Alexei Sayle, Soho Theatre, London


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The Independent Culture

Comedian-turned-author, turned-comedian again, Alexei Sayle was rather hoarse for his first proper standup show in seventeen years.

The 60-year-old's rasping delivery gave perhaps a frisson of his shouty, anarchic Eighties heyday, though it also signified a sluggish start to his belated comeback.

When the early wobbles subsided, Sayle remarked that “a lot has changed since I invented alternative comedy” and set about making sense of it – to himself, as much as to us.

So quick was he to lay in to the foibles of modern comedy, you could have been forgiven for thinking that Sayle was about to launch into a nostalgia-fuelled lament. Instead his attack on comedy panel shows turned out to be a strong broadside against the politicians and political figures, including Alastair Campbell, who use them to rehabilitate their reputations. “They'd let Goebbels host on Have I Got News For You”, Sayle observed.

Though anger was once his shtick, Sayle acknowledges that there was some genuine ire underpinning it, and there are moments tonight to back that up.

Self-deprecation is never far away though. He contrasts the many benefit gigs he did for miners (“I think they had a part to play in making them go back to work!”) to his extensive voice-over work. “What do we want? Better payment on residuals!” is how he imagines the strike protest cry of the down trodden voice artist.

A couple of random gags excepting, the vignettes veered from the political to the professional and back again, sometimes getting meshed up in an autobiographical monologue. One joke suggested that his placing in Channel 4's top 100 comedians came about because no one had actually ever seen him live. Sayle introduces the premise as if here were running down his CV, fortunately the pay off is much looser than the set up.

After so long away, that is a fairly minor quibble. What's more surprising is that Sayle came back to comedy at all, given that he had settled into being an author. He suggests the disenchantment with his literary path partly came about because of having to please book bloggers rather than literary critics.

This rather inegalitarian note contrasts with his closing material that muses on the heyday of working class access to a university education. He wonders if this generational “El Dorado” was worth it, given that public school-educated folk seem to have stitched up the professions again, and then some: "even my local burger vans are staffed by the class of Charterhouse 2008."

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