You could be forgiven for feeling a little let down with London’s current crop of DIY punk activity. Alternative comedy, however, although roughly the same age as punk, has over the last few years come into its own as far as “doing it yourself” is...

Feb 1 2008, 12:00am

Tim Key

You could be forgiven for feeling a little let down with London’s current crop of DIY punk activity. Alternative comedy, however, although roughly the same age as punk, has over the last few years come into its own as far as “doing it yourself” is concerned. London houses a flourishing cottage industry of stand-ups, zines, writers, promoters, blogs, editors and the like, with loads of smart, subversive and generally very amusing output. This doesn’t just cover Grange Hill sixth former-looking types shuffling awkwardly behind a mic in some hovel pub in south London either. There are plenty of books, films, plays and other quality products filtering out to a ravenous and loyal audience. If truth be told, for someone feeling dissatisfied with live music in London, a more reliable alternative can be found in its burgeoning stand-up circuit. New blood like Ed Aczel, Marek Larwood and Arnab Chanda are joining stalwarts like Stewart Lee, Simon Munnery and Daniel Kitson, making the smaller clubs the setting for more than just chuckles. Occasionally there’ll be moments of real innovation and maybe even the odd epiphany.

The book is testament to the industrious efforts between creatives and business types at a grassroots level. It marries the ideas of three guys, editor Simon Pearce, designer Ryan Ras, and, most importantly, author Tim Key. The project was helmed by Pearce, a young, forward-thinking comedic Svengali. “I think alternative comedy is growing up,” he says of the first in his series of fancy-looking funny books, “but I’m fed up with the way it’s being presentated. You don’t need to turn up to a comedy club and be greeted by a big cartoon grinning face painted on the wall. Just as you don’t go to an art gallery and find a picture of paintbrush and palette above the door.” After recruiting Ras to lay out everything neatly on nice paper, making it look like the kind of book a headmaster would keep note of detentions in, Key was left to select 60 pieces of publishable writing. Having only been writing poetry for around two years, his verse rings with a sense of having-a-go, but that’s partly what makes it so readable. Having worked with people like Armando Iannucci, Stewart Lee and Steve Coogan, and having just been nominated for a BAFTA for his short-film writing, he knows well how to make people smile and frown. His poems are achingly cute, often candid, and usually baffling flashes of the people, places, things and thoughts that make up his day. He manages the tricky task of being beamingly funny and genuinely sad at the same time. He also manages to be wistful without seeming an utter twat. Elsewhere, with the inclusion of spells, recipes, book pitches and other musings, he descends into increasingly surreal and nonsensical realms without losing an inch of his warm tone or the book’s page-turnability. Combine Key’s words with a weird index-led layout and plush print specs and you basically have the ultimate loo-side accessory right there.


Art Brewer, C.R. Stecyk III

This is a surfing book, but it is not the typical surfing book full of moody portraits of pouting Aussie hunks in wetsuits with sand in their hair. This guy looks like the Ron Burgundy of surfing. He took all his inherited millions out of the bank in an armoured car when he was 21 (pretty cool for a start) and then set out on a mission to destroy himself. Most of the photos are of “Bunker” posing in skimpy shorts with guns, girls, a bugger-grip moustache, huge knives, and spare ammo clips tucked into his belt. He asked his friend Art Brewer to document his wilful descent into self-destructive hedonism that eventually led to his death. And this book is the product of that request—a step-by-step photo essay of one man’s transition from handsome sun-kissed youth to bloated drug fiend sex monster. I am totally on this guy’s dick, posthumously.

Sam Gross
Overlook Press

Sam Gross wasn’t really like other cartoonists of his generation. Gross was neither his real family name nor a name of choice but a name forced on the Putkovics as they entered Ellis Island on their way into New York escaping the Urals. Gross’s disturbing, embittered, one-frame sketches would make him a name among his New Yorker contemporaries that would eventually propel him to editorship of National Lampoon Magazine and, bizarrely, a staff job on Sesame Street. I guess the latter role explains a lot of the borderline insanity involved in a kids’ show featuring a giant talking bird, a monster whose sole sustenance was cookies, a numerically obsessed vampire and a gay monobrowed couple. Here, for the first time in 30 years, is a hardbound collection of the work that must have caught Jim Henson’s eye. Inside you’ll find widows committing suicide with their cats, witches giving birth to gingerbread men and Shrigley-esque line drawings underscored with bleak “This is the End of the Line” maxims. Creepy guy.

Text By Lauri Lyons
PowerHouse Books

If you’ve not come across Shabazz’s previous photo books like Back in the Days and A Time Before Crack, you may find the first third of this book pretty interesting. But if you have seen them you may think he’s just used all the out-takes from them in here, because he probably has. Thankfully, the book soon surges out of the 80s and away from hackneyed Gazelle shades and sheepskin jackets into the infinitely less cool-looking Timberland boots and army surplus gear of the 90s—covering the early Mobb Deep look nicely. At this point, the grainy, out-of-focus, shiny flash look that meshed so well with the whole 80s thing becomes really annoying and you start to yearn for a sharp photo like a Flatbush teen from 1982 yearns for some icy Puma Suedes.


Despite every effort to dress this terrifying woman’s indiscretions up as personal expression and an attempt to liberate the female self from the prevailing cultural constraints of the period, this lavish lunk of dead tree is as sordid as a five quid wank in a peepshow booth. I mean, how can you square the premise that Del Rio is some kind of role model for repressed minorities with the images on every other page of her being repressed orally, anally and vaginally by massive white cocks? And when she isn’t being slapped around the face by hairy 70s pornstar schlong she’s being hailed as “the person I most dreamed of having sex with” by a guy who named himself after a cartoon, (allegedly) killed a man, rapped about killing other men and directed his own awful attempts at pornography before relapsing into making huge amounts of money simply by being unable to say words like anyone else. Still, if you shell out £300 you do get a copy sealed with a kiss from Vanessa herself, which makes me feel nauseous the more I look at these photos and realise just where those lips have been.

Bob Adelman, Charles Johnson
Thames & Hudson

“Bearing witness to the struggle for civil rights”. You know the drill by now: small black kids in dungarees having their placards snatched off them by sweaty white sunburned policemen; huddled masses of black bodies being power-hosed in the streets; segregated cinemas; Dr King and Sidney Poitier being inspiring and so on. The photos are great, though they’re choked by the cramped pages and repetitive layout. But frankly, I have seen enough pictures of people crying into Martin Luther King’s casket to do me for a lifetime.


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