Alexei Sayle

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Joined: 25 Apr 2006

PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2012 7:45 pm    Post subject: Alexei Sayle Reply with quote

Alexei Sayle: interview
Arguably the founder of alternative comedy, Alexei Sayle is returning to stand-up for the first time in 15 years. But, as he tells Ben Williams, his wife isn’t keen for him to get back on stage
Rob Greig
Jan 6th 2012

It’s quite simple, really: the comedy circuit as we know it would probably not exist if not for one man – Alexei Sayle. It’s possible alternative comedy would have come about eventually anyway but as the first ever compere of the UK’s original comedy club – The Comedy Store – the now 59-year-old Anfield-born comic was ultimately responsible for kick-starting a scene that has grown to enormous proportions. ‘It was an accident, just a right place, right time thing,’ he tells me, modestly, when we meet in the bar of the Soho Theatre. ‘But there is an extra thing for me, to go to a comedy club and think: I started this shit. It’s my deformed child.’

When Sayle initially began performing there were no influences, no rules and no expectations. What a comedian did on stage was often being done for the very first time. ‘It took courage, I guess,’ he acknowledges. ‘It takes a certain kind of person to throw yourself in the deep end of something where you don’t know what it is. That’s who we were; we were all pioneers.’ But in 1996, the father of modern comedy quit live work and focused on becoming an author. Ultimately, he was knackered. ‘I fucking hated it when I was doing it,’ he admits, ‘I don’t remember the performing bit. I just remember the exhaustion before and after.’

Now, for the first time in 15 years, the comedian-turned-author is returning to stand-up with a series of weekly low-key gigs at the Soho. Why the sudden urge to return to his roots? ‘I did a show with Stewart Lee at the Southbank Centre in May and that was the impetus,’ he says. ‘It had been long enough, really. I suddenly thought: Why not? In my essence, I’m a comic. Whatever other work I do, it comes from that source, you know? I feel most at home with other comics. I know what they’re thinking. I can see into their soul and they can see into mine.’

The comedy circuit has changed dramatically since Sayle’s heyday in the ’80s and ’90s. The number of gigs and clubs has vastly increased and there are countless opportunities for TV exposure; the career path for today’s comedians is clearly laid out. ‘Your modern comic knows what venues to play, what publicity people to use, what accountants, what lawyers,’ says Sayle. ‘Whereas with me, I’ve found myself playing discos, them stopping the music and me doing 20 minutes, because you didn’t know no better. Nobody really knew so nobody could give you any advice. It was all done by trial and error.’

Alexei Sayle on stage at the original Comedy Store

Sayle hasn’t set foot in a comedy club since he stopped performing in the mid-’90s. However, following the South Bank gig in May, the Liverpudlian has intensively familiarised himself with today’s scene, with club comic Josh Howie as his guide. His crash course has taught him plenty about modern circuit: ‘Everybody that I’ve seen seems much slicker than in my day,’ he admits. ‘They all know what they’re doing in a way that we didn’t, both for good and ill. When we were good we were fantastic. But when we were bad we were fucking catastrophic.’ He’s also noticed a change in audiences – ‘they’re much more educated in playing their part’ – and venues: ‘It always seems to be underground, all in dingy basements,’ he jokes. ‘There are literally a thousand basements in London and a man is talking about wanking over his computer to an audience of perplexed Scandinavians and work outings from DHL and Debenhams. And everyone’s happy.’

Sayle insists the Soho gigs are a very understated affair and not a full-blown return to stand-up; he’s simply seeing how it goes. Nevertheless, if they go well, would another tour be on the horizon? ‘Probably in the long run, yeah. If enough material came together I might take it on the road, but that’s a bit further down the line. I’m quite happy. I’ll see. I don’t need to do it– it’s not so I can get on “Mock the Week”.’

Back in the ’80s, Sayle’s on-stage persona was Coco: a hardcase low intellectual. The guise was so strong that he felt he couldn’t meet people after gigs: ‘It would dilute the power of him,’ he says. Fifteen years later, Sayle feels he can finally be himself on stage and experiment with a new, more relaxed, delivery. ‘What I want to do now is talk about me as I am, accept that I am who I am and to talk about my real life. That’s what I’ve done in book readings: it’s clearly me: it’s not a persona. I want to see if that works in a more cavalier environment. With jokes, obviously. I’m a bit worried, though. Coco’s still in there somewhere…’

The comedy world is excited to see a true legend go back to his roots. Someone, however, is less keen on his return to the stage. ‘My wife said she’d kill me if I ever got back up there,’ Sayle confesses. ‘She has this theory that I’m so highly regarded because nobody’s ever seen me.’ For comedy’s sake, let’s hope he keeps it a secret from her.
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 25, 2012 3:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Who wants Fiji when you’ve got Aberystwyth?
Alexei Sayle went from ranting godfather of ’80s alternative comedy to insightful and acclaimed best-selling author. But, with a return to performing after a 16-year break imminent, Nathan Bevan asks: “Will the real Alexei Sayle please stand up?”
Nathan Bevan,
Western Mail,
Sep 24 2012

I’m confessing to Alexei Sayle about the time I helped fix his mother’s boiler in the mid-’90s. I was working at a British Gas call centre in Staines when he rang up, rather annoyed as I recall, to rant about the lack of heating at his parents’ home, and being a big fan of his psychotic, shotgun-toting Brian “Damage” Balowski on The Young Ones I really wanted to get the situation resolved as quickly and peacefully as possible.

“See, life can be exciting in a British Gas call centre sometimes,” laughs the bearded 60-year-old comic, a far mellower character in the flesh than the extreme stage persona he’d created during the ’80s when alternative comedy railed against the racist and sexist routines of old-school nightclub acts like Bernard Manning. “That character, Coco as he was known, still pops up from time to time, but generally I’m more myself when I do stand-up these days – good job too as I really had to ramp myself up to do a show back then. Every night would be a battle because the second I felt things were getting a bit too cosy and relaxed I’d be seized by the immediate urge to destroy it, as a result my act would constantly teeter on the brink of catastrophe.”

Why then choose to go back to that life after having spent the past 16 years reinventing himself as a very successful author of several novels, short story collections and a best-selling autobiography Stalin Ate My Homework.

“That’s precisely why I decided to go back,” smiles Sayle, who plays a handful of gigs – both book-reading nights and straight-ahead comedy shows – over the coming weeks in Cardiff and Swansea. “The voice I found for myself as a writer has trickled back down into my performing, so when (fellow comic) Stewart Lee invited me to play an arts festival he was curating in London last year I found myself enjoying it enough to wonder if I could eke a full UK tour out of the material.”

Raised in a staunchly Communist household in ’50s Liverpool – hence the title of that memoir – it’s no wonder Sayle became known for his angry political delivery, and one can’t help wonder how he views the much more commercially savvy and business-headed stars of today’s scene.

“Oh, nowadays comics are far more slick and reliable products,” he snorts. “Because we were first out of the gate – pioneers, if you like – we didn’t know anything about finding the right agents, promoters or accountants. It was all new ground to us. There were lots of missteps, all of which made life very exciting but also utterly exhausting. It’s one of the reasons I stopped doing live shows altogether, I was just tired out.”

And, as befits his current, if slightly incongruous status of Telegraph motoring correspondent, Sayle has a four-wheeled analogy to sum up how the laughter circuit appeared to him in those heydays. “I always liken it to the early days of the car,” he says. “If you went for a drive in 1907 you’d probably have found it incredibly thrilling, but then you’d probably also run into a tree and burst into flames. “We came out of punk and that ‘anything goes’ vibe was shared by our audiences who were equally up for all sorts of experimentation. And when it worked it was amazing, but when it didn’t...well, it was terrible really.”

And, like punk, the anarchic element of the alternative zeitgeist was to be equally short-lived. “See, I thought we all shared the same counter-culture attitude, but turns out it was just me,” Sayle laughs. “Everyone else just wanted to be in showbiz. I remember the University Challenge episode of The Young Ones – which is probably most people’s favourite – and Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith having cameos. I just went: ‘Hang on, aren’t these Cambridge Footlights people the enemy?’ Before I knew it everyone was hanging out with (model) Jerry Hall or doing charity singles with Cliff Richard. I mean, Cliff Richard! He was tantamount to the devil in my eyes.So when I got asked to do Live-Aid I was like: ‘You must be joking, no’,” he adds.

So how does he feel looking back now on his former colleagues? “In fairness, I must have been a monumental pain in the arse at the time, and it’s all due credit to them that they put up with me for so long,” Sayle admits. “My problem was I was so fiercely competitive that whenever I went on stage I’d just want to obliterate everyone else on the same bill as me, just smash them. I’m better now though,” he adds.

One thing guaranteed to put him in a mellow mood, however, is talking about Wales’ coastline. “I’m not sucking up or anything, but who wants to go to Fiji for a fortnight when there’s Aberystwyth,” says Sayle straight-faced, offers of voice-over work from the Welsh Tourist Board surely just a phone-call away. “And things are so much better now in terms of hotels and restaurants – although there probably still are plenty of balsamic vinegar-free zones out there. Like, how easy is it to get good focaccia in Blaenau Ffestiniog after 9 o’clock at night?”

Alexei Sayle plays The Gate Arts and Community Centre in Cardiff tomorrow). Call 029 2048 3344 for details and go to for his other upcoming South Wales gigs
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 21, 2013 6:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Alexei Sayle - 2013-01-15 - Richard Bacon
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 12, 2013 6:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I didn't realise that Alexei Sayle had a motoring column... let alone in the Telegraph!
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