The downside to being a comedy pioneer is, inevitably, people pick up your ideas and run with them. Take time out, and unless you’ve kept moving in the meantime, you come back looking like a watered-down version of someone else’s act. Decades of male Oxbridge sketch troupes would have left Python looking unevolved if they’d appeared at a 90s Fringe, and a similar fate greets Alexei Sayle, who finds himself back in a place where every man/woman and his/her dog can trace their comedy lineage back to the Big Bang of Alternative Comedy. “Shouty politics man on a mic” might have felt counter-cultural in the dark days of early Thatcher, but now sounds as edgy as a “strong and stable” gag on Mock The Week.
That said, if you’re in the market for that kind of thing, Sayle retains a presence and swagger that can fill a place like the Cow Barn (Reid Concert Hall to locals) with his rants. He’s not impressed that we’re still naming things after the Queen, and beardie terrorists and world leaders are given an epithet that’ll be ringing in your ears well after you leave. At the other end of the terror pecking order, he imagines what might happen to a failed suicide bomber facing an HR appraisal – a good concept which had scope to be funnier.
There’s never not a good time to give Jack Whitehall and Michael McIntyre a pasting, and Sayle could possibly have put the bovver boot in a little more were it not for the fact that some of tonight’s audience probably quite like them, such has the “old” alternative merged with the mainstream.
Mainly, though, this is a reflective set. Sayle’s not shy in restating his role as the man who re-invented it all and who here isn’t up for some anecdotes from that thrilling time when punky new comics elbowed their way in?
But Keith Allen, though…! Sayle brings up his comedy store chum turned ligging Britpop irritant, which then leads on to a discussion of Allen’s famous offspring, Alfie and Lily. Unwittingly, Sayle has just mapped out a trajectory of English cultural decline – from the inspired, anarchic reprobates of the Comedy Store to a petulant virtue-signalling Mockney heiress singing, “Fuck you very much”. It makes you yearn for a new wave to wipe the slate clean, an Alexei for a new era.