Go Faster Stripe!
Annette Slattery Â– 06 March 2007
I was scratching around on the internet last year, waiting for Stewart LeeÂ’s Â“90Â’s ComedianÂ” show to become available on DVD, when I discovered something that captured my interest. It wasnÂ’t the DVD itself (although that definitely did interest me, itÂ’s just not what IÂ’m referring to here). The thing that especially piqued my interest was the small, newly formed company that was producing the DVD.
Â“Go Faster StripeÂ”, one of the newest players in the world of internet comedy DVDÂ’s, is playing to a niche market, producing DVDs of live performances from some of todayÂ’s most respected comedians, the kinds of comedians who, due to their edgy, intelligent, original, thought provoking or challenging material or, heaven forbid, their refusal to compromise integrity in exchange for commercial success have become almost commercially non viable. I asked Chris Evans, the founder of Â“Go Faster StripeÂ”, why larger companies with much greater resources shy away from such projects. Â“I think itÂ’s the moneyÂ”, says Chris. Â“For some reason, most people in the world are good and nice, yet most companies are money grabbing fools. So the big companies wonÂ’t do it, because they wonÂ’t be able to make money. But my mates, who all work in these companies, are quite happy to work for hardly any money, because itÂ’s good fun.Â”
Chris gathered a collection of his friends; Craig Griffith; Chris Brown who takes the still photos and designs the DVD sleeves; cameraman Neil Cox; editor Claire Pringle; and sound recordists Matthew Lovett and Gerald Tyler; together to help redress a gaping hole in the comedy industry. Â“What happened was Â– I went to see Stewart Lee in November 06, performing his 90s Comedian show. It was fantasticÂ”, says Chris. Â“I kept going on and on about it Â– so for Christmas my girlfriend bought me his DVD. It was great Â– but was of the previous yearÂ’s show. So Â– I went to look at his website to see when this yearÂ’s show would be out. To my horror, I read that because his current DVD sold so badly, there would be no follow-up. And that was that. Then, the following day, in the bath, all the pieces fell into place Â– I work at a small arts centre here in Cardiff. ItÂ’s got a little theatre in it. IÂ’ve got a couple of mates that are cameramen and one of them goes out with a film editor. And I know my way round a computer, so I could do the website and DVD authoring. So Â– we had a small, but perfectly formed recording team. Everyone was up for it, all I needed was Stew. So I sent him an email and asked if he was interested. I still canÂ’t quite believe this bit Â– but he wrote back and said he was in. A date was set and the DVD was recorded.Â”
Â“I think everyone was surprised when StewÂ’s show came out so wellÂ”, he adds. Â“We werenÂ’t sure we were going to offer it for sale until we saw the first cut that Claire did, but two minutes after putting it on, I knew it was going to be great.Â” After this initiation, Chris pursued the idea, getting more comedians on board. Â“I wrote to a pile of comedians that I like,Â” he says. Â“For some reason, the people I like tend to be commercially unviable. At least they used to be commercially unviable. About half of them wrote back, and we have a few more recordings lined up for this year.Â” Included on the promised list of upcoming recordings this year are Tony Law and Simon Munnery. The company is also releasing two DVDÂ’s from Stewart LeeÂ’s one time comedy partner Richard Herring. Although not as well know in Australia as in the UK, Richard has been a stalwart of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival since 1987 and is somewhat better known in Britain for his nineties television work with Stewart (which is unavailable on DVD but a lot of examples can be found on youtube). Earlier this year Richard made a recording with Â“Go Faster StripeÂ” of his 2005 Edinburgh show (his 20th consecutive appearance at Edinburgh) Â“Someone Likes YoghurtÂ” which will be released later this year. And although they didnÂ’t make the recording, GFS are also releasing a DVD of an earlier show of RichardÂ’s called Â“The Twelve Tasks of Hercules TerraceÂ”.
I asked Richard Herring what drew him to first become involved with Â“Go Faster StripeÂ”. Â“ItÂ’s always seemed a shame to me that I have done all these one man shows and because I am not high enough profile for a big company to release my DVD they just disappear into the etherÂ” he says. Â“So when Chris Evans approached me I was very interested in his proposals. The fact that Stewart had already done a DVD with them helped and I saw a bit of it and thought it looked good. It was a good quality recording and well put together and I liked the fact that the team are first and foremost comedy fans who just want to get the shows out there at a reasonable price. I figured that I would be able to sell enough DVDs to reach the break even point and I am more interested in having the shows available rather than make huge amounts of money from them. So very happy to be working with Go Faster!Â”
Â“Go Faster donÂ’t tell us what we can or canÂ’t say and are happy to give faithful representations of the materialÂ”, adds Richard. Â“At the moment because no-one else would release this stuff then itÂ’s just invaluable to me to have this smaller scale opportunity to get the work out there. I am not clever or proficient or organised enough to get round to doing all the work of marketing and production myself, so itÂ’s ace to have someone to do it for me.Â”
I asked Richard if an opportunity would be available to people like himself, Stewart Lee, Tony Law and Simon Munnery without a company like Go Faster Stripe. Â“Not at this quality I donÂ’t thinkÂ”, he says. Â“Occasionally fans ask about recording shows and sometimes they are talking about more sophisticated recordings, but mostly they are not as professional as the GFS guys. The Hercules show was filmed by someone else and the quality just isnÂ’t as high and the people who did it had no facilities to get the thing put together and released. Having a team to do the whole thing, including production and selling them is brilliant and I think youÂ’ll see the difference in the quality between the Hercules show (not done by GFS and still perfectly watchable) and the Yoghurt one. Getting these DVDs out at ÂŁ10 or less is amazing and so everyone is a winner.Â”
So do projects like this signal a change where artists are able to circumvent commercial companies? Â“I hope soÂ”, says Chris. Â“When aliens take us over, and look at our cultural contributions, I think they will be angry at what we have done. Middle of the road comedians are the only ones whose DVD will sell in any numbers, so they are the only ones big companies want to deal with. I am fearful of the aliens, and at least now weÂ’ll be able to show them something.Â” Richard adds Â“I think that with the increasing ease of filming and producing DVDs and also with the revolutionary medium of the internet that this might well happen. I think the internet will get to the stage where itÂ’s possible to make shows on a reasonable budget and then charge people to download them and thus people will be able to circumvent both commercial companies and broadcasters. It would be great to have noone telling you what is and isnÂ’t acceptable.Â”
Â“The Twelve Tasks of Hercules TerraceÂ” marks the companyÂ’s first release for 2007. Â“ItÂ’s a show I did a couple of years ago,Â” says Richard, Â“in which, due to a combination of depression and borderline autism, I took on a dozen labours in an attempt to emulate the fictional demi-God Hercules. Some were stupid, some were impossible, most were very difficult and the majority took me to the edge of mental illness, but it was an interesting study in how being proactive can change your life and move you onwards in your life. I ran a Marathon, rowed a boat race, dated 50 women in 50 days, tried to kill the Loch Ness Monster and attempted to steal Germaine GreerÂ’s bra. The show is a document of the madness and a record of a tragic and amazing period of my life.Â”
So, for Chris, is this a rewarding exercise? Â“Absolutely. For example, IÂ’ve never done an email interview for an Australian website before Â– and IÂ’m enjoying that. And I get emails from people who are happy about what we are doing Â– and that in turn makes me happy. And isnÂ’t that what life is about?...I think the most important thing is that great stand up shows will now live forever. DoesnÂ’t matter if they will sell well Â– as long as they are good, and we get to hear about them, weÂ’ll record them for future generations.Â”
To purchase Â“The Twelve Tasks of Hercules TerraceÂ” go to the Go Faster Stripe website. For more on Richard Herring check out his website
Many thanks to Chris Evans and Richard Herring.