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Alexei Sayle: ‘gotta new act, then?’

The not-so-young one

Alexei Sayle, the hard man of alternative comedy, hasn’t done a live

gig for ten years. Recently he’s grown a beard and started writing

humorous columns for a soft southern newspaper, but Sayle is still reassuringly unlike Willie Rushton, discovers Ian Watson.

lexei Sayle calls him ‘Mr Stupid Face‘. He’s the figure that appears when the 43-year-old comedian shaves off his beard, applies a razor to his head, and squeezes himself into an under-sized suit. You’ve probably seen this baldy character combining political theory with surreal observational humour as the psychotic landlord in The Young Ones. or perhaps you recall his novelty hit "Ello John Gotta New Motor‘.

Mr Stupid Face has been a bit quiet recently. but this month sees his triumphant return to the comedy circuit after ten years and Sayle is dreading it. ‘l’ve never liked touring,’ he says. ‘If it was enjoyable. comics would be well- balanced and happy. You have to travel to Hull. for a start, with a bloke who’s been roadie-ing for Def Leppard. and there’s nowhere open afterwards, so you have a kebab which you eat in the car on the way home, and you have a drink with the bloke from the Brighton Argos. Where’s the fun in that‘?‘

A lot has changed since 1985. of course. Comedy is now officially the new rock ‘n’ roll, so tours are meant to be packed with groupies and mass adulation. ‘Fuck that,‘ spits Sayle. ‘l‘ve never enjoyed that and it’s unhealthy if you do. It‘s typical of me that I would stop myself enjoying the few things that are enjoyable. I’m a bit of a puritan. l was brought up by communist parents and I think I would have been John Knox or some kind of Presbyterian in an earlier age.’

Look back over Sayle‘s career and you’ll see his comedy has always had a strong sense of responsibility. be it the desire to bring political discourse to everyday life or the' early declaration that his core purpose is ‘vaunting working class culture‘. He may have mellowed somewhat as he’s grown older. but these ideals still attract a like-minded crowd to his gigs.

‘People who come to my show are outsiders,‘ he says. ‘Couples who don’t quite fit in or skinheads or squaddies or policemen. who are just skinheads with hats on. In a way, my comedy is about being slightly marginalised. As


I am, in a sense. I’ve always had a bit ofa fitting- in problem.’

One of Sayle’s most legendary shows was attended by a mob of Southend skinheads. Isn’t it a worry that he attracts such an unsavoury element? ‘Not really,’ he laughs. ‘You just have to make it clear that you think they‘re confused, but people are always going to get what you say arse backwards. A friend told me there was a quote from me in a BNP magazine recently. I’m an ex-communist and a Jew but they still used one of my gags. It was a joke about a town in America that’s an example to us all because there’s no racial trouble, even though there’s 10,000 black people and 10,000 white people. [Punchline approaching] Mind you. there will be once they let the 10.000 black people out of jail!

‘To me, that’s a joke about the oppressive nature of the American judicial system, but they thought I was saying all black peOple are criminals. At the same time, I was on a UDF death list. because I signed a petition to get British troops out of Northern Ireland. so what can you do?’

The most common misconception about Alexei Sayle is that he‘s somehow lost his edge by not sticking constantly to his snide Mr Stupid Face persona. Critics point to his increasingly

‘I was brought up by communist parents and I think I would have been John Knox or some kind of Presbyterian in an earlier age.’

unagitated columns for The Independent and wonder what happened to his trademark bile when, of course, the answer is that it’s simply matured. This may make his comedy rather less hard-hitting in an immediate stand-up sense, but ultimately ensures that his arguments are based in the real world rather than a two dimensional utopia.

‘l’ve changed a lot,’ Sayle admits. ‘I used to be very inflammatory and arrogant, but I’m more tolerant of people’s natures now. I used to think people had a choice about the way they believed. but really they’re more trapped by their upbringing than I thought. i was a little puritan shit when l was younger. I was very much “no drugs" and anyone who did was being a decadent shitbag and betraying the movement. Now I think. you twat.’

That said, Sayle’s live show will be firmly in the Mr Stupid Face vein with dance routines (‘l’ve got two girl dancers for a bit of glamour. I provide the sex for the women and the girls provide it for the men’) and comedy classics (‘that’s an euphemism for old material‘). Those eager for a taste of his new style will have to wait until his new television film is shown by the BBC at Christmas.

‘lt’s called Sorry About Last Night and it’s about two people on a first date,‘ says Sayle. ‘lt’s a much more gentle comedy about being unsure of yourselfwhen you’re 40. I can’t really work that into my stand-up because stand-up is about certainty. So this is an attempt to be funny in a different way.’ Mr Stupid Face probably wouldn’t approve, but then that’s almost definitely the point. Time’s running out for the cartoon character in the tight “suit. Catch him before the buttons finally pop.

Alexei Sayle is at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre on Wednesday 18 October and the Glasgow Pavilion on Tuesday 24 October.

The List 6- l9 Oct I995 9