Sayle's a bargain
Back in the day, Alexei Sayle looked rather menacing, with his shaved head and five o'clock shadow. But now, some 30 years on, he's soft and smiley and hairy.
The founding father of alternative comedy in Britain, the co-star of TV's The Young Ones, and the unlikely artist of a Top 20 hit with Ullo John! Gotta New Motor? is in Leicester on Monday, to talk about his long and varied career.
During the last 10 years, the Liverpudlian has concentrated on writing, and rather successfully, too.
So bring on De Montfort University's Cultural eXchanges festival, the perfect platform to share his expertise.
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Other stars of the festival include British film director Ken Loach, academic and writer Germaine Greer, theatre critic Michael Billington, award-winning comedian Josie Long and former Tate Britain director Stephen Deuchar.
Alexei's show – free to enter – is "in conversation" with Dr Stuart Price. Does that mean it's rehearsed?
"Yes, I've had a list of questions submitted to me beforehand, but it's entirely up to the Doctor if there's a further Q&A," says Alexei.
"As a comic, you're quick-witted enough to come back to anything that's said – apart from the bullying allegations," he laughs. "These days people don't know who I am anyway."
In the early 80s, however, everyone knew who he was.
The BBC commissioned six series of his own show, including Alexei Sayle's Stuff, and the All New Alexei Sayle Show.
"We'd get five or six million viewers per show but it was scheduled after Top Gear, and before remote controls were invented, so I reckon people couldn't be bothered to get up and change the channel," he laughs.
"Comedy today is too easy on the audience. My style is slightly more obtuse."
A sort of thinking man's comedy, we ask?
"Well, yeah, the thinking 'while locked up in a psychiatric ward' man's kind of comedy."
Alexei's stage persona was hard, his act aggressive.
"He took me over that Alexei character, like some sort of demonic possession. But that certainly wasn't me," he explains.
So what was Ullo John! Gotta New Motor? all about?
"It was the first song Robbie Williams ever bought. Another young mind I've perverted," he retorts.
"I was interested in using the spoken word and improvising. I actually invented stand-up," says Alexei.
"Well, there were very few acts back then, mostly working men's club racists, and I used to perform comedy about music and politics to a few bemused people.
"If you'd had a Leicester Comedy Festival in 1979, there would have been me, and me alone.
"We laugh, but I was the start of something, and it was amazing," he continues. "That's a privilege very few people have ever experienced. There's me, Elvis, the Sex Pistols, Einstein...."And why did I stop? Well, I often bail out of something before it gets big – that's my thing."
You can add film star to Alexie's accolades, the first big-screen hit he appeared in being Gorky Park with Lee Marvin.
And then there are his stratospherically famous Comic Strip mates, Jennifer, Dawn, Ade, Rik et al, but he's "never been into all that hero worship stuff.
"Writing's what I find most satisfying now. It fits my intellectual narcissism."
Monday, March 1, Alexei Sayle: In Conversation.
5.30pm-6.30pm, Clephan Building, room 2.13.
Free event. Book on 0116 250 6229.
For more about the Cultural eXchanges festival, go to: