Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Alexei Sayle - a welcome return for a stand-up original


I see stand-up comedy pioneer-turned-author Alexei Sayle, at the age of nearly 60, is going back compering on stage to test the reception for his new material. I wish him well at his Soho Theatre comedy night gigs; his wife Linda doesn't approve of the move.
Back in the 1980s when he was MC-ing at iconic venues the Comedy Store and then The Comic Strip, there was nobody like him. Nor has any stand-up since struck me as original as Sayle mixing the visceral with the erudite.
The video clip (above) featuring his Top Twenty song “Ullo John! Gotta new motor?” which he performs in a cockney accent rather than the exaggerated Scouse he reserved for his stage act, still holds up well after near 30 years.
But it doesn’t begin to give a sense of what it was like to be at his live gigs.
Sayle beat his audience into submission. Dressed as a Mod in an over-tight suit, he roared out his seeming stream of conscious attacks on the Thatcher government, while incorporating in near-hysteria surreal references to Bertolt Brecht, his resemblance to Mussolini, then lapsing into faux-Albanian poems.
He was the shock and awe of stand-up. The anger seemed genuine; it had to abate if he were to survive.
Sayle appears to have enjoyed a comfortable life since his hey-day although he admits his writing hasn’t delivered the Booker Prize.
I hope this new chapter works out and I get the chance to see how age has mellowed his view of the world.
He’ll probably wonder how submissive audiences have become now that stand-up is no longer alternative comedy but mainstream entertainment thanks to innovators like himself.
Smut and obscenity seem to be the first resort of today’s crop of stand-ups because audiences are so easy to please.
I'm confident Sayle is enough out of step as not to mock “mongs” and blind babies in pursuit of cheap and shameful laughs.

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