Tess Foley reviews a recent performance by alternative comedian, Alexei Sayle at Winchester Discovery Centre on 11th March 2015.
‘Who is that fat bastard?’. It was the rude word that made me pay attention it’s true, but I looked up and into the intense, permanent-marker-drawn face of one Alexei Sayle and he became my original comedy hero immediately. I’d had the Pythons and Peter Cook before and, on a cold day, Tony Hancock could make me titter a little, but they belonged to my parents and were introduced to me as ‘what made us fall about in the sixties’. Crucially, Alexei Sayle was not of the past; I watched Stuff for the first time when it was on for the first time. He was not restrained and middle-class; his tight suits struggled to hold the dancing outrage at Thatcher, golfers, Stoke-Newington, Labour councils’ meek gestures of affected goodwill, Dire Straits…. AND he had a Scouse accent. The most important thing for me as a 10-year-old (who couldn’t even properly pronounce his name) was that he swore a lot. I liked that. And he still does it. And I still like it.
The Winchester Discovery Centre was fully populated by a crowd who occasionally seemed hysterically shocked by the fucks and cunts set adrift klaxon-style by Sayle, but mostly, the obscenities were sucked up by a friendly and tickled atmosphere. His readings from his first set of memoirs “Stalin ate my Homework” showed Alexei’s softer soles. His loving anecdotes about typical Jewish, Atheist, Communist Christmasses including screaming ‘Parasite!’ and ‘What’s she got on ‘er ‘ead?!’ at an unknowing and uncaring Head of State gave me chills. Not only did it bring back my own memories of non-religious, hard-left celebrations of yule but there were hints of the early crystallisation of an angry Marxist comedian who would one day, as he himself put it ‘invent alternative comedy’.
The Alexei Sayle that set off stink waves of hate at an unprepared audience in The Comedy Store was not present in Winchester. I still had the distinct impression that he didn’t really give a shiny shite whether or not we liked him but he is calmer, he is gentler and he has an air of contentment plus a large (ironically Christmassy) beard. He continues to be utterly magnetic. His cartoon eyes have always spoken of a transparent honesty. This means that even in his frequent flips to the surreal, somewhere I always sort of believe him. Was it a real thing that happened – his flatmate designing and building his own alarm clock which arbitrarily electrocuted rodents who were uncontrollably drawn toward it? I don’t know now, but when in his presence, it was very obviously true.
There is also an innocence about Sayle, like he is some stroppy toddler sieving through the grotesquery of the political class with his bare hands and then stringily pulling it all apart. In this vein, he briefly referenced a meeting with Ed Miliband during which the latter announced that it was exactly 25 years to the day since the release of “Ello John, gotta new motor”. The disdain on Sayle’s face reflected the queasiness we all felt at this point; queasiness at the confirmation that Mr Miliband is a calculatedly toadying berk who googles left-linked celebrities in the run up to meeting them.
So Alexei Sayle is not as outwardly cross as he used to be, but you get the feeling that his sawmill of observation will forever be on its pinkies. He is just that bit more introspective now, warmly remembering his first date with the woman who would later become his wife, he dissected his own past desperation to be cool that led to inadvertently hobbling himself with trendy shoes. These days, he’s not threatening the assassination of Thatcher because well… that ship has sailed. Cameron is barely mentioned by Alexei Sayle or other popular satirists, but that particular persona of banal, undercover public-service-lumberjack is hard to exploit and make funny. Sayle’s venom actually became acidic when squirted at ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and ‘The Great British Bake Off’ which he spoke of as a kind of blanket narcotic for the working class, something that drops a cheesecloth or spangled boa in front of our eyes and blinds us to the ills of the age.
When asked during the Q&A chunk of the evening ‘What does socialism mean today?’, Alexei responded sadly, speaking of a left that has oft been self-destructive in its divisiveness and inflexibility, but quickly lifted tone in hopes for the future of younger socialists and the positivity of protests such as the Occupy Movement. It was reassuring to know that a hardened and often seemingly disillusioned cynic as Alexei Sayle could retain the optimism that is a daily necessity of leftism.
I’ve wanted to see Alexei Sayle perform for over 25 years. He didn’t disappoint me. I believe the biggest laugh of the night was the moment during which he recalled that during a BBC light entertainment party, ‘Roland Rivron showed his knob to Mrs. Val Doonican’. It just goes to show that a sentence full of vowels in which he could fan out that juicy, Liverpudlian accent and the mention of a willy is always going to get the loudest response.
Photography by Sarah Cheverton.