Even if he wanted to, Alistair Green can’t redecorate his living room. The plain white walls that backdrop the comic’s sketches – and our Zoom call – are as much a trademark of his material as the range of deluded middle Englanders and disquieting eccentrics he portrays in front of them. His home is, for his legions of fans, a Mr Benn-style portal to an amped-up reality where Covid deniers believe that hand sanitiser causes the virus and anti-Meghan Markle sentiment is “nothing to do with race – she’s half and half”. He knows his audience would freak out “if I suddenly had purple walls”.
It would definitely be unsettling, given the amount of virtual time total strangers have spent in Green’s home in Deptford, London, during the pandemic. On Twitter and Instagram, he has gained a reputation for sharp satire and general oddities, with Ricky Gervais and Judd Apatow among the thousands to have retweeted his sketches. So-called front-facing camera comics have been having a moment since Covid hit, among them Michael Spicer, with his politically minded Room Next Door skits, and Munya Chawawa, who spoofs government restrictions at lightning speed. While Green has prodded Boris Johnson and co during the pandemic, his iPhone-filmed material is more focused on society at large and the people we all encounter there, often in single-take monologues.
“It starts from maybe something I’ve overheard,” he says. “It’s normally one line. I did one about a woman in a back garden. I thought about that weird English thing where you’re with your family, and someone does that baby voice where they go, ‘Where’s the sun gone?’” There’s a universality in the end product, which is a Frankenstein’s monster mix of Alan Bennett and Scottish comic Limmy complete with climate denial, illness and the looming spectre of death.
Green was well ahead of the front-facing curve, having regularly posted his videos since 2018. Before then, he had garnered praise for his and Diane Morgan’s Wankers series on YouTube (a parody of the amorous Kooples clothing adverts) and a series of videos with his grandmother in which he narrated Fifty Shades of Grey to her, among other scabrous things. While he had been ploughing his standup furrow for the previous decade, and has popped up in some of the funniest shows on TV, including Stath Lets Flats, it’s clear that the internet is where Green belongs.
We speak about Julie, AKA Jules, one of his many memorable characters. On a trip to an Indian restaurant to pick up her takeaway, draped in a shawl, she is overbearing with the staff, assumes Solihull is in Asia, and offers advice on the menu to diners. “Aloo gobi – it’s cauliflower. I saw you looking confused.” Jules is horrendous, but also something of a tragic figure. “I don’t ever want to really be mean,” Green says of his creations. “She’s quite lonely. She wants people to know about her. And there’s a hint that the marriage isn’t great, ‘I’ll sit on the floor and eat with my hands, he’ll have a knife and fork.’ There’s a hint that they diverged at some point and she got into spirituality – crystals and stuff. I don’t think she’s a bad person. She’s just trying to do the right thing. She’d be very keen on pronouns but she’d still vote Conservative, and not make that connection.”
Not all his characters are treated with pathos, though. “Sometimes,” he says, “I’ve got no sympathy for them at all.” Take the sketch where a man poses questions about what a woman could have done differently to avoid sexual assault, ultimately concluding that she must be escorted by a man at all times. “There are no jokes,” he says. “You’re following his logic. And he ends up saying that women should be accompanied because he doesn’t want to acknowledge the problem.” It is, he says, “probably one of the darkest, if not the darkest” of his videos. “Really, what that character is saying is, ‘I’m sort of OK with sexual assault. I don’t want to make any changes. It’s not our fault.’”
Despite the attention he’s garnered online, Green also takes pleasure in showing his comedy in a cinema setting, something he is about to do again at London’s Blue Tick festival. The screenings are, he says, “really chaotic. I always do something weird to make it an occasion. I’ll dress up weirdly, like I think I’m a film director, and I’ll talk at the beginning for way too long.”
Take a look at his Twitter mentions and you’ll find fans and fellow comics insisting Green must get a TV show. Does he find this offensive, people assuming TV must be his next step, it being the be-all and end-all of comedy? “No, because it means I could get away with doing something really shit and they wouldn’t mind.” He laughs. “No, I’m kidding. It means they’ll like what I do. I’m grateful.”
• Alistair Green appears as part of the Blue Tick festival at the Rio Cinema, London, on 10 and 19 August.