Saturday, July 28, 2012

Five stars for Sayle - review of Alexei Sayle

Newbury Comedy Festival: Alexei Sayle - Stalin Ate My Homework, at The Corn Exchange, Newbury, on Saturday, July 14

ALEXEI Sayle - self-styled “fat b*****d*, inventor (pretty much) of alternative comedy, pithy celebrity insulter extraordinaire, and now more or less a full-time author with five published novels, and motoring correspondent (I didn’t see that one coming, despite his 1984 hit ‘Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?).

It was this writer guise that brought Sayle to be standing at a lectern in The Corn Exchange, reading mainly from the memoir of his odd upbringing by his Communist Jewish parents  in Liverpool. Mr and Mrs Sayle’s beliefs led to some peculiar child-raising decisions - to make up for the fact that they refused to let young Alexei watch Bambi with his classmates (in addition to their dislike of Communist witch hunt supporter Walt Disney, they argued that it may be too upsetting) they took him to a screening of Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky, “with its scenes of ritualistic child sacrifice”. It was then that Sayle realised that he wasn’t quite the same as other children.

Despite the fact that Sayle hadn’t performed stand-up for 16 years until a slight return in recent months, you can’t put a natural comedian down, and his innate wit came into its own as he fielded questions from the audience with a comfortable candidity about his life, career and the many celebrities he has insulted over the years. Sayle admitted that as he had grown older, he had become more aware of the feelings of others, but still appears genuinely baffled that certain people have long-held grudges arising from his comments about them, most of which were made, at least in part, for comic effect.

While Sayle says that he is keen not to return to old ground career-wise, his tales of the earliest days of alternative comedy (“it could be brilliant, it could be terrible, but it was always exciting - Keith Allen once threw darts at the audience”) and thoughts on the modern stand-up scene (“they’ll talk about all this intimate stuff, but as soon as politics is mentioned, there’s tension in the room - it’s like politics is the new taboo”)  suggests that a  full stand-up tour would be extremely interesting indeed.

But that’s not to say that a book reading is second-best to a stand-up show, because it reflects who Sayle is now, and being as his career has developed so organically via “creating an entirely new art form as the only way of making myself employable”, I get the feeling that the next step, whatever it is, is something that can’t be forced. 

* Chatting with Sayle after the show (well, I had to buy the book), he mentioned that he had never had a five star review. I explained that the Newbury Weekly News’ arts pages don’t have a starring system - but Alexei, just for you: I give it five stars.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, July 19, 2012

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