Alexei’s back – and still angry

ISABEL COCKAYNE Alexei Sayle is back treading the boards in Norfolk and Suffolk this week. He told Isabel Cockayne why he’s still occasionally an angry young man but how he loves talking to a crowd.

ISABEL COCKAYNE

It's a long time since comedian Alexei Sayle has been on either the small or silver screen regularly. But with nearly 30 years of work in the limelight under his belt, the Liverpudlian is taking a back seat, describing himself first as a writer.

He is perhaps best known for playing the belligerent landlord in The Young Ones who went off on elaborate monologues.

"I have only good memories of the time but I wish I had paid more attention to it – I thought it would go on forever. I kind of regret the fact that I didn't cherish it," he said.

"We were lucky at the time as everything else around was kind of dull. There was nothing around like The Young Ones – we were doing something completely new.

"Nowadays a lot of things have been done in the comedy world whereas we were inventing stuff and doing things for the first time.

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"But it left me with a warm glow of happiness and I still keep getting cheques from it – the other day it was from DVD sales in New Zealand."

Also known for appearing and writing in the Comic Strip Presents films, Alexei cut his teeth at the original Comedy Store in the late 1970s along with the likes of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders and Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson.

However, for all that fame, he remains the same, down-to-earth man who still gets annoyed about the big injustices of life.

With age, he says, his drive and ambition to be famous has lapsed, and he is mainly busy writing.

But he still gets a kick out of going to perform and read from his book to small audiences.

Alexei is bringing his forthright comedy to Norwich tonight for a second time as part of a nationwide tour. Speaking from his London home, he was adamant he hasn't changed since he first started.

"I have always been strict with myself not to be struck by the blandishments of fame and celebrity. If people know me and respect me, that's good enough," he said.

"I had this set of rules when I started out and I stuck to them. That was stuff like never be in a comm-ercial. My voice has, but I haven't appeared. Without rules you get addicted to the power and money. My work has always been about honesty.

"You can modulate your behaviour when you are famous, keep your old friends and listen to people when you are being an idiot. Unlike Elton John, a ridiculous little man who was spouting off the other day – nobody's ever told him to shut up."

There was always an element of the angry young man in Alexei's comedy and the fury has not diminished.

"I am more understanding of people's motives, but I still find them disappointing and I'm less judgmental than I used to be. A lot of the little stuff doesn't bother me any more. It's the big injustices that do," he said.

The title of the show, Lose Weight, Ask Me How is just a catchy title of one of his short stories. He also reads from his novel Overtaken and answers questions, to some extent giving a performance.

"It is different stuff, new things happen to me all the time. I talk about my travels and writing," he said.

"One of the things is that I live an exciting life – I don't need to make it up. I live a more exciting life than most writers; I go out a lot," he said.

"I like an audience of readers because they are readers. It gives an important sense of community. I could just do a show, but I get to meet the public this way too. It's fun to talk to a crowd and get paid.

"It is just nice to meet the readers and to go to places a little off the beaten track. The fact that it is intimate is an attraction as you can have more of a conversation with people rather than stand-up where you just shout at a few people."

Alexei said while he courted fame in the beginning, appearing in numerous TV shows and films like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, now he is happier taking a back seat.

"I was desperate to be, or I would not have been seen in the films and on TV. I had that drive. I would do anything.

"Now I've just stood back and said that's enough. It takes more and more energy to stay up there."

Alexei Sayle will be appearing at Norwich Arts Centre, St Benedict's, at 8pm today, call 01603 660387 and at Haverhill Arts Centre, High Street, at 8pm tomorrow, call 01440 761196.

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