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Godfather of alternative comedy is back
HAVING stormed his way through the 1980s as the kingpin of alternative comedy and television, Alexei Sayle suddenly seemed to go quiet – or quieter.
The scary Liverpudlian made his name as a ranting stand-up comedian and as part of the Comic Strip crew with Ade Edmondson, Rik Mayall and French and Saunders.
He appeared as the evil landlord in anarchic comedy The Young Ones and, most surreally of all, had a Top 20 hit with the ‘novelty’ single ’Allo John Got a New Motor.
And then he seemed to vanish.
But he didn’t of course.
Instead, he devoted his not inconsiderable talents to writing – three novels, several short stories and an autobiography – with considerable success, only to discover that like all first loves the urge to get back on stage still lingers.
“I haven’t done stand-up for 17 years so it’s all different to what I was used to,” he said, all soft and northern and without the abrasive tones I was expecting.
“It’s more anecdotal, although I’m still angry and politically engaged.
“A reviewer at the Edinburgh Festival said my show was the finest he’d seen in 10 years of reviewing, which was good to hear.
“I came back to it gradually and at first didn’t have much invested in it, but as it drew nearer the stakes got higher and I became more nervous, so now it’s all to play for.”
When he first decided to get back on stage, he decided to check out the competition and see who was doing what out on tour.
“I think that you have to be humble when you go back to something after a break, because lots of stuff changes and I’m not the big boss, just another player that is on the circuit.
“Yes, what I’m doing is good, but you can’t come back with arrogance and say ‘I have played to crowds of 3,000 or 4,000’, because that was a long time ago. So I went round and it was interesting because I hadn’t paid it all much attention for 15 or so years.”
These days, Alexei rates the likes of Stewart Lee, Richard Herring, Josie Long and Robin Ince.
“I like the broad sweep of material,” he said.
“Robin Ince does stand-up about science and I find that really inspirational because I didn’t think it could be done.”
With our allotted time coming to an end, I mention that back in the 1980s when he was the king of alternative comedy with his stand-up, chart-topping ’Allo John, Got A New Motor and appearances in The Young Ones I was quite scared of him, with his porkpie hat and ranting.
He laughs. “It was just my act, but people expect me like that if they don’t actually know me.
“I wish I had paid more attention to what was going on at the time when I was in the Young Ones and on The Tube because it was such a privilege to do that stuff.
“But when you are young you’re arrogant and all ‘of course I’m on the TV with six million viewers’.
“These days they wouldn’t let me in to mend the boiler!
“The Tube was brilliant, but when you’re in the middle of it it’s hard to appreciate it.
“To me it was a train ride to Newcastle and then shout a bit, but I wish I’d known how epochal it was. I don’t like nostalgia, it can be so corrosive, but there’s no way they would put a live show like that on the television at 5.30pm on a Friday these days.
“It was an amazing time – but you couldn’t get a decent omelette for love or money.”
- Alexei Sayle is at Bridport’s Electric palace on Friday at 8pm, doors open 7pm. Tickets are £16 +bf advance from Bridport Tourist Information Centre on 01308 424901 and seetickets.com or £18 on door.