Lee, who is currently touring his stand-up show A Room With A Stew, is due to film a fourth series of his own TV stand-up show, Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle, this December, for broadcast on BBC Two in 2016.

Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle. Stewart Lee. Copyright: BBC

The interview in Mustard reveals the BBC show nearly didn't get as far as a third series, but interest from Sky forced the BBC's hand in giving the greenlight for more. Lee explains: "Initially the BBC didn't want to do a third series at all. So I went to see someone at Sky, and they said, 'Okay, come and do a stand-up series for us.' Then I went back to the BBC and said, 'Look, I'm not trying to be difficult, but Sky have said they'd do something, but I'd rather do more with you, are you sure you're not interested?' And they said, 'Oh, we'll do another series then.' So I went back to Sky and said, 'I'm really sorry, BBC have said that they'll do a series.' And Sky said, 'Oh, we'll do two then.'

"When I went back to the BBC and told them what Sky had said, they commissioned two series. I think I was really lucky, with that and with the timing."

On the topic, he concluded: "Actually, their reluctance to recommission it each time has really worked out for me, by spreading the four series over ten or eleven years."

Lee has also explained in the interview why his new book - TV Comedian - is delayed. "A few things happened; first of all they commissioned more series [of Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle], so there isn't an end of the book yet, it hasn't got a shape to it. Secondly, the business of comedy and that's changing so fast at the moment, so if I'd written the book a year or two ago it would already be sort of irrelevant. Because now you've got things like [comedy management and production company] Avalon trying to buy BBC Three - which is unbelievable, like some science fiction film where business controls media - so you'd have to include that.

"And thirdly, on a practical level, my wife [fellow stand-up Bridget Christie] started working a lot more, and my kid was in nursery. The amount of child care hours I'd have to pay for to have time to write the book would cost two or three times what I'd get to write it. One of the things I said after I left Avalon was that I'm not going to lose money on things any more. I don't mind working for free, but I'm not gonna run up debt. So those are all things that have delayed it, but I will do the book eventually."

Fist Of Fun. Image shows from L to R: Richard Herring, Stewart Lee

Lee's former double act partner, Richard Herring, revealed last month that their attempts to buy the rights to release the 1998 Lee & Herring BBC Two comedy show This Morning With Richard Not Judy have been abandoned. The Mustard interview confirms that Lee is the reason behind this. He explained: "Saying that it'll never be released would be slightly melodramatic, but at the moment I don't want to put the required money in. I've got a mortgage and kids and it seems like funding a vanity project.

"There are various things that have to be done to raise money for it, like old live stuff that was going to be released. But I wasn't very happy with that, and there were other people that had performed in it who hadn't yet been asked whether they were happy about it. The BBC also wouldn't give us download rights, which is a big part of how you make your money back now. As the years go by, physical media sells less.

"I wouldn't think it's over but it's not happening right now. Maybe the fact that even we won't buy it will drive the price down! So someone will be able to get it for a lot less now, if they want it.

"But it hasn't been destroyed. What's good is that, because there was some interest in it, it's been moved out of the room destined for landfill. And it's all up on the internet [on YouTube], so that's good.

"But I was sort of surprised that Rich wanted to spend the money on it, having just lost 30 thousand pounds in Edinburgh with Avalon, and about to have a kid. We would probably have made the money back in the end, because we did with the other one, but the production costs would be more because there's so much of it, about twenty hours. It's like I, Claudius or something. But it'll turn up eventually, like a dog returning to its own vomit."

The full interview can be read now on the Mustard website for free. Aisde from going more in-depth on the above subjects, it also focuses on topics such as On The Hour, the controversy around Jerry Springer The Opera, how Lee is juggling touring and being a parent, and why appearing on 8 Out Of 10 Cats was 'the worst professional experience' of his life.

Read the full Stewart Lee interview

Lee & Herring fans may be interested to know that Mustard has also recently published an updated in-depth Richard Herring interview

The most recent episode of Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, published in February, features Lee & Herring discussing TMWRNJ. Listen

Mustard is a comedy magazine mixing interviews with comedic content. Eight issues exist in total, with updated digital copies of these now been released on a monthly basis. To find out more about Mustard and purchase digital or print copies visit

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