CW: Mentions of rape and sexual assault.
I’ll make this clear from the start: this show is not for everyone. Since 2011, the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society (ACMS) has been hailed as a cult comedy success and it’s true it deserves that status- but only if you are on board with the concept of meta-comedy which the night presents. With injokes and experimental silliness aplenty, this show is definitely for people who have at least some familiarity with comedy clichés, and the ins and outs of the UK comedy industry.
It’s important to have a night like this where comedians can try out material which might not work at mainstream nights, or on crowds who just want a simple laugh without getting bogged down in joke mechanics. And it’s important especially when mainstream UK comedy is so homogenous and everyone seems to have the same haircut right now. That really does just mean it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
It also means that the vast majority of people who attend ACMS have been before, which is helpful for creating a supportive atmosphere for both the material that works and the material that works a lot less. The use of only permitted heckles (including “I drew you a cat” and “We appreciate what you’re trying to do”) also helps to make sure the night stays positive.
ACMS is hosted by the giddy Thom Tuck and the slightly more measured John Luke Roberts, who definitely don’t do a good job of holding it together and manage to set the tone perfectly in the process. With a different set of guest comedians each night you might get anything from a song about haberdashery to an over the top story about crabfishing. Steve Pretty provides a musical accompaniment on the trumpet and also does his own highly amusing musical experiments which are a joy to behold.
Two and half hours is perhaps a little too long for both the comedians and the audience, however, and energy does tend to flag no matter how much fun the acts are. Add to this the fact that material can be as much a miss as it can be a hit and you might end up leaving the night feeling short-changed even if you are on board with the concept. Some horrifically inappropriate and misjudged jokes about rape and sexual assault from comedians who should know better on the night of my attendance significantly ruined the otherwise silly-but-safe ethos of the show.
That is why I’m awarding ACMS (a show I have seen many times before and love dearly, objective reviewing aside) three and a half stars, even though most of this review reads like a four and a half or a five. I would still recommend that niche and alternative comedy fans go to see this night at least once because it really is a breath of fresh air. But be prepared that sometimes it can go wrong.