We’re hitting #20 in style. Alexei-style. Well, Alexei Sayle, actually. Comedian, writer, TV and radio presenter (and pop star!), there’s nothing the Anfield satirist can’t turn his hands to. What makes Sayle’s talents unique, is the way in which he does them all well… very well. But it might be the memoir writing that he does better than the rest. There’s another book out and Alexei is coming to town to talk about it. The perfect time, then, to make him our latest #LiverpoolLessOrdinary. By Alan O’Hare.
The comments sections below online interviews are fascinating places. Scary, too, if you happen to glance at the Liverpool ECHO’s comments section following a story about immigration. But, we’ll stick with ‘fascinating’ for now. Alexei Sayle, the subject of this week’s #LiverpoolLessOrdinary (and he really is), was featured in one of those ‘our-journalist-had-something-to-eat-with-a-celebrity-and-we-took-a-picture-of-the-food-to-plug-the-restaurant-and-briefly-mentioned-what-the-famous-person-has-newly-available-on-Amazon’ non-interviews on The Guardian website this weekend. Now, being the pathologically gregarious person that he is, Sayle still managed to make this thing entertaining, with reasoned argument and adventurous anecdotes abound. But the piece also revealed that the Scouser had grouse, game and chips to eat… and that it was £18.
Cue the comments: “Sayle out”, “love you – but could you stop being so blinking bourgeoisie” and… well, you get the picture. It got me thinking – when Sayle started as a stand-up back in the late seventies, these people would have been the hecklers that the real Anfield iron nailed to the floor with his uncompromising style. Today, these words fall into a void, the world turns and we all carry on. Sayle’s own words aren’t going to waste, though. Since he buried that omnipotent eighties persona underneath thousands of words to fill columns, novels and two memoirs in recent years, the Liverpool-born, London-dwelling Sayle has never spoken louder. The second of these diaries, ‘Thatcher Stole My Trousers’, was released earlier in 2016 and brings Alexei to News From Nowhere on Bold Street this week for a signing of the paperback edition.
The book is brilliant and highlights a time when comedy and politics came together, with Sayle recounting the early days of ‘The Comedy Store’, his experiences with ‘Alternative Cabaret’ and shining a light on those places where fame first came calling for him: ‘The Comic Strip’ and ‘The Young Ones’. “It is a memoir, but I’ll always try and make stuff funny,” he reveals. “It’s what marks me out from Proust.”
Still as biting as a rebuke from a communist lollipop woman around Anfield Road in the sixties (that would have been his mum, Molly, the star of the first memoir), Sayle also has the gift of bringing social history into the everyday retelling of his own singular story with some rhythmic writing. He described his autobiography, ‘Stalin Ate My Homework’, as a ‘satirical memoir’, but the shades he coloured the Liverpool he grew-up in got right down to the nitty gritty… and got it right. Sure, you have to take a walk in his shoes – shoes that walked a very different set of streets to those around him, thanks to his unique upbringing (both parents members of the Communist Party Of Great Britain, railway holidays abroad to Sofia and Budapest) – but Sayle’s Liverpool of the sixties and seventies isn’t a reimagined one and revealed him, perhaps for the first time, as a truly great chronicler.
We had a gab with him before he arrives on Bold Street this week to find out more about the book and what it’s like to move from writing comedy, to writing about comedy…
Springsteen said “writing about music’s like writing about sex.. it’s better demonstrated.” Is comedy similar?
I think you can write about it. I quite like academic histories of comedy and Stewart Lee does a nice line in dissecting his own work. Music is much harder to write about, though, and I can recall some particularly terrible passages attempting unsuccessfully to render music on the page in Ian McEwan’s ‘Saturday’…
Does it require a different discipline than your other writing?
I love writing memoir, but in some ways it’s made writing fiction much harder because with memoir you don’t have to invent what happens since it’s already happened – you just have to interpret it.
It must have been great writing those brilliant stories about your mum…
I’ve chosen to see her as a comedic figure and those stories are pretty much all in the books now. If anybody else has any good stories about her, though, I’d like to know!
Talk to us about Liverpool…
It’s still the only city where I ever really get recognised.
When we made ‘Alexei Sayle’s Liverpool’, in 2008, I was surprised spending so much time in the city for the first time since I’d left, how much it felt like home… I think being of that first generation of working class kids who went away to college, we can sort of feel unattached.
You feel attached now?
When I was in Liverpool, I felt like I was among the nearest thing I have to a tribe.
That’s good. Like we say, you got the rhythm of the place just right in the first book…
That’s the challenge of being any kind of artist, but it also takes a lot of time, thought and talent to get it right.
Your particular talents have proved to be very influential. Does that make you proud?
For the moment, the non-sexist, non-racist ideas we created in showbiz in the early eighties seems to be holding in the UK… but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a comedian try and turn the clock back. Those were very different times.
If you’re still tolerating the written word after writing another book, what are you reading right now?
‘The Candidate’, by Alex Nunn. It’s all about how Jeremy Corbyn came to accidentally lead The Labour Party…
You’re a fan, then?
I’m hopeful and I think it’s exciting… who’d have though Jeremy would be all that was standing between us and chaos?
Very true… go on, then, tell us a joke please, Alexei…
I don’t do jokes, man. I’m all about the truth or something.
‘Thatcher Stole My Trousers’, by Alexei Sayle, is published by Bloomsbury
Alexei Sayle Book Signing
Thursday 24th November 2016, 1PM
News From Nowhere, Bold Street, Liverpool
Pic courtesy BBC