. The changes in Eastern Europe have ; negated his pet jokes about Stalinism and 5 Albania - ‘it‘s me and John le Carre’ down
‘We love to see him swear on the TV,’ went the theme tune to the last series. Author of Lenin Of The Rovers and Great Bus Journeys Of The World among others, he shops at Mr Fat Bastard, he’s ALEXEI SAYLE and he’s back for a new series ofStuff.
y the end of the first programme in the new series ofStuff, Alexei Sayle has blown up a kitten. sustained brain damage by l smashing his head against a giant j l
conker in a brutal gameshow, and explained the secret of his success in those
distinctively caustic nasal tones: ‘I am, in fact, one of Vanessa Redgrave‘s daughters.’ i The former Marxist comic, writer. actor and
self-professed fat bastard in a tight suit, is back with a new dose of absurd, vitriolic . sketches and rabid spleen for the BBC. i
In person, the scathing 39-year-old Liverpudlian of Manx/Soviet extraction is I surprisingly. . . well, nice. His bulky formis l concealed in a well-fitting dark suit. The ‘ skinhead haircut is offset by a bushy ' Rasputin beard. Instead of giving you that psycho stare, he studies the floor before murmuring a quiet, disingenuous answer. Since he is now several years into a long and profitable association with the BBC, you begin to wonder if success has mellowed him. Does the new series, co-written with Andrew Marshall and David Renwick, still showcase the infamous Mr Angry we know andlove?
‘Oh yeah. I think I‘m still angry,‘ he says. ‘But, over the years. your material has to change. We‘ve moved away from the political stufftowards more personal abuse in this series. There‘s still a tremendous l conviction behind our shows — we really hate the things we go on about. But we are running out of targets.‘ The new targets include mime artists, homeopathic medicine (‘There are no side effects. Let‘s face it, there are no effects at all’) and that sacred cow. the British film industry, whose ailing condition Sayle diagnoses with one pungent phrase: ‘It‘s because British films are crap.‘
the dole office these days, robbed ofour material‘ - and there‘s none ofthe four-letter bile once levelled so directly at middle-class trendies. But, Sayle claims. the change of emphasis is through his own choice and not the result ofpressure.
‘The BBC have never censored me. We are doing jokes in this series at the expense of William Rees-Mogg [head of the new Broadcasting Complaints Commission]. and the BBC: it’s been so good to me that I thought I’d slag it off. But we’ve never really had any complaints about the material in Stuff. And I‘m not really interested in controversy for the sake of it.” The only time he felt compelled to self-censor was in the first series of Stuff. ‘We had this sketch about a man who has a false wooden head because he‘s been decapitated by a rhinoceros,‘ says Sayle, with an air of bewildered offence. “Then. just before it
went out, this woman got decapitated by a rhino in Kenya. Shit, I thought. just my luck.‘ The sketch was held over.
Nick Curtis investigates.
The material has changed, and so has the medium. Sayle hasn‘t performed any stand-up comedy in this country for eight years. and his only recent outings to the microphone were six gigs in Australia. where he‘s also very. er, big. Ile’ll shortly ﬂy to Australia to star Opposite Yahoo Young Einstein Serious in the film Reckless K elly, which will also take him on location to Los Angeles, although he isn‘t taking any risky guest slots at the clubs there. ‘Why would you want to?‘ he asks with genuine surprise. going on to explain a greater disillusionment with the state of stand-up. ‘There‘s an elitism about young comics that I don‘t like: it’s become a bit exclusive. There‘s a dangerous tendency that you become the things you satirise.‘ He‘s less forthcoming on the current work of his contemporaries from the unholy Young Ones/Comic Strip phenomenon. where the face ofBritish comedy was changed just as it was dragged screaming back onto the lavatory, and where Sayle first gained major TV exposure. Asked his opinion on the new Rik Mayall/Adrian Edmondson series Bottom. he contemplates his navel again. ‘I‘ll have to take the fifth amendment on that one,’ he murmurs.
Despite his ‘straight‘ roles in Selling Hitler
and The Caucasian Chalk Circle. and in films
like Gorky Park. Sayle is unwilling to take himselftoo seriously as a thespian. ‘I still see myselfas a comic. perhaps like Steve Martin; what makes him a funny actor is what made him a good stand-up.‘ But with
Mayall and Edmondson tackling Samuel Beckett‘s tramps in the current Queen‘s Theatre production of Waiting for Godot in London, Sayle admits that there is a lure to serious theatre. ‘Not Beckett,‘ he says adamantly, ‘but I like underplaying a lot, and I‘d love to tackle a character like Iago. The problem for me would be doing a six-month run; seven weeks at the Old Vic were enough for me. I’d come off and people would be saying ‘very nice, and you’ve got to do it again tomorrow night,‘ and I was thinking“you what?” ‘
The next progression, he reckons, is into situation comedy, and he gleefully toys with the idea of an Alexei andJune series with June Whitfield. However much one may lament the passing of his manic stand-up routines. it seems certain that Sayle’s particular brand of acerbic comedy will continue to feature large on our screens. One thing he‘ll never do again is repeat the ‘Conkers Factor‘ gameshow sketch in the new series where, dressed as a woman, he tries to win points by having that giant conker smashed into his cranium. ‘The special-effects men were all saying, “go on, it’s totally safe”, but it bloody hurt. I made the BBC fill out an accident form in case it did any harm. Imagine explaining that to a doctor: “Mr Sayle suffered brain damage being struck by a 20-foot conker. . ’
Alexei Sayle‘s Stuff starts on B B C2 on Thursday 3 October.
We had this sketch about a man who has a false wooden head because he’s been decapitated by a rhinoceros. Then, just before it went out, this woman got decapitated by a rhino in Kenya. 5 Shit, lthought, just my luck.
The List 27 September— 10 October WW 9 -