As I shuffled in to watch the return to stand-up of Alexei Sayle after seventeen years, I was a little nervous. This was because the chirpy lady checking tickets, ushering me into a front row seat with promises that Mr Sayle would not, as many stand-ups do, turn to me for a cheap laugh if he should happen to dry, did not inspire me with confidence. Now, I’m quite possibly the richest source of cheap laughs a stand-up comedian who describes himself as a Communist half-Jewish atheist, who identifies strongly with his working class Scouse background and has an abhorrence for undeserved privilege, could possibly wish for, and cursed, or blessed, with a tall stature and somewhat outlandish features I felt sure that I would bear the brunt of any possible stage fright that this comic might feel on his return to the microphone stand. After, a few minutes, I am glad to report, my anxieties melted entirely away in wave upon wave of laughter.
As I say, Alexei and I would not exactly be hard to tell apart from our psychological, biographical profiles – let alone in an identification parade. So, you would be forgiven for thinking that I might have difficulty connecting with his material. Not the case! Perhaps due to the fact that his occasional socialist rants are tempered with a large dose of knowing irony, perhaps because the ever-so-slight hint of sour grapes is diluted to an exquisite cocktail with ladles full of self-deprecation, or perhaps simply because he is a very funny, talented comic with great timing, intuition and imagination – making good use of every unexpected opportunity to send himself up – perhaps for all of these reasons, I absolutely laughed my arse off – (by the way, if expressions like that offend you it’s probably best to stay away).
With seventeen years’ absence from stand-up, it would be fair to say that Mr Sayle has a wealth of material to draw on – not least from his own pretty colourful career – and draw on it he most certainly does! As with many talented stand-up acts, it was not only his ability to make me laugh, but the perceptiveness of the material that I particularly appreciated. Whether or not you agree with his particular political bias, what shines through all Mr Sayle’s material, even at its most militant, is the mellowing that the arduous journey to 60 seems to have brought on. So, not only is his wit undiminished but there is also a faint whiff of wisdom to it. All in all, a very enjoyable, if slightly rib-aching experience! If this is the quality of material we are getting from Alexei Sayle at 60, I can only hope he doesn’t consider retiring for a good few decades yet!
Alexei Sayle is playing the Soho Theatre again on the 31st January and the 7th February 2013