“Alexei’s On Fire”
The Stand Comedy Club
6pm till 25th August
Venue III inside The Stand Comedy Club is packed. It’s uncomfortably warm, with the subterranean room sweatier than whatever trope a Fringe reviewer is supposed to coin when describing sweaty rooms.
It’s been 17 years since Alexei Sayle last toured. On this evening’s evidence, he’s been missed. That said, a sold-out comeback is not indicative of artistic merit. With the passage of time, us rose-spectacled humans have a tendency to romanticise the past. That’s why bands like Shed 7 and Dodgy – that were bad enough the first time round – can reform and tour the country. Goddamn nostalgia.
Alexei Sayle isn’t a band: he’s a one-man comedic whirlwind, and by all accounts he was Kind Of A Big Deal back in the day, as evinced by the epithet that hangs millstone-like around his neck: Godfather of Alternative Comedy.
Dubious titles aside, was Alexei Sayle actually any good 17 years ago? This reviewer wouldn’t know. In spite of Sayle’s fearsome reputation, I’d never heard of the man prior to tonight’s show.
YouTube – or indeed the internet as we know it – wasn’t invented back when Sayle was touring working men’s clubs. That’s OK though: from a reviewing perspective, it’s preferable to enter a venue ‘blind’. That way, the comedian can be judged by what they do on the night rather than what they used to do.
Like every other soul crammed inside the venue, Alexei Sayle is not as young as he once was. He’s older; greyer; chubbier. Time may take its toll on the body but the mind is more resilient. There’s a fire inside Alexei Sayle and beneath that bearish exterior, it burns with the force of a thousand suns.
17 years ago, by all accounts, Alexei Sayle liked to shout a lot and say cunt. Today, by this reviewer’s account, Sayle still likes to shout and drop the C-bomb with impunity. Of course, it takes more than voice modulation and a barrage of four-letter words to earn the title of Godfather of Alternative Comedy.
Thankfully, Alexei Sayle is equally unfettered when it comes to dispensing humour. During the course of an hour, the leftist firebrand takes potshots at sacred cows, with particular disdain reserved for the Michael McIntyres of the world: safe, smug comedians with a penchant for stating the bleeding obvious.
Sayle may not have mellowed in his dotage, but his audience seem less comfortable with his more abrasive lines. Back in the early 90s, they laughed hard; in 2013, they’re not so sure. That said, pin-dropping moments are few and far between. For the most part, Sayle has his audience rapt as he delightfully denigrates Alastair Campbell, John Prescott and Ben Elton. The stand-up’s improv isn’t the sharpest, but when it comes to the scripted material, Sayle is firing on all cylinders.
Alexei Sayle may be indebted to the past, but today he’s as relevant as ever. The Godfather’s still got it.