Funny old world. Margaret Thatcher dies and Alexei Sayle extends his current comeback at Soho Theatre due to popular demand. I'm not saying I'm old, but I saw Alexei Sayle do stand-up before he decided to take what turned out to be an extended 17-year sabbatical. The loudmouthed Liverpudlian with the Communist parents was always one of the more interesting members of the original alternative gang of Mayall, Edmondson and co. Angrier than the others, slightly apart, but never aloof. And he was on Top of the Pops with Ullo John Gotta New Motor long before comedy became the new rock and roll.
I interviewed Sayle over lunch in 2000 when his book of short stories, Barcelona Plates, was published. I asked him where he would like to meet and I suggested a few restaurants, some proletarian, some a bit posh. He opted for a local Greek cafe called Rodos just off Tottenham Court Road. I thought to myself, what a lovely down-to-earth man. We had a convivial meal and afterwards, knowing that he lived nearby in Bloomsbury I asked him if he was a regular here. He said no and confessed that when I said it was called Rodos he thought it must have been a new fancy restaurant opened by the chef-du-jour Gary Rhodes. So he wasn't quite as down-to-earth as I thought, but still a lovely man. And, if you read this review of his comeback gig, first published in the Evening Standard, you'll find that he is still very funny, if not always quite as angry. To read the original review look here.
A long time away. His early work revered. Excitement over his return. Not the Thin White Duke but the Slightly Stout Godfather of Alternative Comedy.
Seventeen years after his last full stand-up show, Alexei Sayle has joined David Bowie on the comeback bus. And like the pop icon the comic legend harks skilfully back to his past while showing that he is still reasonably relevant today.
Sayle, now 60, pitches himself somewhere between angry anecdotalist and his own tribute act, quickly explaining that he realised that he could recycle old routines by updating the references. He then rattles off some classic Margaret Thatcher barbs, inserting “Dizzee Rascal” instead. The conceit is irreverent, funny and yet political, typifying an hour that occasionally dips but frequently delights.
Elsewhere there is a delicious tale about being heckled by his mum, while a polished swipe sticks the boot into his nemesis Ben Elton. The best moments are when Sayle works himself into an old-school rage over the state of the nation, not the state of his rival comedians, firstly despairing at how shamed politicos can rehabilitate themselves on panel shows, then riffing on how public schoolboys have colonised everything from acting to burger vans.
When not mocking others, however, he offers balance by mocking his own vanity. Having supported the striking miners he was livid when they failed to reciprocate during a voice-over artists’ strike: “At least our chanting was beautifully articulated."
At Soho Theatre until April 13. Details here.