What is alternative comedy? How did it come to exist?
“I had to laugh. Darrick Rainey, the editor of L.A. Weekly, called me with notes on this piece. “You need to say what UnCabaret is. Right up top. Your story is too conversational.” “Well, Darrick,” I said smiling, “that’s exactly what UnCab is. Conversational.” But of course I knew what he meant, and here it is.
UnCabaret is the original so-called “alternative comedy” show. It’s a place where comedians set aside their acts and tell stories ripped from the headlines of their lives. They do risky, intimate sets about how they’re changing — raw, unpolished stories, rants about the zeitgeist. It’s a place where comedians explore ideas they will polish and develop elsewhere, or just let go of.
UnCabaret is also a loosely knit collective of aligned and brilliant comedy voices in conversation with one another. The mind-blowingly talented original group includes Patton Oswalt, Bob Odenkirk, Janeane Garofalo, Kathy Griffin, Dana Gould, David Cross, Scott Thompson, Julia Sweeney, Margaret Cho, Tim Bagley, Mike McDonald, Terry Sweeney, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Karen Kilgariff, Merrill Markoe, Ellen Cleghorn, Taylor Negron, Moon Zappa, Judy Toll, Blaine Capatch, Paul F. Tompkins, Henriette Mantel, Warren Hutcherson, Michael Patrick King, Bob Goldthwait, Laura Milligan, Andy Kindler, Greg Behrendt, Rick Overton, Andy Dick and Jeff Garlin. Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman, Louis C.K. and Bill Maher all dropped in. It’s more female and gayer than most comedy shows. And we’ve always had a sense of urgency rather than of fooling around and killing time.
UnCabaret is about stories, so people often ask if it’s like the Moth. Yes, but tilted wildly toward comedy. And, also, having one’s notes onstage is no problem at UnCabaret. Because if comedians are willing to get up and find the funny in things like confronting a creepy uncle, braving the dildo of radiation, escaping Scientology or getting busted on location, then I have zero issues with a notebook, scrap of paper, index card or even a hand covered in Magic Marker notes as a map. Also, UnCabaret isn’t like the Moth because it started before the Moth.
It was the late ’80s. The comedy boom was on. Seinfeld and Roseanne were on the verge of becoming blockbusters. Clubs were littered with comedians doing “tight 10s,” the 10-minute set that could become your late-night talk show set and ultimately, if you were luckiest, a sitcom. But even comedians who didn’t get their show were making decent bank on road work, writing gigs and holding deals.”
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