Alexei is older, wiser, but still full of manic energy
Alexei Sayle – described as "the Godfather of alternative comedy" – brings his first full-length stand-up show in 17 years to Exeter Northcott Theatre this month, after two sold-out London seasons.
Alexei's varied career spans work as a comic and actor, most famously in The Young Ones and The Comic Strip Presents series. He says he felt "worn out and bereft of inspiration" when he ended stand-up in 1996.
"I think I also assumed that when I stopped, comedy too would somehow stop, shows would wither away, leaving just a few bitter men standing in front of microphones in almost empty rooms," he says.
"Of course in my absence live comedy has grown into an industry bigger than aerospace, petrochemicals and car manufacturing combined. Every night in giant arenas young men in suits or nice shirts worn outside their trousers enthral tens of thousands of people pointing out things they already knew."
In the intervening years Alexei has concentrated on a career writing novels, newspaper columns and his autobiography Stalin Ate My Homework. Now, at 61, he's back in front of the mic again.
"At a time of life when I should perhaps be thinking about taking it easier instead I have been performing in sweaty clubs," he says. "I started in London then at the Edinburgh Festival. It was nerve-wracking as the thing about comedy is it is nearly impossible to tell how funny you are unless you are in front of an audience.
"I wondered if the things that engage and enrage me would still connect with a modern audience. To my immense relief it has gone very well – better than I dared hope.
"Once I had decided to go back on stage there still remained the question of what sort of performance would I give? Should I get out the old tight suits (now even tighter than ever) and do my hits, give a performance that was more or less the same as when I stopped nearly 20 years ago?
"Time passes and tastes change. Now my performance is different in that I'm calmer, the audience is calmer, and there's less danger of violence – either from me or them.
"I now perform much more autobiographical material, aiming for a more laid-back, mature and wryly anecdotal way, but as soon as I get in front of an audience, the old manic energy possesses me and I realise that I'm still full of anger!"
Alexei Sayle is at Exeter Northcott Theatre on Saturday, October 26.