This game changer is the comedy equivalent of the Sex Pistols. He’s British. He’s punk. He has had a lot to say about the Queen and UK politics. Like the band, he had his own sound, and he set the standard. This game changer is Alexei Sayle.
Sayle was born in 1952 Liverpool. His parents identified as communists, and they raised their son wanting to instill those ideals. In actuality, those ideals became the biggest influence in Sayle’s comedy, besides Richard Pryor and Monty Python. When he was 16, he began to distance himself from his upbringing, and he studied art. Eventually, he was accepted and studied at the Chelsea School of Art.
By day, Sayle kept up with academia and continued teaching. However, at night, he started to bike around London to stand-up gigs. The year 1979 would prove to be a mile marker for the comic. After answering an ad in search of comics for the newly opened Comedy Store in the city, Sayle was hired on as one of their first emcees. This was also the year where he started his radio career writing and producing shows. In addition, he made his first television appearance on Wolcott, a show about a black detective (a description relevant for again 1979).
From here, Sayle worked hard. Overtime, he wrote and performed for The Young Ones, a show about four anarchic students sharing a house. He had his own sketch show, Alexei Sayle’s Stuff. Sayle was comedy heavy until 1996. By then, he had grown tired of touring and was ready for something different in his career. These days, he mostly writes books. He recently released Thatcher Stole My Trousers, a memoir about his history with the lefty politics.
These left sided ideals, as previously mentioned, set up the comedian’s style. He became known for his swearing and ranting in his act. Writer Dennis Berson once told him, “I was the first comic he’d ever seen who didn’t want the audience to like them. I wanted to make them laugh, but I didn’t want to do it by gaining their sympathy or trust.” His signature look through the 1980s and ‘90s was a shaved bald head and tight suits. He favored anti-Thatcher bits and anything on the side of political satire. In a bit from his show, Alexei Sayle’s Stuff, he riffed, “You got to remember when you go to America, they often use different words than like what we do. For instance: they say ‘elevator’, we say ‘lift’; they say ‘drapes’, we say ‘curtains’; they say ‘president’, we say ‘seriously deranged git.’”
Alexei Sayle has gone on record to say he invented alternative comedy. When called to question the Marxist idea that alternative comedy was historically determined, Sayle responded, “It would have happened anyway. But it might have had a slightly different character.” He implies no one would have made it as punk as him describing himself as, “the only one out of all of us who actually believed in [radical ideas].”
Alexei Sayle took a movement and made it his. Alexei Sayle, you’re a game changer.