Comedy Review: Alexei Sayle Aylesbury Civic Centre

The last time Alexei Sayle took to the road, Everton were League champions and Kajagoogoo references were an essential component of any young comedian's routine. Not long afterwards, Alexei Sayle's Stuff started on the BBC and the self-styled fat bastard of comedy abandoned the slog of touring for the relative glamour of his own television show. Hollywood flirted briefly, though it seemed that for every baddie he was up for, the name "Harvey Keitel" was inked in ahead of him.

And thence full circle to Aylesbury Civic Centre, October 1995, and the first night of the All New Alexei Sayle Tour. A decade is a long time without regular live performance, even for one as accomplished as Sayle. And did it show? Well, yes.

"If you're on Prozac, you'll laugh at anything," he shouts, pulling his big-mouth gurn in expectation of zero audience response. But when, instead, the audience actually laughs, Sayle is unable to divert himself from the scripted, "Oh fuck, no one's on it." This was by no means isolated, Sayle bringing himself up short on two or three occasions, as if hardly believing he was getting away with some of the material.

A sequence with a pink hippo glove- puppet called Peepee had him visibly squirming. "If someone had asked me 15 years ago what I'd be doing, I wouldn't have said, 'On a stage in Aylesbury with my hand up a pink hippo's arse'." Neither, presumably, would he have expected to find himself owning up to the grain of truth in his ironic self-critique: "It's quite Post-Modern in its shittiness, in its lack of endingness, isn't it?"

For all the ring rust, there were considerable compensations in the form of both support act John Otway, Aylesbury's own legendary near-rock legend, and Sayle's alter ego, Bobby Chariot, comedy's crisis-stricken warm-up act and a man who has enjoyed even less commercial success than Otway.

Chariot is one of Sayle's greatest creations, second only to the rude- boy Scouser that is Sayle's own on-stage persona. When he dons the thinning shagtop and ghastly purple velvet suit, a tangible sadness pervades him. With that uniquely Liverpudlian comedy teeth formation, Chariot makes for a hideous cross-breed of Dodd, Tarbuck and Boardman as he stumbles pathetically on: "Anyway, great, yeah, fantastic... separated from me wife and kiddies."

So successful is the character that at times you can detect elements of Chariot creeping into Sayle's own act. Just as Chariot repeats his pitiful catchlines twice over, "As I say, on pills for me nerves, on pills for me nerves", so Sayle finds himself introducing a stand-up sequence with, "I became very worried about my health recently, very worried about my health".

By the end, any worries about his return to the live arena had receded. Despite the thrown-together feel to some of the material, Chariot had pulled Sayle through, with or without any pills he may have needed for his first-night nerves.

n Tour continues tonight at Newcastle City Hall, until 4 Nov

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